Q My cousin’s church now celebrates communion early in the service before the kids leave for children’s church. Is there anything wrong with that? Wouldn’t that be a good plan for those of us hoping to incorporate children more fully in the sacrament?
A Though I value the presence of children at the sacrament, placing it early in the service would not be my recommended approach. To be sure, there is no biblical text that requires us to celebrate communion after the sermon. However, two thousand years of accumulated wisdom articulated in Reformed confessions make a strong case that the Table seals or confirms the gospel that preaching announces. The sacrament, then, is a response to the preaching of the Word.
Having the Lord’s Supper early in the service is a little like a wedding in which the couple exchanges vows before hearing a statement of the biblical purpose for marriage. It’s not a good match for what each action is meant to convey.
On a purely experiential level, celebrating the Lord’s Supper early tends to make the sacrament feel more like a mere visual aid than an exchange of vows in our covenantal relationship with God. And that would work against one of the main reasons to welcome more children to the table, which is to incorporate them not merely in another educational visual aid, but in nothing less than the church’s intergenerational covenant renewal with God.
Q Can you recommend a good evaluation form for us to use in evaluating our worship team and our congregation’s worship as a whole?
A I have some dissatisfaction with forms I have produced before. Many of them quietly reinforce the idea that the church is a democracy in which every opinion counts equally.
Or they suggest quantifying something that can’t be quantified. Ranking the pastoral sensitivity of worship leaders on a scale of one to ten can easily succeed at leading to no significant improvement, while at the same time making everyone feel terrible.
But that is no reason to avoid evaluation. Opportunities for frank pastoral feedback, encouragement, and accountability are crucial for healthy congregational life. While every opinion should not count equally, every voice should be heard eagerly in search of wisdom. When handled well, an evaluation process can be a source of genuine spiritual growth for the individuals involved and for the congregation.
Here are some guidelines as you think about developing an evaluation form.
- Begin with a clear set of pastoral and theological criteria. Without this, evaluation tends to emerge out of very different understandings of what is good and fitting.
- Focus not only on the technical skills of a leader, but also on underlying virtues—the fruits of the Spirit that shine through his or her leadership in the congregation.
- Be as specific and concrete as possible.
- Whenever possible express criticism in the form of a question that names an underlying virtue: “How might our song diet more adequately encourage intergenerational community, embracing songs that both children and older adults know and love?”
Consider starting with the forms found on page 765ff. in The Worship Sourcebook, copublished in 2004 by The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Christian Resources, and Baker Books. But then talk with your church council or leadership group to imagine how these forms could be adapted to make these values even more explicit.
On the basis of your experience, what kind of form or strategy has worked best? I heartily welcome your feedback and/or draft forms. Please send to email@example.com, and look for an update, along with some additional web-based resources, in a future column.
Q Worship in our church has gotten so focused on the Holy Spirit that we never hear about Jesus. This doesn’t feel right to me.
A It doesn’t feel right to me either. The Holy Spirit’s work is to point us to Jesus and to unite us with Jesus. In contrast to what you describe, more attention on the Holy Spirit should actually lead to more, not less, attention to both the Father and the Son. One simple approach to worship planning packed with theological wisdom is this: find a way to start every single service with an explicit reference to the Trinity (e.g., use 2 Cor. 13:13 as the opening greeting or sing a hymn such as “Holy, Holy, Holy”). Then look for at least one point later in the service where you can refer back to that greeting or hymn. The goal is to nurture a spiritual habit—first in your leaders, then in all worshipers—of thinking about God’s being in a fully Trinitarian way. That habit is too rich, too good, too nourishing to miss!