While I was talking with someone the other day, she spoke of the “time collapse” of the Christian year. “Every year, Christ is born, then dies, and rises again. The next year he is born, then dies, and rises again. . . .”
Why do we rehearse the entire gospel message year after year? We do it because we are people who forget. We need to be reminded of the truths the Christian year contains. We need to be reminded of the grace of God’s story and of the fact that we are God’s beloved, saved, and redeemed children.
The liturgical church year and the “programmatic” church year often feel most at odds in the weeks when we celebrate Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. In the midst of children’s and family ministries winding down for the season and church staff and worship leaders beginning to sigh with relief after the holy (and blessed) busyness of the Easter season, it’s easy to lose sight of the significance of these important Sundays of the church year and the unique opportunities for teaching and worship they afford.
Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays deal with heady theological stories and themes, so it’s especially important to reinforce them in concrete ways that interact with our senses. We learn best when not just our brains but all of our human capacities are engaged.
Make new friends but keep the old. . . . These songs for Ascension and Pentecost are presented in pairs: a newer song attached to one that is well known. Your congregation might appreciate having the company of a familiar hymn while they work to learn a new song. The Pentecost songs are arranged to give you the option of weaving the pair together, moving back and forth between the two songs as best fits your particular worship situation.
This is the first of several articles by David Music spotlighting contemporary American hymn writers.
I love RW, but I attend a congregation with minimal resources, minimal talent, and minimal openness to creativity. It is my congregation and I don’t want to leave. But my frustration is growing. How can I manage the gap between my ideals and reality? Is there anything I can do to help expand our vision?
O God, you are like coffee to me!
. . . I thirst for you in the morning when I wake.
. . . Your warmth continues to travel through me.
. . . I return to you throughout the day and get renewed and refreshed.
When a new pastor arrives at a church, it is a time of transition and celebration. Though obviously this pastor will impact most the gathered congregation, his or her ministry and leadership have ripple effects out into the community. This litany was written by council members from a sister church and read during a service of installation.
Who pastors your pastor? The answer, all too often, is “No one.” But, like the rest of us, your pastor needs spiritual support. Your pastor needs people to lift him or her up in prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. If you or a group of people in your church would like to support your pastor in prayer, here are four “need categories” to consider.
Our Sunday evening worship service has experienced a mini-revival.
Though Sunday evening services are part of our church tradition, it appears they’re on the decline. At least, that was the case with our evening service several years ago. The numbers were down to ten or twelve people. And we wondered what to do.
Sunday worship can be a strange thing. What we do and say in church can seem a little bizarre, both to those who haven’t missed a Sunday service in twenty years and to those who are warming a church pew for the first time.
This wedding liturgy sets the bride and groom’s story in the context of God’s story. The entire ceremony took about 1 hour 15 minutes total. To help you with your planning, estimated times are included in parentheses behind each element.
If you wish, you may use multiple readers for the readings, which is a wonderful way to include children in the ceremony. Images, song lyrics, and congregational readings (which are not included in full here) were projected on a screen.
“I don’t like change,” I wrote in a previous editorial. Since transitions include change, I don’t like transitions much either. Transitions are difficult and scary times, since the future often seems unclear.
Christian worship praises the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but in practice we find it far easier to worship the first two persons of the Trinity than the third. This is reflected in the hymns that we sing. Songs that praise the Father or Jesus Christ far outweigh songs of praise to the Spirit. In fact, most of the time the Spirit is only praised when included as the third stanza of praise to the Trinity (“Father/Jesus/Spirit we love you”).
A Call to Confession
Brothers and sisters, hear these words from Galatians 5:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want (NIV, 1984).
Drama: Christian, Grimes, and Allgood
Characters: Christian, Grimes (who represents a devil), and Allgood (who represents the Spirit)
This psalms service is based on a lessons and carols format that grows out of a thoroughly Reformed theology of Scripture. Third Church has developed an appetite for services where long portions of Scripture are woven with song, prayer, and silence. The development of Advent and Good Friday services that use this form has led to the planning of other types of services that use this pattern as well.
All: We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
People: We believe that God the Father is our Creator.
Reader 1: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:3, NRSV)
Unchurched people often look at local churches as being completely unrelated to each other. One of the best ways to testify to the truth of the gospel is by demonstrating the unity of Christ-centered churches. Promoting community-wide worship can help do this.
Many congregations wrestle with the question of who should lead them in worship, especially in spoken prayer. Historically this has been the task of the pastor, but there is much to be gained by including the different voices of the congregation in the leading of prayer and in other parts of worship. Read the following testimony from one church that has moved toward such a practice and what they discovered along the way.
Stewardship is a difficult subject to address. Every member of the congregation is at a different level of understanding about the issue of stewardship. No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to cover all the topics necessary during a traditional stewardship emphasis time.
Second Corinthians 5:7-6:2 is one of the great declarations of the new life given in Christ. In this passage, Paul calls believers to accept and embrace the new identity given to them in Christ. They have not merely adopted a new philosophy or gained new knowledge or spiritual insight. In the depths of their being, their very nature has been changed. This is not a scattered redemption of select individuals, but part of God’s overriding action of restoring all of creation. We are new creatures participating in God’s new order.
It’s hard to have a relationship with ants. Try as you might, they’re just not very good listeners, and they seem to pay little mind to humans. Granted, ants are marvelous creatures with amazing strength and a way of communicating and working together for the good of all that serves as an object lesson for humans. But since they can’t communicate with us, there is no relationship.
So why are we including a series on Romans in this Ascension/Pentecost issue? Because Romans helps us see what a difference Christ’s resurrection and ascension make in the lives of believers and highlights the role the Holy Spirit plays in our daily striving to become more like Christ.
This article shows how a focus on creativity changed a church’s worship. Through a Worship Renewal grant, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in San Bernardino, California, was able to create meaningful, intergenerational opportunities to express the image of God the Creator in members young and old.
There are many different ways to tell the story of the Protestant Reformation. A favorite centers on the heroic tale of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk newly convicted by his discovery of Paul’s forensic
gospel, furiously hammering his ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. The Reformation is thus launched by a kind of medieval blog post about justification by faith that becomes the catalyst for a theological
Why This Dark Conspiracy/Psalm 2
Psalm 2 may be best known through that famous aria in Handel’s Messiah in which the bass thunders and the strings shudder: “Why do the nations so furiously rage together? And why do the peoples imagine a vain thing?”
There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
O comforting fire of Spirit,
Life, within the very Life of all Creation.
Holy you are in giving life to All.
Holy you are in anointing
those who are not whole;
Holy you are in cleansing
a festering wound.
O sacred breath,
O fire of love,
O sweetest taste in my breast
which fills my heart
with a fine aroma of virtues.
O most pure fountain
through whom it is known
that God has united strangers
and inquired after the lost.
If you’ve ever watched a group of dancers on one of those reality so-you-think-you-can-dance shows on television, you might have asked yourself “What makes this group so much better than the last?” When a group is in sync with each other through each movement and transition, that makes them stand out. It’s the unity within the choreography—both physical and emotional—that heightens the excellence of a dance piece.
Over the past fifteen months, it has been my joy to worship with more than forty congregations from twenty different denominations as part of our family’s sabbatical in southern California. It would take a book to unpack all the things we experienced. For now, here is a brief report on eleven things that we noticed—some to celebrate, some to ponder, some to lament.
A service in which every congregational song is a Genevan psalm? In this day of blended services, of drawing on song resources in many styles and from the global community? That is exactly what First Christian Reformed Church did on Reformation Day in 2010.
When the prayers of the worshiping community, the small group or family, and the individual are formed and guided by the psalms, the result is a balanced, God-centered, complete diet of prayer. People grow in grace and God hears what God is waiting to hear. Here are some examples and suggestions for including this diet in Sunday worship and throughout the week.
Note: All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NRSV.
Q: How can we publicly welcome children who are ready to participate in the Lord’s Supper for the first time without putting too much pressure on very shy children?
A: Churches are wise to find ways to publically celebrate this milestone moment in children’s lives. Here are a few suggestions from a variety of congregations for doing so in age-appropriate ways:
This worship outline is adapted from the opening service of the "With a Shout: What Difference Does the Ascension Make for Everyday Life?" conference held on Ascension Day 2006 at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Litanies and prayers marked TWS are from The Worship Sourcebook, 2004, Faith Alive Christian Resources (www.faithaliveresources.org).
“Help us not to be so overwhelmed by the details of ministry that we forget what is central. And help us to find that which is central, even in the details.”
—Maryann McKibben Dana (p. 40)
Help us not to be so overwhelmed by the details that we forget what is central. . . .
Q. Our small church is losing members to bigger churches that are more modern and use more technology than we do. Should we think about putting a screen up to project songs in worship like so many churches do these days?
This is a service of celebration for Ascension Day. Parts of the service might also be used on Ascension Sunday. It requires at least one leader and a Scripture reader. The congregation speaks the lines in bold.
The Lord’s Supper is the pivotal feast that celebrates the victory of God, which he shares with each person in his kingdom. Here we gratefully acknowledge our inclusion in the community that God has designed. Here we confess our reluctance to demonstrate the full power of the gospel on our lives together, particularly as it pertains to the lack of hospitality and grace extended to others. Here we all recommit ourselves to following the example of Jesus—the Host at the table—who calls us, in view of his sacrifice, to serve others with humility and love.
Alive to the Spirit at Neland Church was a season of focusing our lives and worship on the Holy Spirit. Using six biblical pictures—wind, breath, down payment, seal, dove, and fire—we explored and experienced the Spirit’s presence and work through sermon, song, dance, visual arts, writing, and prayer.
Encounters with the Holy: A Conversational Model for Worship Planning
by Barbara Day Miller.
Alban Institute, 2010. 142 pages.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Reformed Worship to Celebrate 100th Issue
The staff of RW has been working hard in anticipation of our 100th issue, which marks twenty-five years of sharing worship resources and articles. That issue will be dedicated to the theme of celebration and joy, with resources from the book of Philippians.
When you receive your next issue of RW you will notice many exciting changes to both the print and the web copy as we continue the tradition of providing excellent resources for the next generation. Here is an overview of what to expect:
This litany was used for the 2010 Pentecost worship service at our church. That service was held the same weekend as the local high school’s graduation ceremony, making the theme especially meaningful as graduates seek God’s guidance for the future.
Song: “Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit” PsH 427
Of this poem, author Peter Menkin writes: “I chose the imagery of the Exodus from the Old Testament to say that we are liberated by our God, Christ, and that he brings us to freedom.”
Pentecost Sunday Prayer
For I am empty and forlorn,
so I hope and pray.
Tongues of flames. Language.
I search; let me
welcome the Holy Spirit.
The God who brought
us out of Egypt to freedom;
let God do this emancipation:
accept and welcome,
and let us receive the Spirit.
In this prayer, Julia Esquivel teaches us the meaning of each intercession of the Lord’s Prayer as we pray, opening our minds and hearts to a greater understanding of our great God and to the experience of brothers and sisters in Christ in another part of the world. Though our congregations may not experience many of the situations mentioned, we can pray on behalf of those for whom these things are realities.
Note: You may choose to read the boldface portions either in English or in Spanish.
The next issue of Reformed Worship will celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary—number 100.
Anniversaries of any sort are a great time to take a look at what you’ve been doing for months or years or decades and to ask if what you’re doing still works. Has your audience or environment or approach to worship changed, but you’re still thinking the old ways are doing what you want them to?
This prayer litany for leader and congregation was originally written for World AIDS Day, which takes place each December 1. However, this is not an issue that should be relegated to one particular day each year, but one that the Church prays about regularly, interceding for all those affected by this epidemic. We need to confess our own complacency and unwillingness to get involved, reach out, care for, and advocate on behalf of the 33.4 million people who live with HIV/AIDS.
Note: This article is slightly adapted from its first printing in The Banner(June 2010). Used by permission.
If you’ve ever recited the Athanasian Creed in a worship service, please send me an email to tell me about it!
In truth, I’ve never heard this creed used in church, and it’s not difficult to see why. Even a quick glance shows you that in addition to being much longer than either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, this creed is also sufficiently repetitive as to get tedious.
Note: Scripture quotations in this article are from the NRSV.
Planning the Series
Ephesians illustrates both the density and exuberance of Paul’s theological vision. For these and other reasons, creating a six-week series on the letter can feel a bit daunting. Therefore, a month and a half before the series began we brainstormed one evening with anyone in the congregation interested in joining us. They arrived having read through the letter or at least the one-page summary we made available that outlined its movements and major themes.
Post-game handshakes are a time-honored tradition. Little League baseball players, traveling soccer teams, and NCAA athletes never miss this ritual of sportsmanship. During the game they “fight,” engage in “battle,” “conquer,” or suffer “defeat.” But at the end of the day athletes are not at war. By a simple hand gesture, athletes declare that they are at peace.
On Ascension Day, the church celebrates Christ’s going up and returning to his Father in glory as a resurrected human being, the firstfruits of the new creation. Ten days later, we celebrate God coming down again, this time not in human form in a particular time and place—as we celebrate at Christmas—but now as Spirit, a gift to each believer in every time and place. The Christian church has also traditionally followed Pentecost Sunday with Trinity Sunday, our praise and adoration ascending to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“Why did Christ come? Why was he conceived? Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he rise again? Why is he now at the right hand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, “in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created.”
—A.W. Tozer, Worship: the Missing Jewel
What is the goal of preaching? According to John Calvin, the highest purpose of preaching is to give glory to God. But the act of praise is never a preacher’s solo performance—he or she seeks to edify the body of Christ as well. In preaching and in leading, the pastor seeks to call people to faith in Jesus Christ, grow the congregation’s collective commitment to holiness and righteousness, and increase their awareness and understanding of their role in the kingdom of God.
The days are getting longer; the sun is stronger; and we are beginning to make summer plans. For many of us those plans will include one or more Sundays away from our place of worship. We may be able to join another community in worship, which is a great opportunity to get outside our comfort zone and learn from our brothers and sisters from other denominations.
Each spring I meet with a group of clergy colleagues for a week of Scripture study, rest, renewal, laughter, and support. Each member of The Well brings two exegetical papers corresponding to pre-assigned Sundays in the liturgical year. We share these papers with one another, and the discussion provides us with a great jumping-off point for the next year’s preaching. Our time together has become a not-to-be-missed event.
Obedience to God is always a struggle among God’s people. This dramatic reading challenges the congregation to examine their excuses for not following Christ in obedience.
The reading is designed for four readers, male or female, and one unseen voice (narrator). The dramatic reading takes approximately four minutes.
[All four voices are on the stage spaced five feet apart with their backs to the congregation.]
Voice 1: [turns to face congregation] Lord, you know I want to follow you. But first let me go and bury my father.
Note: All names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned.
My church has the smallest sanctuary I’ve ever seen. The front wall of the sanctuary used to be painted with a kind of 3-D archway or portal that was black inside. The painting was old, chipped, and mildewed along the bottom. I always wondered what it meant and who had put it there. When I started asking around, many parishioners admitted to being “creeped out” by the painting. Finally someone told me that the painting symbolized the tomb. Eventually we painted it over in order to brighten up the worship space.
Everybody loves stories. And, like children at bedtime, we never want our stories to end—we want them to go on and on. You could say we want an eternal story.
Disturbing.” “Odd.” “What does it have to do with worship?” These are just a few responses I’ve heard to the cover image of this issue. What does The Eyes of Gutete Emerita by Alfredo Jaar have to do with worship?
When we look into Gutete’s eyes, what do we see? Anguish? Despair? Christ? Do we see a child of God? Our sister? She has a name; she has no voice. Will we speak and pray on her behalf? Will we sing the songs she needs to hear?
Today we have immense control over our music. With the advent of MP3 players we can skip, shuffle, delete, and mix genres. We can listen alone or with others, listen on or off the phone, listen in the car or on a walk outside. While we listen we can view photographs, videos, play computer games, or check the location of the nearest Starbucks. Music is available to us where we want it, when we want it, and how we want it.
Planning a service that incorporates staff, volunteers, and a congregation can feel like a particularly daunting task. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel—while each church is unique, there are general planning techniques that can be helpful to almost any worship planner. Our church finds the following outline helpful. It is not a detailed map, but it does provide the fundamentals. The trick is for each church to find what works best for its own staff, volunteers, and congregation.
Rochester Christian Reformed Church, New York, crafts its own Lord’s Supper litanies to help connect the theme of the service or the season of the Christian year with the sacrament. This is the first of several litanies they will be sharing with RW readers. It is based on the sacramental sections of the Belgic Confession, one of the confessions held by many Reformed denominations.
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
It’s not often that the closing session of an adult Sunday school class is the beginning of something new, but that’s what happened at our church.
The atmosphere was electric. Worshipers came in, greeted each other with friendly chatter, and found seats as close to the front as they could. It was obvious even before the service began that this worship time would be much more energetic and celebratory than what our English-speaking Christian Reformed congregation was used to!
Christ’s ascension is a pretty big deal. Saint Luke includes detailed accounts of Jesus’ instruction, blessing, and supernatural departure in both the ending of his “first book” (Luke 24:44-53) and the beginning of his “second book” (Acts 1:1-11). And those in the Reformed tradition stress the importance of Christ’s ascension as a witness and guarantee of our own resurrection as well as a call to evangelism, justice, and compassion (see, for example, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 46-52).
- Our church has a part-time worship coordinator and rotating worship teams, but everyone is feeling burned out. What advice do you have for restructuring our work?
- Our music director is retiring, and we want to revise the job description. We want to involve more people in worship.
Note: This litany has been adapted from Psalm 20:6, Revelation 5:12, and Romans 8:34.
Loving God, merciful Father, we wonder at your surpassing goodness, but we are discouraged by the evil we see in this world and in ourselves. We long to be your humble and faithful servants, but we always fall short. Even when we think we are doing your will, we are often deceived. How long before you bring an end to the world’s suffering?
How long, O Lord?
The Association of American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island has seventy-seven member congregations, including the historic First Baptist Church in America founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The mission of the association is to “resource our people and engage in Christ-centered ministries by promoting and building healthy pastors and healthy churches to bring the whole gospel to the whole world.”
Note: This litany has been adapted from Acts 1:8 and Acts 2:1-4, 17-21.
When the day of Pentecost came, the twelve disciples, now with Matthias, were together in one place. Suddenly, a sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. And they saw what looked like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
On this day of Pentecost, we remember Christ’s great promise to us. Before he ascended from the earth, he said to the disciples:
This readers’ theater was originally written and performed for a women’s Bible study event several years ago. It was also used in a worship service with members of our church’s Friendship program, a ministry for people with cognitive impairments
Scripture passages used include Revelation 19:9; Luke 14:16-23; Luke 15:22-23; John 4:1-26; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 23:42-43.
Permission is granted for not-for-profit use (print, projection, or spoken) in a worship setting. For all other purposes please contact the author at email@example.com.
This prayer was used in a Pentecost service. Though the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned throughout, the Spirit is part of all that the Godhead does. This prayer, though appropriate for Pentecost, can easily be used and adapted for any worship service, particularly one with the theme of hope.
A little over a week ago, my seventy-seven-year-old father died unexpectedly. Although I can’t describe exactly how I am feeling, I’ve had the strongest desire to draw or paint or create something. Anything. I wonder why that is.
I also wonder what we’re going to do with the stack of beautiful cards sent to us, each filled with messages of hope and calls for God’s peace.
Dear Church Musicians:
Is it not time, perhaps, to sing reformer Martin Luther’s great songs with the sprightly rhythm in which they were originally composed? The new translation included here could give fresh vigor to the canonic status of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
RW on Facebook
You may have noticed the Facebook link on our website and the symbol popping up in this very issue. While we have had a Facebook presence for about six months, we have not used it in relation to the print issue. Beginning with this issue, though, we will be choosing articles we think could use additional reflection as discussion starters on Facebook. We are eager to create a great online environment for us to be able to learn from each other.
These days we’re connected to people all over the globe. The Internet and other electronic media allow us to be as “plugged in” as we want to be: websites and e-news blasts provide us with up-to-date information on what’s happening in the world (see sidebar).
As Christians, this awareness informs our personal devotions and our corporate worship whenever we intercede on behalf of those suffering from injustice in our own communities and around the world. It’s a natural step to put those prayers to music so that they may be sung by God’s people.
A few months ago a package arrived in the mail from a friend of RW. Inside was a full set of Liturgy and Music in Reformed Worship newsletters. This RW precursor set the trajectory for providing worship leaders and committees with practical assistance in planning, structuring, and conducting congregational worship in the Reformed tradition. Unlike back issues of Reformed Worship, the jewels in these newsletters are not available online, so we decided to share a few of them with you.
Download bulletin cover here.
Food is one of the cornerstones of God’s good creation. It nourishes and sustains God’s creatures. Its richness and diversity brings joy to many who delight in the bounty of gardens and grocery stores. But whenever food is hoarded, over-consumed, scarce, or withheld, it can also be emblematic of the brokenness of humanity. When access to nourishing food is lacking, justice is also lacking.
Is it possible that my desire for the logical, the factual, and the easily comprehensible has kept me from seeing, experiencing, and maybe even believing that God is at work here and now? That’s the question that arose in my mind (or was it my soul?) as I read through the articles in this issue.
Do you search for hymns and worship music for worship services? Are you researching a particular hymn? Looking for an arrangement or media file? If so, the Hymnary is for you.
The Hymnary is an online hymn and worship music database for worship leaders and others. It’s a collaboration between the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. At the Hymnary you can search or browse hymns by title, tune, meter, key, Scripture reference, and more.
The Mysterious Kingdom
The kingdom of God is never quite what we expect. We see this in two rather surprising back-to-back parables in Mark 4.
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. . . . When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” . . . Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel. . . .
—Genesis 28:10-11, 16, 18-19a
Reader 1: Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. (Isa. 46:9)
Reader 2: I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. (Isa. 46:10a)
Reader 1: We remember Christmas—the former time when Jesus, the Son of God, was born in human flesh, emptied of his glory.
Just in time for the holidays, here’s an easy one for all you sewers and weavers and other overworked “banner people.” These simple but dramatic visuals are made of lowly colored butcher paper hung from ceiling to floor. We used plain old white glue to add store-bought die-cut letters. Drama on a (time and money) budget!
The following is the third of a three-part series based on a transcript of a lecture given by Dr. N.T. Wright at Calvin College on January 6, 2007. (Parts 1 and 2 of this lecture can be found in RW 89 and 90.) Much of this lecture is based on Dr. Wright’s previous writings, particularly the book Simply Christian (New York: HarperCollins, 2006). We are grateful to Dr. Wright for allowing us to share this lecture with our readers.
Sunday after Sunday, year after year, young people across the country participate in worship. What difference does it make in their lives? Most people believe that worship has a formative influence on the worshiper. But how do we understand that influence? What keeps youth involved in church and bolsters their faith?
The Approach to God
Call to Worship
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Opening Song of Praise
“Laudate Dominum/Sing, Praise and Bless the Lord” SNC 30, S&P 35, T 12
“In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful” SNC 220, S&P 47, T 10, WR 448
The unfortunate history of the Lord’s Supper is that we have always managed to find a way to fight over the very thing that was meant to bring us together. So what are we disagreeing about this time? In many Reformed and Presbyterian churches the clash of the day is over whether baptized children who have not professed their faith should be allowed to take part in the Lord’s Supper.
I’ll never forget my visit to see the famous leaning tower in Pisa, Italy. I had not realized that the tower was a bell tower at the east end of the church in Pisa, a separate building with bells that would peal when someone died. I actually became more interested in the building at the other end of the church—the round baptistery, a separate building dating from the thirteenth century built just for baptisms, with fantastic acoustics.
Paul Ryan’s article “Addressing Sexuality in Worship” (RW 85, Sept. 2007) challenges worship leaders to honestly name the sexual struggles all Christians have in the midst of a sex-saturated culture. In this article Robert Bayley continues that call to speak openly and honestly about those struggles and even to sing of them. He has written two hymn texts to help us do that. —JB
Declaring what we believe in the words of a creed is an important part of many worship services. It helps us express our theology and ties us to believers around the world and across the ages. When we recite something often enough, though, the words simply roll off our tongues and we don’t think about what we’re saying.
Use these two short worship litanies to build a bridge connecting your congregation to youth or adults who go out to serve on mission trips. Both litanies can be easily inserted into your church’s regular worship service. The first is designed to commission the group before it leaves on its trip. The second is designed to welcome them back. Read through these litanies carefully and adapt them as necessary to reflect the focus and tasks of your particular mission trip.
We are excited to introduce Bob Langlois to you in this issue. Bob has extensive experience in the world of technology, particularly as it relates to churches. We hope you’ll be inspired to send in specific questions for Bob to answer—whether you’re considering investing in new equipment, trying to solve a thorny techno-problem, or just want to discover the best way to use what you have. —JB
Twice a year at Redeemer University College we gather together for a time of extended prayer. We are a young university (established 1982), but from our inception we’ve had a strong tradition of seeking to be grounded in prayer. Our small campus includes a lovely prayer room for small group prayer, with two adjoining prayer “cells” for personal prayer. Every fall the student body organizes a 24/7 prayer week during which many students, faculty, and staff sign up for an hour each of continuous prayer.
It probably all started in Mr. Klyn’s class. As fifth graders, we weren’t too cool yet to sing together every morning, and Mr. Klyn decided that anyone in the class who could play piano well enough would accompany that singing. He chose a tune from the Folk Hymnal for each of us newly-anointed accompanists to play the following week. I went home and practiced “He took my feet from the miry clay; yes, he did! Yes, he did!” until my parents begged me to stop.
In our worship we enter into a dialogue between God and God’s people—a dialogue that neither begins with our entrance nor ends with our exit. More accurately we are joining in a conversation that started long before we ever showed up. Indeed, worship is a cosmic gathering in which we are privileged to participate.
Q I always am anxious about Pentecost. I feel pressure to create a service in which people experience the Holy Spirit in an Acts 2 kind of way. Any advice?
A For starters, recall again the whole scope of the Bible’s teaching about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works through both order and spontaneity, both dramatic intervention and long-term formation.
Note: Multiple song suggestions are provided; choose as many as fit your worship context.
Gathering for Worship
“Come, All You People” SNC 4, SWM 4
“We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” CH 213, SNC 12, WR 651
“Gift of Christ from God Our Father” SNC 167
“Spirit, Working in Creation” PsH 415, WR 128
[Include a brief explanation of Pentecost and its connection to global mission.]
“Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’” (Ezek. 37:11, RSV)
Let us pray:
God of hope
we bring before you
those whose lives are dried up:
Come from the four winds,
O breath of God,
and breathe upon these
that they may live.
We pray for those dried up
by guilt . . .
We pray for those
whose spirit is drained
by despair . . .
Resources for Planning Worship
When you plan worship services year after year, it’s easy to fall into a rut and start repeating the same phrases and images. Keeping up with new resources can help you resist this temptation. Of course, no resource is a perfect fit for every church, but you can use the following resources to spark new ideas and adapt them to your own situation.
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
Is this unique and potent passage familiar to you? Can you imagine singing it during a weekly worship service?
Robert Nordling (see his article on p. 32) tells a story about taking his five-year-old son, Jackson, to a young friend’s birthday party: All dressed up, brimming with enthusiasm, Jackson rushes into his friend’s house to join the festivities. But when his father arrives to pick him up after the party, Jackson looks dejected. “What’s the matter, Jackson?” asks his father. “Didn’t you enjoy the party?” The answer is a terse no. “But you were looking forward to this party so much!
Each issue of Reformed Worship has its beginning in a brainstorming meeting that takes place more than a year before readers hold the printed copy in their hands. Yet I am always amazed by two things: how certain topics pop up that were never part of our original plan, and how the individual articles, when placed side by side, tend to create an overarching theme for the whole issue.
Q As our worship services have evolved over the past few years, intercessory prayer seems to get less and less attention. What can we do about that?
Pentecost is a season of senses—everything is alive and there is an air of mystery that can be visually and physically shared with the congregation. Pentecost is brimming with sights and sounds we can use in our worship as we recount the amazing events of the first Pentecost and reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the world.
When our congregation changed its method of choosing elders and deacons from election to the casting of lots, we searched for a liturgy to use in the new process. Finding none, we created our own, borrowing heavily from the rich text of Worship the Lord: The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (Order for the Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons). We followed this process:
The Day It All Comes Together
We mourned our sin during Lent, commemorated Christ’s death on Good Friday, and celebrated his resurrection on Easter. But this is the day it all comes together—this is the day we celebrate the coronation of the King!
One fall day in the fifth century before Christ, the people of Israel gathered at the Water Gate in Jerusalem (Neh. 8:2-12). Ezra and several assistants read and interpreted the Book of the Law in a festive setting. As the meaning of the text began to sink in, the people wept. But Ezra told them that this was a day for a feast, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).
What does spiritual formation have to do with worship? Everything. Our dialog with God in worship moves us through the same formation, conformation, and transformation process as Richard Foster suggests takes place in spiritual formation. As you read the following article, consider how your worship supports spiritual formation. Brainstorm with your worship committee or another group about how your worship can better lead congregants through the process of formation, conformation, and transformation. —JB
Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community
by Simon Chan. InterVarsity Press, 2006. 160 pages.
Simon Chan, an Assemblies of God minister with a Ph.D. from Cambridge who teaches at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, maintains that we cannot fully comprehend the richness of worship without basing it firmly in the doctrine of the church; conversely, we cannot understand the church apart from its life of worship.
“A Global God, a Global Task” is the theme Christian Reformed World Missions has chosen for celebrating the Holy Spirit and Missions for Pentecost Sunday 2008. See the “Series for the Season” article by Gary Brouwers (p. 4) for a Pentecost Sunday service outline. —JH
Reader 1: In the beginning was God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
In RW 86, Curt Gesch was incorrectly identified as worship director of Telkwa CRC. It should have read, “Curt Gesch is a member of Telkwa CRC.”
What Resources Do You Use?
Have you found a particular resource helpful for your worship planning? A book of prayers, a music resource, a website? Let us know and consider writing a review of that material.
It was his first church service since World War II. Two weeks earlier Danny had buried his wife of fifty years. The family had searched the Internet for a church that might host her memorial service, choosing Granite Springs Church because it was close. Now he was attending worship. As the congregation stood and began to sing the opening song, I noticed him near the back. He selected a seat on the outside edge, the perfect place to make an early exit. As the congregation sang, “He gives and takes away . . .” tears were streaming down his cheeks.
For various reasons I now live in two cities. My wife and I have our home in South Bend, Indiana, and I work in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We usually spend about three weekends a month in South Bend and one in Grand Rapids.
Pastors know that one of the most significant things they do in their ministry is pray for and with their parishioners. When the sorrow of a recent loss, or the fear of what a cancer may do, or the joy of two lives joined together compel people to ask their pastor (or anyone else!) to pray for them, the one sitting in the living room chair or beside the hospital bed is, in fact, standing on holy ground.
We all know Pentecost is important—after all, living a Christian life would be impossible without the Holy Spirit. That said, Pentecost barely causes a ripple in many churches. There’s no week of preparation the way there is in Lent. No slow unwrapping of Advent to prepare us for celebrating Christmas. Pentecost simply comes and goes.
Here’s a visual idea using God’s original Pentecost symbol to help highlight the significance of Pentecost in the church year.
This service was submitted by a pastor who created the service for a specific situation in his congregation: a young mother who was dealing with cancer. He writes, “Her recent chemotherapy treatments were not working. We talked about having a special prayer service and how that was to be an expression of trust, not desperation. . . . The service was a powerful experience of God’s presence for everyone.”
Muskegon Christian School, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, is a pre-K through 8th grade school serving the greater Muskegon area. Last year it was the recipient of a worship renewal grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, (funded by the Lilly Foundation) to teach kids about Vertical Habits. (For more on Vertical Habits, see RW 84.) We asked Tara Macias, who developed the curriculum used by the school, to tell us about the project.
Who comes to mind when you think of prisoners and prisons? Perhaps violent criminals—murderers, rapists, child molesters—and you’re thankful they are locked up. On the other hand, you may think of prisoners, past and present, who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith: heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or the apostle Paul in Rome.
Imagine yourself into this scenario: the New Year’s Day prayer vigil you planned for your congregation last year was a disappointment. The only people who signed up—besides you—were three faithful ladies and the youth pastor, who owed you for chaperoning the Christmas teen event. It’s taken you three months to figure out that the idea of spending a whole hour in prayer is intimidating to your congregation. Spending that much time in prayer seems an impossible and unspeakably boring prospect.
For trumpet, clarinet, and French horn players, transposing is a normal part of playing their instrument. For singers, violinists, pianists, and flute players, on the other hand, it may seem like some strange secret code. Instruments that have their notes written differently than they actually sound? Up a step? Down a fifth? What’s that all about?
Faith formation is an important part of church ministry. This is the third article in a series on how to encourage faith nurture in your congregation’s worship.
Have you ever stumbled across a phrase in your reading that was so packed with truth you were compelled to stop and reflect? Like a delectable dessert that needs to be lingered over, or a favorite book or movie you return to again and again, you roll the phrase over and over in your mind.
“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake . . . all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer . . . thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, ‘Don’t harm yourself. We are all here!’”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we know we’re not always in the “right” frame of mind to plan or lead worship. Much as we might hate to admit it, outside factors do affect our view of worship at a Tuesday night planning meeting or a Sunday morning service. We may be struggling with financial issues, grieving the loss of a friend, or dealing with a family member’s difficult illness. Or we may just be tired and crabby after a long day or a traffic jam.
When Steve Caton gets that glint in his eye and I see that hint of a smile working around the edges of his mouth, I know he has something unusual in mind.
Steve, the Director of Worship and Arts at Covenant Life Church, had just stuck his head in my door and said, “How about if we have the congregation go out into the community for some kind of service activity on that Sunday?” I knew exactly which day he was talking about: an upcoming Sunday when he and many key members of our worship leadership team would be out of town.
Sing! A New Creation includes a delightful little sung meditation by John Bell of the Iona Community that has as its opening line, “Take, O take me as I am; summon out what I shall be” (SNC 215).
Q: Why should we observe Trinity Sunday when it isn’t a clear event in Scripture? What is gained from dedicating one Sunday a year to this theme?
A: It is true that Trinity Sunday is unlike Pentecost and Christmas in that it doesn’t focus on a particular historical narrative.
Union with Christ is the basis for our relationship with the triune God. By it we may join Jesus in joyful communion with the Father in the loving bond of the Holy Spirit so the deepest longings of our souls are satisfied. The meaning of our lives unfolds in loving and serving the God with whom we are united. This, in turn, leads to communion in love with others and meaningful service to the world.
If I say that good worship requires good chemistry, I imagine you’ll think I mean the kind of chemistry that exists between preachers and musicians, or between hymn text and melody. But at The King’s University College we recently discovered that good worship can also include good chemistry of the traditional bubbling test tube, don’t-spill-the-acid variety—and we learned that the converse is also true: good chemistry requires good worship.
In a phone conversation with my sister, I mentioned that I had led a session at a conference called “With a Shout! What Difference Does the Ascension Make for Everyday Life?” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, followed by a bewildered “Why would you spend a whole day talking about the ascension?”
Experiential Worship by Bob Rognlien. Navpress, 2005.
This volume is a treasure for all who are eager to move beyond balance, blend, or convergence in worship to a holistic, communal encounter with God.
Our God goes up with shouts of joy!
Our Lord ascends to the sound of trumpets!
All: Sing praises to our God, sing praises!
Sing praises, sing praises to our King!
The Almighty rides in triumph.
The Almighty leads captivity captive.
Who shouts for joy?
Our church purchased an LCD (liquid crystal display) projector two years ago. As we incorporated this new technology it was important to us that it would not distract from worship’s narrative but support it as we made the ancient come alive in the present.
Audio Links for Psalter Hymnal and Sing! A New Creation
Since we’ve updated our website, we’ve heard from many of you who want to know where to find the audio links for the songs included in these two songbooks.
Here’s how to find them: visit www.FaithAliveResources.org and type in “Psalter audio” or “Sing audio” in the search box.
The Day of Pentecost is a festival that could easily develop an inferiority complex if its liturgical value were measured by Protestant celebration.
Pentecost, like its first cousins Epiphany and Ascension, passes unnoticed in many congregations. It doesn’t possess the intrinsic “awe” factor of Christmas or the “wow” of Easter. But Pentecost is an amazing holy day. It marks the end of a whole season of resurrection celebration and the beginning (or re-energizing) of Spirit-led, day-to-day, rubber-meets-the-road ministry.
Our liturgical arts committee aims to include color, music, motion, and symbolism in worship. For Pentecost, we wanted to symbolize how the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples with wind and flame.
There are many ways to depict a flame, but depicting wind is more difficult. To capture the motion of both and remind us of the motion of the Holy Spirit, we used wind to blow the flames of an 8-foot-tall fabric fire.
Lots of people walk or drive by your church building each week. What does it say about you?
You keep the place fixed up. It’s accessible to people with disabilities. You make sure the landscaping is kept up. What else can you do to get your neighbors to visit your church? To pique their curiosity?
Our church follows the seasons of the Christian year and the lectionary Scripture passages, changing banners and colors accordingly. When we planned a service called “Singing Through the Christian Year,” it provided us with the opportunity to “walk through” the Christian year in one evening and to reprise many of the choir anthems we had learned and used in services over the past year.
It was an ordinary Sunday morning for the church in Obala, a village 40 kilometers from Cameroon’s capital city of Yaoundé. But for me it was anything but ordinary as I witnessed the evangelical power of singing that called people to worship the triune God.
In August 2006, the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship sponsored an amazing trip to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Singapore. Nine Institute staff members, myself included, spent a month meeting with worshiping communities there.
In part one of this two-part article, Calvin Van Reken argues that the church ought to reclaim the practice of calling God’s people to obedient living. I encourage you to take time to read this article, to think it through, and to discuss it with your worship planning group or others in your church community.
The hundred-year-old church building where Grace Central Presbyterian (PCA) Church worships sits in the heart of the Short North arts district of Columbus, Ohio. It’s a neighborhood known for its unabashed creativity and eclectic character. Located between downtown Columbus and Ohio State University, the name comes from the shorthand term police used for the area in the 1970s and early ’80s when it suffered from a high crime rate. Since its revitalization, the Short North’s brick streets and historic buildings have become home to small galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Images often say more than words ever could. A gripping example of this is a sketch titled Christ Helps Hungry Children created in London in 1945 by Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980). At first glance the sketch looks like a typical depiction of the crucifixion. But this specific rendering has several layers of meaning, all centering on the concept of solidarity.
This article is culled from a series of workshops in several locations sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship during the fall of 2005.
Many of our worship spaces were constructed before the era of projection screens. Like my church, they’re likely to have a cross prominently placed up front, with lights and speakers and organ pipes positioned “just so.”
Enter the ten- by ten-foot white elephant some of these same churches have incorporated into their worship—the projection screen. What do we do with this beast?
How many of us remember the specific lessons we learned in Sunday school? Probably not very many. But how about the songs we sang in those same Sunday school classes? Do you remember the words to “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “Away in a Manger,” or “O Be Careful, Little Eyes”?
The article on page 18 stressed the importance of transitions and “in between” words. This service provides many examples of such words. The service was submitted by Elly Van Alten, a member of the worship committee at Trinity. “Not only was this a unique and meaningful way to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and hear his Word,” she wrote, “but the theme of unity was particularly meaningful as our council was then seeking nominations for officebearers.
In last year’s March issue (RW 75) we announced an international search for new song texts based on New Testament passages. The announcement also appeared on our website and in the newsletter of the Hymn Society of the United States and Canada. To our delight, ninety texts by forty-two writers came in from all over the English-speaking world, including England, Scotland, and New Zealand, as well as the United States and Canada.
A slightly misspelled sign at the rear of the sanctuary of Lao Unity Church, Sioux City, Iowa, encourages worshipers to remove their hats during worship. If you ask Keo Phommarath, one of Lao Unity’s two pastors, about the sign, he’ll take you back to Laos, homeland of most of the congregation, explaining that the Asian people who visit the church will understand the gesture.
Several African American pastors and leaders in West Michigan churches began meeting regularly a couple of years ago for study and encouragement with the help of a Lilly-funded Peer Learning Group. A recurring theme in their discussions has been how to function as African Americans in ministry in a way that integrates their Reformed theology; they have been especially eager to find creative ways to reach urban African American youth. One of the books they read together, On Being Black and Reformed, is reviewed on page 34.
As the new chapel interns at Fuller Seminary gathered to begin planning worship at the beginning of the year, it became apparent that we had a problem. After we’d assembled our raw materials—piles of hymnals, sheaves of guitar fake sheets, and stacks of songbooks, there was little room left on the table for our pencils and notepads. The collection was just too cumbersome to work with.
The love of God has been poured into ourhearts through the Holy Spirit that hasbeen given to us” (Rom. 5:5). By pouringlove for God into our hearts, the Spiritgathers and forms a new community.
Q. Because drum kits (as in the rock tradition) are so often seen and used in worship, many people assume that they are the only way to include drumming and percussion in worship. But aren’t hand percussion instruments as used in the African tradition—djembe, other smaller hand drums, and even tambourines—more useful?
Ron Rienstra and his family spent a semester in London, England, in 2004.
RW is grateful for continuing encouragement and support from CICW. This guest editorial is the third in a series during our twentieth anniversary year, following Robert Webber (RW 77) and Bert Polman (RW 78).
Hope Network (www.hopenetwork.org) has a large number of services to enhance the dignity and independence of persons who have a disability and/or are disadvantaged. Cornelison’s work in the West Michigan office is to connect clients to churches where all God’s people can grow in love for and ministry with each other. Over 2,100 people work in one of Hope Network’s more than 190 different locations throughout Michigan.
It seems to me that people are no longer asking the question to which the ascension is the answer. For the Reformed tradition, the doctrine of God’s transcendence, God’s otherness, God’s glory, and God’s sovereignty are central, coupled with an awareness of God as our Creator, the one for whom we are made. Such an understanding of God raises the need for a mediator as our most profound existential question.
“Can I Get More of Myself in the Monitors, Please?”
Last year three pastors of neighboring churches wanted to help our congregations celebrate Ascension Day as a high point of the Christian year. We decided to hold a combined service the Sunday before Ascension Day (Ascension Day is May 25 in 2006), and publicized it as a coronation service.
Ours is a singing faith! John Calvin says that the human voice is the most God-glorifying instrument, for it is created and given breath by God. We could add to Calvin’s observation that even more God-glorifying than the human voice are human voices singing praise to God.
We are fortunate to live in a time when worshiping communities can share musical gifts anywhere at any time through the medium of compact disc recordings. Recordings can bring us right into the middle of a community of voices singing God’s praise.
Together, Christine O’Reilly and Peter Bush are theauthors of Where Twentyor Thirty Are Gathered:Leading Worship in theSmall Church (Alban, 2006).
Lisa Nichols Hickman (Louisville:Westminster/John Knox, 2005). 162 pp. $14.95.
This is a rich, nourishing book. Arranged according to the order of worship (Gathering, Proclaiming, Responding, Sealing, Bearing Out), each piece offers an insightful and inviting look at the moves of worship.
About once a quarter on a Saturday, it would fall on my plate tolead a new members’ class for those who’d expressed interest in joiningthe church. Most of the teaching took place in the church’s Christianeducation building. At the end of the class, however, I would walk thegroup across the churchyard for a quick tour of the sanctuary.
A Correction in “The Chief Cornerstone”
Thank you so much for sending me a copy of Reformed Worship (78, December 2005). I really enjoyed it all, especially, of course, the fine article by Gracia Grindal.
Worship planning for Pentecost may be challenging, but a wealth of creative resources are available. Much attention has been given to this high, holy day. Pentecost, with its focus on the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of Christ’s promise to empower us with the Holy Spirit, is the culmination of the Easter season. But what about the Sundays following Pentecost?
Dwight was an elder in my church—a man I deeply respected. I was impressed with the seriousness of his faith and the way he did what he thought was right, even when it was difficult. When I realized that I could use a little wisdom about being a husband, man, and follower of Christ, I thought of Dwight. So with some nervousness I called him. “Hi, Dwight. I . . . uh . . . was thinking that . . . um . . . it would be really beneficial for me to learn about the faith from an older man. And I was wondering if . . . ah . . .
Norma de Waal Malefyt (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Howard Vanderwell (email@example.com) are Resource Development Specialists at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article is adapted from their new book (see box) based on many years of fruitful collaboration as senior pastor and music director at Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church, Hudsonville, Michigan.
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?
This could be the start of something very, very good. Or not. A remarkably enthusiastic first-year student came up to me expressing an interest in being part of LOFT team—nothing unusual there. But Rebecca wants to do liturgical dance. We’ve never done dance before at LOFT. Not sure why not. OK, the chapel’s flat floor means that the sight lines are all wrong; so that’s one reason. Still, it is odd how our focus on music means the other fine arts get neglected.
When the Israelites were still wandering in the wilderness, before they had land, let alone crops and harvests, God instructed them how and when to give thanks for the harvests that were to come:
Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; . . . the festival of harvest, . . . the festival of ingathering . . . (Ex. 23:14-16).
“Let them praise his name with dancing. . . . Praise him with tambourine and dance. . . .” (Ps. 149:3; 150:4).
Have you ever noticed how often Jesus’ teachings startled people? So many of his remarks seem, at first, to come out of the blue. For example, once he stood up in the temple on a high feast day and shouted, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink!” (John 7:37, NIV)
As the church adjusts to changes in the surrounding culture, worship leaders are faced with the challenges of new technology. How is it best used, and who should be the ones using it? Often the person with the keys to the building is put in charge of the new sound system, regardless of his or her musical/technological skills or spiritual gifts.
Gregg DeMey (firstname.lastname@example.org) recently moved to Ludington, Michigan, where he has begun work toward a new church plant. This article originally appeared in modified form as a weblog at www.calvin.edu/worship as one in a series of articles addressing some of the most significant challenges facing leaders in new and emerging churches.
As the time for the worship service approaches, church members gather in the sanctuary, animatedly sharing stories about sick children, new babies, workplace conflicts. Suddenly the sanctuary light flickers on and off. Rather than showing surprise, parishioners take their seats facing the altar. There is no prelude. Pastor Dorothy Sparks smiles broadly as she makes the parish announcements. But the voice I hear is not Pastor Dorothy’s.
When we hear Scripture read in worship, it is usually in carefully chosen chunks or discrete units. The Bible, however, is one large overriding picture/story of God’s action with his people, written down over many generations. It contains hugely complex overlapping images and concepts, like a tapestry of multiple interweaving strands. The overall effect has a rich and vibrant depth, as individual elements placed next to each other bring out a whole range of associations and meanings.
Edited by Tim A. Dearborn and Scott Coil. Baker Books, 2004. 206 pp. $16.99.
Whether you are a worship planner or leader, or simply have a desire to participate more fully in corporate worship, this helpful collection of previously published articles will raise important questions and offer a path for exploring worship today.
Few events in the life of Christ are as underappreciated as the Ascension. We often become so concerned about how to picture it that we do not move on to consider its significance. In fact, trying too hard to imagine or depict the Ascension can result in images that reduce Jesus to a kind of person-shaped rocketship blasting off for points unknown. Nor is this a new problem. Numerous chapels dedicated to the Ascension in European cathedrals have sculpted ceiling designs that feature a pair of stone feet dangling out of a stone cloud.
Quentin Schultze. Baker, 2004. 103 pages. $10.99.
In the past five or so years thousands of churches of nearly every liturgical tradition and style, size, denomination, and setting have begun using electronic media in worship. The rapid rise of presentational technologies has made a big impression and created some confusion as well. Electronic media has our attention, but have we stopped to ask whether such media is appropriate for worship? What are the limits? What are the criteria for theologically responsible use?
After returning from the Calvin Symposium last January (2004), I began to think of ways I could implement some of the ideas I came away with. One of the results was this Pentecost service, inspired by several services at the symposium as well as previous resources in Reformed Worship and The Worship Sourcebook (TWS). Our congregation invited three area churches for this evening service in order to get a larger choir as well as a full church. Unfortunately, there was a tornado watch in our area that night, so Pentecost had to be put on hold for two weeks!
My firstborn got married this summer. The setting was the church she’s attended ever since she was three months old. In these familiar and well-worn surroundings she and her new husband spoke the vows of a lifetime.
Art, in its many forms, touches the soul in powerful ways. It helps people bring their bodies and emotions into worship, as well as their minds. As more and more people find that they are visual learners, the integration of the arts into worship becomes more and more important. This is something I am acutely aware of as an artist and something I struggle to put into practice. I would like to share with you a process that has helped me realize some of my dreams about worship and art.
Bible Studies on Worship Available on the Web
Every month a new Bible study on worship written with worship committees in mind will be available at www.calvin.edu/worship. The studies, which provide thoughts and questions aimed to spark study and discussion, will deal with issues and Scripture passages that are relevant to the tasks of worship leaders and planners.
For more information about this touring company of professional Christian actors, visit www.friendsofthegroom.org. The group in the photographs is the Youth Drama Team sponsored by Friends of the Groom (made possible through a grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship): Julia Albain, Robyn Hubbuch, Becca Long, Becca Maher, Aimee Morton, David Morton, Annie Sluka, and Jacqueline Voss.
The Lord’s Prayer has often been a source for structuring congregational prayers. This service is actually an extended prayer based on the Lord’s Prayer and the commentary on it in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q&A 120-129). It was designed as the conclusion to a preaching series on the Lord’s Prayer; each of those services also included sections of the Heidelberg Catechism.
The temptations Jesus endured and withstood are archetypal of Satan’s diabolical work to trap humanity. Where we fall, Jesus stood, though not without struggle, as Hebrews 5:14 teaches: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.”
Facing Jesus’—and Preachers’—Temptations
Walking into the office of Scott Myers, the pastor of Westport Presbyterian Church, one is surrounded by books. In and of itself this is not unusual. What is distinctive about Myers’s office is that alongside the theological writings stands a significant collection of books on the visual arts. Rodin and Chagall, photography, painting, and sculpture all occupy prominent places both on his bookshelves and in the worship life of the church he serves in the historic district of Westport, Missouri.