Loose Canon Worship


cannonThe willingness to take liberties with the text or tenor of your worship canon can compromise the entire worship voice of your congregation.

In earlier centuries wooden warships carried cannons as a primary weapon of offense. These massive weapons were mounted on rollers and secured with rope to avoid damage from their tremendous recoil. A loose cannon was one that broke from its safety restraints, potentially causing serious damage to the ship and its crew.

Beginning our worship with biblical, historical and theological moorings will protect us from loose canonical drifts. Those foundations must organically yield our worship practices rather than serving as fertilizer for our own contrived creations. Securing safety restraints by asking the right questions can curb the temptation to randomly sample various practices based solely on their style or success elsewhere.



  • Is an attitude of community evident as our congregation gathers?
  • Are guests embraced as a part of that community?
  • Is the congregation publicly invited to participate? Examples: invocation, hymn/song, call to worship, processional.

Congregational Singing/Presentational Music

  • Is our congregational singing passive or participative?
  • Does congregational singing include a balance of familiar and new?
  • Do song selections include both vertical and horizontal expressions? celebrative and reflective?
  • Does presentational music encourage congregational participation or passivity?
  • Is the text theologically sound and does it affirm Scripture as central?
  • Is the music multi-generational and culturally appropriate for our congregation?
  • Does music get too much attention in our services?

Visual and Fine Arts

  • Are visual and fine arts incorporated? Examples: mime, drama, dance, poetry, painting, sculpture, video, film.
  • Does use of the arts contribute to or distract from the worship conversation?
  • Is it evident through our use of arts that worship is visual as well as verbal?
  • Are artistic expressions used inappropriately? Examples: glory of man, manipulation, kitsch.


  • Is it evident that prayer is an important part of our worship services?
  • Who leads in prayer?
  • What types of prayer are led? Examples: invocation, confession, supplication, intercession, lament, thanksgiving, repentance.
  • Are prayers fixed and/or spontaneous?
  • Are various prayer postures encouraged?


  • Is it evident that Scripture is foundational to our services?
  • Who reads Scripture? How do they read it?
  • Is Scripture read beyond the text for the sermon?
  • Is it evident that the sermon is part of our worship?
  • Does the entire congregation actively participate in the reading of Scripture?

Ordinances – Lord’s Supper/Baptism

  • Is the Lord’s Supper celebrated regularly in our services?
  • What is the attitude of the Lord’s Supper? Examples: communion, thanksgiving, remembrance, celebration, eschatology.
  • Does the Lord’s Supper provide an opportunity for symbolism and mystery?
  • Is the Lord’s Supper central to the worship theme of our services?
  • What other options are available for responding to the Word? Examples: offering, congregational singing, baptism, testimonies, prayers of confession, invitation, Scripture, presentational music.
  • Is baptism celebrated regularly in our services?
  • Do baptisms contribute to the communal relationship of our congregation?
  • Is the symbolism of baptism evident and understood by members and guests?


  • How is the congregation dismissed at the end of our services?
  • Is the dismissal a sacred expression? Examples: blessing, challenge, recessional.
  • Is there a communal and unified attitude evident as the congregation leaves?

General Worship Elements

  • When are the announcements presented? Do they distract from the flow of worship?
  • Is the offering a time of sacrificial response encouraging an attitude of worship?
  • Do services feature a balance of worship actions? Examples: praise, confession, dedication, commitment, response, lament.
  • Are services conversational involving God’s words to us and our words to God?
  • Does the worship space encourage participation? Examples: architecture, icons, art, symbols, colors, lights.
  • Is the order of service easy to follow or confusing?
  • Do services flow well? Do transitions link the worship elements? Is the pace satisfactory?
  • Are worship leaders conveying a genuine pastoral care?
  • Which of the five senses are used?
  • Is there a good balance of celebration and contemplation?
  • Are there elements presented by leaders that could be presented by the people?
  • Are physical actions encouraged? Examples: raising hands, kneeling, bowing head, clapping, standing.
  • Do services give participants an opportunity to connect with each other?
  • What symbols are used in the services?
  • Does anything distract our attention from a conversation with God?
  • Are guests able to meaningfully follow the services without confusion?
  • Are service elements explained regularly?
  • Are there service elements that might be unfamiliar to a guest?
  • Are times offered for silence, reflection, repentance, or confession?
  • Besides congregational singing, what elements offer an opportunity for active participation?
  • Do our worship services invite the congregation to be a part of God’s story through Jesus Christ?

One Response to “Loose Canon Worship”

  • John Hollan Says:

    The older I get and the longer I serve in vocational worship ministry, the more I find myself using the word “intentional” in regards to worship planning. The questions you pose in this article form a great barometer to measure the thought we put into our corporate worship experiences.

    Such intentionality is best refined over time and tenure within a congregation. Some of these answers are clearly outlined for us in scripture, but others are only effectively assessed within the context of a church’s unique culture. Explaining a congregation’s worship voice is like explaining the color blue. Words cannot convey the full scope. Rather, it is most effectively discerned from within.

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