Planned Praise

During a recent coffee break, the conversation wandered into worship. One colleague commented that services at her church weren't much fun. When I observed that worship wasn't meant to be "fun," I was promptly assailed from several sides with comments like "Why not?" and "Does worship need to be endured?" and "Shouldn't we enjoy being in church?" Pulling back rapidly, I responded that certainly worship should be joyful, exhilarating, and comforting, but to judge it as "fun" is to reduce it to TV entertainment levels and to emphasize newness, novelty, variety, and personal pleasure at the possible cost of worship's true in God. I don't think I won many converts.

The temptation in publishing a magazine like Reformed Worship is to tip toward newness. Readers ask for usable new liturgies, new litanies, new songs, new ways of worship. Innovations attract interest. And we want to be practical and interesting.

Newness alone, however, has questionable value. C. S. Lewis remarked in Letters to Malcolm, "Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value." And again, "Novelty… fixes our attention on the service itself. … The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God."

To be Reformed in our worship, we need not novelty and newness but—and this is the theme of the issue you hold in your hand—planning and preparation. Perhaps something vital is lacking in many of our worship services (something many people identify as "fun"); we suggest that what is actually lacking is good preparation and careful planning.

Speaking from his wide experience as guest preacher, Cornelius Plantinga pleads for a greater liturgical coherence (born of such careful planning), in contrast to today's trend toward "a religious variety hour," and for a decorum proper to the awesome character of worship. Lawrence Roff speaks of worship as "rehearsal" for heaven. Others, in separate articles, urge coordinated planning by pastors and musicians (Wilma Vander Baan), by worship committees (Gregg Mast), and by banner committees (Robin MacKenzie). Two pastors describe their preparations for worship: Hughes Oliphant Old updates the lectio continua tradition and shows how it may be used to plan preaching. Jay Weener paints a personal portrait of his own preparation for worship, discussing the tension between being and doing.

Uniting all these articles, and others in the journal, is a profound sense that worship is an activity of God's people that must be approached with utmost seriousness and care, for in it we "glorify God and enjoy him." Certainly we should find joy in our worship. But the task of worship leaders is not to please worshipers but to praise God. And that, this second theme issue contends, demands planning and preparation.

The late Harvey Smit was executive director of Reformed Worship and editor-in-chief of CRC Publications.