I was struck by a question asked by a California reader in the previous issue of Reformed Worship: “I’m too concerned for the details of the service to really enter into worship. Any advice?” (RW 71, p. 44). That’s one problem.
A deeper problem arises when a worship leader is too burdened—for whatever reason—to be able to worship, and yet is called to lead others. That’s another kind of problem.
But sometimes a whole congregation is struggling in the face of a terrible crisis, ongoing conflict, or painful transition. Everyone is wondering how to pray, how to sing. Then, more than ever, we need to come together before God. How do we worship honestly in these difficult circumstances?
That’s the focus of this theme issue. On one level, this could have been a depressing theme. But I hope you are blessed, as I was, by many of the stories in these articles and resources. Many moved me to prayers of intercession or thanksgiving. Even the act of preparing worship resources for a journal like this one can become an act of worship. (See also the letter to the editor, p. 47.)
Here’s a snapshot of what you’ll find in this issue.
Congregational Leadership Issues
Some articles deal with congregational leadership issues; you may want to copy them for discussion in an elders’ or worship committee meeting, or perhaps at a retreat devoted to long-term planning. Kathy Smith wrote the lead article (p. 3) and is also our guest columnist for the Q&A (p. 30). John Witvliet wrote an article on congregational health (p. 18), offering some diagnoses and treatments of congregational maladies. And at the end of the issue, one congregation shows leadership in addressing technology issues (p. 42).
Does any family in your congregation have a loved one that they have “lost” to Alzheimer’s disease? Consider the new hymn text by John Core on page 28; as this song passed through staff, the immediate reaction was to offer it to our own churches. Here is an opportunity for the whole congregation to pray with those who too often shoulder a burden alone. In singing this prayer and many others mentioned in this issue, we take on our lips words that may move us to acts of compassion and service.
The same is true for Calvin Seerveld’s “Congregational Lament” (p. 7). This hymn has not only found its way into hymnals but also into prayer books, where congregations who are used to praising, but not lamenting, can find their voice. Seerveld is an internationally known scholar who, as an elder in his congregation, takes pastoral care very seriously; his suggestion for congregations appointing “lament teams” in addition to “praise teams” is not tongue-in-cheek.
Perhaps music itself is an area of tension in your congregation. If so, consider Barry Morrison’s thoughts on the benefits of a musical fast (p. 10).
In an interview on page 32, James Abbington provides an overview of genres of African-American worship song; your congregation probably would enjoy singing more from this rich heritage.
South African Perspective
As we do in every issue of RW, we look beyond the dominant culture in North America. On the issue of worship in difficult times, Christians around the world who struggle to gather for worship come to mind.
We’re grateful for the perspective of Cas Wepener from South Africa, a country that has made profound changes in the past twenty years (p. 20). I keep pondering his statement “Reconciliation is the ministry of the church.” Churches in North America going through struggles are all dealing in some form with the need for reconciliation; we have much to learn from these South African experiences.
Service Plans and Resources
You’ll find a variety of service plans reflecting different kinds of “difficult times”—a healing service (p. 8), a service after a devastating fire (p. 16), and a profile of a drive-in church (p. 36). Even the wedding resource points to the promises made “for better or for worse” (p. 29).
You’ll also find a Labor Day service (p. 38) and more on technology in worship in our regular columns.
We trust you’ll find something in this issue that will be of help to your congregation. Perhaps you’ll even find yourself praying in intercession and thanksgiving, not only for your congregation but for the churches that have provided the contents of this issue. May your worship planning become an offering of worship as well as work. Of course, as the Labor Day service helps us remember, worshiping as you work is a good Reformed concept that applies to all vocations, not just to worship planning. But surely planning and leading God’s people in their worship is one of the greatest privileges and responsibilities one could have. Not to worship as you work in this vocation would be sad indeed.