Q. Recent conversations I’ve heard dismiss Mother’s and Father’s Days as Hallmark holidays not suitable for worship. Aren’t these important pastoral topics in an age in which family life is so threatened?
Q. How can we balance our desire to make changes in the service for emphasis and still allow the congregation to be comfortable within a certain structure so they can worship without distractions?
A. It was C.S. Lewis who famously compared good worship with an old shoe. The more familiarity and fewer surprises, the better. Lewis was right that innovation tends to draw our attention from the purpose to the mechanics of what we are doing.
Q. One of the major stumbling blocks we face is that most members of our congregation know very little about worship. But we don’t want to make worship didactic. Any advice?
Q. What should we call the piece of furniture we use for the Lord’s Supper? An altar? A table? I’ve even heard it called an altar-table? Why that?
A. An altar is furniture for a sacrifice. Altars in the Old Testament temple and tabernacle were the place for the sacrifice of animals. In the medieval church, the Lord’s Supper or mass was celebrated at an altar. Correspondingly, the Lord’s Supper was understood to be the enactment or re-enactment of Christ’s sacrifice.
Q Our congregation has almost no musical talent, and so we had to hire a music director from beyond our fellowship. The challenge is that both this director and the congregation are frustrated with things they see as both problematic and fixable, but have no good forum for dealing with them in ways that won’t cause all kinds of hurt. Do you have any advice for us?
Worship planning during a crisis, transition, or conflict may be more stressful than usual, but thoughtfully planned services can relieve stress and help keep the church focused on its mission. In fact, worship during a difficult circumstance may itself provide an important opportunity for learning and healing in the congregation. Those who are involved in planning worship should ask some of the following questions as they plan during a difficult time.
Q. I find my own worship suffering because of my role as a worship leader. I’m too concerned for the details of the service to really enter into worship. Any advice?
A. This question comes up regularly in classes I’ve taught. Here are some insightful comments from my students, many of them veteran leaders:
Q Thanks for your comments in RW 69 about ordination. I have one more question: What about the assurance of pardon? In our church, only a minister offers the benediction and greeting or leads the sacraments, but our lay leaders do the assurance of pardon. Is that permissible or advisable?
Q One big change for us in the past few years is that our pastor just preaches in worship, while our worship team leads the rest of the service. We enjoy leading, but don’t have a lot of training. Shouldn’t the pastor take a more active role in the rest of the worship service?
Q. Our newspapers are full of stories about crime, homelessness, the environment, and other societal problems. Why don’t we hear more about this in worship?
A. My hunch is that these themes are quite prominent in communities that face injustice but less so in more affluent places. It is always a temptation to prefer worship that comforts us without challenging us. But the gospel clearly involves both.