What worship issues or needs are of most concern in your church? This question was posed in a questionnaire sent to Reformed churches around the world (see list on website). A sample of what those churches said concerned them the most is found below:
“Training of pastors in theology of worship, preaching/leading worship”
“Inclusiveness of women, youth, and children”
“Training of musicians in theology of worship and music skills”
“We sometimes observe signs of an entertainment culture with regards to worship.”
“Some adults find comfort in the traditional worship, but the youth want a modern way of worship.”
“Concern for youth attendance and involvement”
“The gap existing between the initial and academic training of its pastors and their lack of liturgical training”
“The influence of the Pentecostal movement”
“Efforts must be made to involve the entire congregation in the service.”
“Lack of singing practice and therefore a poor level of congregational singing; fear of renewing the liturgy”
“Provide articles on music education; helping in the preparation of instrumentalists and youth leaders”
“Worship with an intercultural lens”
“Commitment to pastors in the Middle East despite instability; renewal of worship (style, content, leadership)”
Do any of these issues sound familiar? Churches around the globe and across denominations share similar concerns. If these responses were put in a basket, practically any church in the Reformed tradition could pick a response and relate to it. The needs expressed are not limited by place or denomination or size or age of congregations.
The responses to this questionnaire were an important step in a process that resulted in the adoption of “Worshiping the Triune God: Receiving and Sharing Christian Wisdom across Continents and Centuries” (see p. 18) at the very first assembly of the World Communion of Reformed Churches held in June 2010 at Calvin College. How fitting that worship and spiritual renewal were an important part of the agenda at the birth of this new communion!
Churches everywhere are hungry for spiritual and worship renewal in the face of unprecedented social and political change, with more immigration and more refugees than ever before. Such worship renewal needs to be rooted not only in a theology of worship, but also in the practice of worship as it is expressed in increasingly diverse ways within and among congregations everywhere. Today social networking allows us to listen and learn from brothers and sisters in Christ around the world. It is this global perspective that gave rise to “Worshiping the Triune God,” a remarkable gift from and to churches around the world.
The Background Story
2004-2005: Recommendations from Two Worldwide Bodies. The story begins in Africa. Worship and spiritual renewal were on the agenda of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) when it met in Accra, Ghana, for its last assembly in 2004. It adopted several resolutions to address worship and culture, including “develop and document a theology of worship” and “facilitate processes of worship renewal . . . [and] encourage a sharing of musical, visual, liturgical, and biblical resources and approaches.”
The following year the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC), a younger and smaller organization of churches mainly from Africa and Asia, met for its last assembly in Utrecht, The Netherlands. Worship issues were also on the agenda, and a similar mandate was adopted: “to acknowledge the need for study of worship practices” and “establish a study group to deal with issues of worship and culture from a Reformed perspective.”
2006-2008: Developing a Process. By 2008, the decision had been made to form a new World Communion of Reformed Churches through the merger of WARC and REC, under the leadership of the Uniting General Council, an international transitional body. They worked out the complex details of joining together in the spirit of John 17, honoring Christ’s desire that the church be one, united in Christ. The first Assembly was scheduled for June 2010 at Calvin College. The Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) was asked to coordinate the worship for that assembly and address the mandates, so it formed a committee composed of staff and international members.
CICW staff on the committee—representing Egypt and the Philippines as well as North America—worked on a questionnaire that would give us some initial direct connection to the churches we hoped to serve. The survey included only these two questions: “What are you thankful for, especially of resources that you have already developed in your denomination?” and “What worship issues/needs are of most concern in your denomination?”
2009-2010: Creating the Document. Creating a document on worship and spiritual renewal proved to be a difficult task. The committee wrestled to find an approach that wasn’t steeped in a Western rational academic approach of lists of principles with do’s and don’ts. Initial drafts generated little enthusiasm. When we wondered whether we would have a document ready in time for the June 2010 meetings, the leadership of WARC and REC told us they were eagerly awaiting something on worship renewal for the birth of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. “The word communionin our new name needs to be rooted in worship, which is at the heart of our life together as Christians.”
The breakthrough came when the committee looked at the concept of proverbs—statements of wisdom imbedded in many cultures around the world in all ages, from the biblical book of Proverbs to our own day. As specific proverbs were suggested, committee members offered testimonies of application from their own cultures. I reviewed my notes from travels to different churches; how about adding testimonies about psalm singing in Pakistan, for example? We began dreaming of a whole gallery of educational resources that could be posted online, including videos of services in different lands that exemplified how the wisdom in a particular proverb was practiced in different places.
We sent the initial draft of the document to leaders in churches and seminaries around the world, requesting their quick response. After revisions were made, the request went out again. Dozens of people from many denominations and countries contributed their wisdom and insights to the final document. In April 2010, the document was translated into French, German, and Spanish, and posted on the Internet so churches could study it in advance of the June Assembly. Delegates assigned to the Worship and Spirituality section spent hours meeting together and in small groups, poring over these proverbs and adding their voices on the basis of their wisdom and experience from still more countries.
The resulting revised document, “Worshiping the Triune God,” was adopted unanimously by the WCRC and commended to member churches for study and reflection. It promises to serve as a catalyst for ongoing learning and sharing among member churches, a means by which we can encourage each other to “grow in grace and knowledge in the Lord Jesus.”
The need for worship and spiritual renewal is as great as ever. One important goal for RW for the coming years will be to consider the wisdom and respond to the challenges set forth in “Worshiping the Triune God.” The document is a work in progress. We’re all invited into the next phase, with another edition planned for 2012 based on feedback from churches everywhere. Consider ways you can contribute to the discussion by inviting your worship committees, elders, and groups of pastors to study this document together.
May the next steps increase our love for God and the body of Christ, as we serve and learn from each other in the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.