Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).
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Iappreciate a good gadget. Many times a day, I reach into my pocket for my personal digital assistant (PDA) in order to look up a phone number, schedule an appointment, or update my to do list. When I do, no one around me looks twice. However, if I pull out my Palm Pilot (one brand of PDA) to do a pastor-specific task—look up a Bible verse, write out the melody to a new song I’ve just heard, review my prayer list, or brush up on my Greek at the bus stop—peers and passersby rubberneck without shame.
I’m trying to schedule meetings for September, and keep running into conflicts with “We Haul”—the whole “help the frosh unpack” enterprise. I’m imagining all those first-year students in their rooms at home the last weekend in August, their lives about to get turned upside down, sorting through all their clothes, books, CDs, high-school memorabilia. Wondering what to bring to college, what to leave, what’s important.
Maranatha! Praise Band with Angela Dean and Bobby Brock. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. $27.99.
Like many resources for churches doing “contemporary worship,” this collection (a book plus a VHS video or a DVD) focuses primarily on the technical aspects of leading a congregation with guitars, drums, mics, monitor speakers, and so on.
Marva Dawn. Carol Stream, Ill.: Tyndale, 2003. 191 pp. $8.79.
Gail Ramshaw. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002. 408 pp. $24.50.
LOFT (Living Our Faith Together) is the main student-run contemporary worship service at Calvin College. But it isn’t the only one. A little over two years ago, students on campus began a midweek, late evening, jazz- and poetry-based prayer service held in an underground coffee house known as the Cave. Ron Rienstra coordinates that service as well as LOFT. This column is offered in response to many inquires about what goes on there.
A Kuyperian Experiment
Jazz has a checkered past. While its deepest roots are in the spirituals sung in the slave fields of the South, jazz really came into its own in the saloons and brothels of New Orleans. It is still culturally suspect to many.
There’s a lesson for worship leaders in a famous scene in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and company are meeting with the Great and Powerful Oz, whose voice and visage have them shaking in awe and wonder. Meanwhile, the dog Toto pulls back a drape, revealing an ordinary fellow frantically pushing buttons and pulling levers, desperate to conceal his role in the spectacle of sight and sound. He bellows, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
2/16—Sunday Night after LOFT
Something’s been bugging me the last few LOFTs. Couldn’t put my finger on it before, but now I think I know what it is. It’s God’s voice. I could hardly hear it. Noticed its absence particularly after our prayer of confession tonight. We sang a Kyrie but there was no assurance of pardon after. There was a song about grace, but I’m not sure anyone understood the connection between the two. There was no clear absolution of guilt. No declaration of emancipation. No welcome home.
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A friend of mine came to my office a few weeks ago. His congregation is beginning to think about a sanctuary renovation, and he wanted to talk through some of the dynamics at play when considering liturgical furniture. He had found himself, in an initial meeting, agreeing with those who argued, for example, that a pulpit was both beautiful and indispensable. Five minutes later he found himself agreeing with those who said a pulpit was anachronistic at best and at worst an impediment to hearing the gospel.
I occasionally consult with churches who are looking for renewal and revitalization in their worship. Often these churches tell me that they are hoping that I can help them negotiate a transition from offering "traditional" to offering "contemporary" worship. (Though I have consulted with churches moving in the other direction!)
Not long ago I was speaking at an evangelical Christian college in the Midwest. After my presentation, a young woman, a leader of the praise band in her church, invited me to think with her about a frustration she had: "What do you do when you only get 15 minutes for worship?" she said. "I need more time than that to get the congregation from here," she said, raising her arms above her head, and waggling her hands, "to here," she said, lowering her arms and folding her hands gently together in front of her, just above her waist.
Not long ago I found myself on a Sunday morning visiting a church where some friends of mine are the pastors—Jim and Steve the lead pastors, and Mark in charge of music (their names have been changed here). The worship was wonderful – strong preaching wedded to both missional and sacramental sensibilities. The people were friendly, the music eclectic and excellent, the Spirit alive in the sanctuary. Yet there were a few moments where I cringed when we sang songs with sexist language in them.
I am a frequent lurker — and occasional participant — in an online discussion group on Facebook. It is comprised of worship pastors and other people responsible for the liturgical life of their gospel communities. We ask each other questions. Not ivory-tower abstract questions, but real-life theological/worship-leader questions.