I still clearly remember the day the idea for Reformed Worship was born—Friday, May 10, 1985, somewhere on the New York Thruway. Harvey Smit, Dave Vanderwel, and I were traveling from Toronto to Midland Park, New Jersey, during a fifteen-stop tour across North America to introduce a draft of the forthcoming Psalter Hymnal, Toronto had been our tenth of fifteen "Psalter Hymnal Study Conferences."
At each site, attendance exceeded our expectations. We had mailed the hymnal draft in advance, so people came with questions, concerns, and suggestions, very eager for input. They were also eager for help. Time and again we heard, "Don't just dump this new hymnal on us; give us resources to help us use it! Conferences are great, but we need sustained help." That request came from pastors, from musicians, and from rather recently formed worship committees.
Friday was going to be a long day. So we had plenty of time to talk. How could we possibly deal with requests from ministers and musicians and committees? We brainstormed, taking turns driving, the person in back leaning forward the whole time. Somewhere near Rochester one of us said, "How about a journal? With something for everyone? Pastors and musicians, adults and children's leaders."
By the time we entered New Jersey later that day, the basic outlines of what became Reformed Worship were becoming clear to us. I thank God for that long day!
Setting Our Course
We knew there were other journals available— some for pastors, others for church musicians. But most of these were scholarly and were addressed to only one of the two audiences. What we envisioned was a practical journal addressed to both audiences.
We had some debate about how best to accomplish that goal. Musicians and pastors, we knew, often talked about each other, but not often enough with each other. To reach them both, we decided to think of the emerging worship committees as our primary audience. They were—and are—the broader range of readers, usually without theological or musical credentials, who are seriously interested in worship issues. And they are often sharp and discerning. By focusing on worship, rather than theology or music, we would be able to address everyone: pastors, musicians, and worship committees. We all had a lot to learn about worship.
We were also convinced that the same questions raised by Christian Reformed congregations were being asked in many evangelical and Reformed churches across North America. So from the start, we invited a diverse and revolving editorial council and several consultants to keep us on course (see inside front cover to learn who the current members are). Their critique, wisdom, and ideas for what the churches need have been invaluable. To give you a taste of what we heard (and recorded) at our last meeting, we have excerpted on these pages several comments from a recent council discussion on change.
Picking Up Speed
We mailed out four thousand complimentary copies of our first issue in September 1986 (some may remember the gift-wrapped cover with the red bow). We were ecstatic when almost half of those we sent the magazine to subscribed immediately. Ten years later, we rejoice that God has blessed that beginning. We now have four thousand subscribers representing churches in many different denominations.
Throughout these ten years, our statement of purpose has remained the same: "to provide worship leaders and committees with practical assistance in planning, structuring, and conducting congregational worship in the Reformed tradition." But there have been many changes in RW. Actually, it's hard to determine the source of those changes. Reformed Worship undoubtedly affects as well as reflects congregational practice. But one thing I am convinced of is " this: churches who rely on RW (and "rely" is the word we often hear) are more likely than ever before to give careful and creative attention to worship. Most services we print come from annotated bulletins that churches send us, sometimes services adapted from previous RW service ideas!
Our masthead identifies RW as a journal that provides "resources for music and liturgy."
We still do that, broadening our approach from introducing a new hymnal to embracing more of the variety available today from many different sources. But we do other things as well. Probably the biggest area of development has been in adding visual, and even more recently, dramatic resources to the textual and musical ones. Reformed churches have never been known for their contributions to the visual aspects of worship. But we are learning!
Perhaps we are finding our way toward redeeming all the arts in worship. People in our culture need to be involved in worship through their eyes as well as their ears. We've always known that was true for our children, but we've learned it's true of adults too. When readers were so enthusiastic about our first bulletin covers (the Advent series in RW 13 from a church with Quaker roots!), we responded by moving from using primarily cartoons for visual variety to supplying more banner and bulletin ideas. Our last Advent issue (RW 37) prompted the following response in a Christmas card from a Chicago reader: "[We're] using the whole angels series (in RW 37) complete with huge artist reproductions of the angel artwork hanging around the sanctuary. On Christmas Day the choir will conclude the service by surrounding the congregation and singing 'There Are Angels Hoverin' Round Us.' We worked it out so that the sound will travel around the congregation (not everyone singing at once)." I visited an inner-city church that had hung beautiful angels in multicultural costumes all around the sanctuary. Many angels were hovering this past Christmas!
Miles to Go
Little did we know when RW began that the way in which we worship God would become one of the greatest areas of concern, creativity, tension, and debate for the Christian church in North America. In the face of such change, we recognize that the task of our journal has only begun. We hope that God will give us another ten years and more to explore the challenging relationships between tradition and innovation, between contributions from the Reformed heritage and the holy catholic church to which all Christians belong, between services of beauty that move our senses and services of power that move our hearts, between services in which we lead others in worship and services in which we offer our lives in wholehearted obedience.
We need many more years to develop those relationships. So we will continue to provide reflective articles as well as practical resources that will help congregations explore more deeply how we can offer our best worship to the Lord. We hope that RW will continue to help those called to lead God's people in worship.
Job descriptions for pastors and musicians are remarkably changed from ten years ago. What churches need first of all is not a pastor or a musician or an artist or an actor. First of all we need people whose hearts are filled with love for God and for their congregation, a love that expresses itself in beautiful, holy, and Spirit-filled worship of our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. And second, we need to encourage pastors, musicians, and artists to study worship as seriously as they study theology and the arts. We have miles to go.
Ten years ago, I wondered whether it was really legitimate for an all-white congregation to sing a black spiritual. Today, we are much more conscious of the worldwide church of God and we are using songs to identify with our brothers and sisters in other cultures. Recently on World Communion Sunday, while the elements were being served, we sang about ten songs from other cultures. It was very moving. The identification with the whole worldwide body of Christ is much healthier.
Ten years ago our worship committee was just another meeting to go to. So we did away with it. In its place we spun off another service, contemporary, that is totally in the hands of a worship team of about thirty people. I just pop up and preach in that service. But my associate and I do all the planning for the traditional 11:00 service. So one is a lay-planned service, one is clergy-planned, and attendance at each is about equal. That pattern seems to be working well.
I think one major paradigm shift that has happened in the culture has hit the church, too—the shift from what might be called a "mission-oriented" culture to a therapeutic-oriented culture. "I'm broken, I'm hurting, fix me, heal me, make me feel better." Whereas ten years ago, people would come to church to become equipped to do ministry—like John Kennedy's 'Ask not what your country can do for you .. ."—today it's "entertain me, pump me up, fix me, heal me."
The greater diversity in worship today calls for a greater investment on the part of a musician or a worship coordinator or whatever they are called. I wonder how churches have responded in terms of compensation for the increased diverse responsibilities. I fear the expectations have increased over the past ten years, but not the compensation.
—Amy van Gunst
In the last ten years, pastors and congregations are demanding more serious attention to planning worship. And if worship is going to be planned well, the preaching pastor needs to have themes and Scriptures ready six months in advance. So I am working six months in advance all the time.
Ten years ago the minister chose everything for our worship. That began to change when we attempted to introduce more contemporary worship. We added a worship planner and leader position, which eventually became permanent. And we began to develop worship teams that would be trained by the worship coordinator That's about where we are now, though we still have a music director who oversees the scheduling of all the teams and who does a fair amount of leading himself. We prayed for years to get a good music director!
In recent years we've put a lot of focus on the mechanics of worship and on the music chosen for worship and who is doing it. I hope in the next ten years to see more of an awareness that God may not be so much interested in looking at the mechanics as at our hearts and how we are living every day.
I wouldn't mind if in the next ten years the pendulum swung back a bit from Praise & Worship. In the church I attended yesterday, all they sang were Praise & Worship songs— nothing from the hymnal. Some Praise & Worship music is OK, but some of it is not. We need to do a better job of evaluating the music we use in worship.
—Mike Vanden Bosch
Our media-oriented, entertainment-oriented culture is demanding from worship some things that worship cannot and should not deliver. For pastors, the subtle message is always there: "Entertain me, because if you don't, there are other churches in town that will."
Another change in the past decade has been the emphasis on church growth and evangelism. I think it makes a big difference if you come at church growth from a Reformed theological perspective. If you don't, you can easily be seduced into a kind of shopper's mentality: If it works and brings people in, let's do it. It's dangerous when the sovereignty of God gets replaced by the sovereignty of the congregation. God has revealed some basics in his Word about what is pleasing to him. Those basics need to remain.
I spend more time now in worship preparation, probably two or three times as much as when I did everything myself. That is one spinoff. The other spinoff is the growing concept of a ministry staff. In the last ten years, we've moved from "she's head organist," to "she's organist and choir director;" to "she's director of music," to "she's worship coordinator," and tacitly now she is perceived as a pastoral musician. That is a very fundamental change and approach to that role.
One of the other spinoffs is the willingness of people to be involved. Every fall we do a worship resource bank of soliciting people who are interested in serving the variety of leadership roles. Each year that list of those who would take a public role in leadership and worship has increased significantly. Now we have a coach to help prepare all those involved, meeting weekly for run-throughs and rehearsing and coaching so that the next service goes smoothiy, especially for help in reading for good interpretation. These are things we never would have thought of ten years ago.