The most important service?
Let the word of Christ dwell among you richly, said Paul to the church in Colossae. Christians who gather, he goes on, should teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in our hearts to God. The chapel service, just like the church service, is one great occasion where all this might happen.
But when you turn up to chapel there is one person who, perhaps even more than the preacher and Bible reader, can either help or hinder it: the service leader. The service leader takes the first and final word and the service leader frames every segment of our time together.
So what exactly should the service leader be doing? Are they simply there to introduce each segment, then get out of the way, like an MC at a concert? Or is it something more?
Order in the service
There are many things that both MCs and service leaders do. The chapel service, just like the church service, has lots of moving parts run by lots of different people. Someone does need to say when we’ve started, and when we’ve ended, and guide the flow of elements in between. So there’s some overlap with MCs at this basic level, overseeing and coordinating the service. And that overlap is good! Paul instructs in 1 Corinthians 14:33, that when Christians gather, those gatherings should be well ordered. A good service leader, like a good MC, provides this order.
But a service leader ensures more than a basic orderliness. They provide a movement to the service, and this movement is driven by a certain theological rationale. This is, of course, where the role becomes something more than a mere MC.
With the goal of giving glory to the Triune Creator, Redeemer, and Consummator of all things, the service leader’s weighty task is to lead the congregation as they engage in discourse with Almighty God. As the Lord Christ addresses his beloved bride, the church, she ought to respond with, among other things, confession, thanksgiving, attentive listening, and dependent prayer.
This takes a particular shape across the service. The service leader knows the priority of God’s word and so begins the service with some Scriptural address. The service leader knows that sinful men and women respond to God’s address much like the prophet Isaiah: “Woe is me” (Isa 6:5), and so understands the rationale for then leading people to confess their sins. The service leader knows the grace of God and so always provides an assurance of forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s finished work. The service leader knows how vitally important it is to hear God speak, and so prays before and introduces the Scriptural readings appropriately. Scattered throughout all of this, the service leader knows how to orchestrate the standing, confessing, praising, and praying of God’s people. And finally, the service leader knows not to leave the congregation with worldly concerns, and so pronounces God’s blessing upon his people to conclude the service.
An MC might move through this order of activities like a museum tour guide – popping up from time to time in order to simply introduce the next piece of information or activity. But the service leader understands the theological rationale of gathered worship, so he conceives of his role as a ministry. Indeed, a ministry to lead men and women to be transformed unto the likeness of Christ and so glorify Almighty God.
A model in the service
As the service leader stands up the front to minister to God’s people, he genuinely gets the spiritual significance of the service. He knows that the ascended Christ is ministering by his word and through his Spirit at each stage of the liturgy. And so in his tone, and his posture, and his commentary, the service leader naturally models what the congregation might think, say, or feel at each stage. His seriousness in confession, recognising the significance of encountering God, his joy at the prospect of praise reflecting the works and character of God, and occasionally, his words of personal testimony showing what obedience to God’s word might look like. This spiritual sensitivity is what enables the service leader to occasionally deviate from the set order of service, in order to minister appropriately – perhaps an extemporaneous prayer, or an additional word of encouragement, or a sentence of Scripture. And whatever levity there might be is shot through with gravity. In doing all this, the service leader models proper engagement with our good God. In other words, even by the way he leads a service, he leads people to engage with God.
Hopefully you can see how significant the role of the service leader is, far more than simply providing order like the MC. The service leader brings both a movement and a model to the chapel service as they seek to glorify our great God as the word of Christ dwells richly amongst his people.