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Life in the Minor Key

Introducing the Minor Prophets in Worship

Some parts of the Bible tend to get all the spotlight—the gospels, Paul’s letters, the psalms, Genesis, Isaiah. But it’s rare that we hear the names of Nahum, Habakkuk, or Obadiah on Sunday morning. The 12 books known as “the minor prophets” are often left out of the worship rotation because of the harsh nature of the words and ideas they contain.

Inside these 12 books we find some of the Old Testament’s most shocking images and terrifying judgments: slavery, exile, genocide, sexual debauchery, wanton immorality. In other words, a minor prophets coloring book would probably not be a bestseller in a children’s bookstore.

The words spoken by the minor prophets are very specific words to very specific people. Israel is being devastated by war and is in the grip of idolatry. God sends the prophets to plead with Israel so they will denounce evil and turn back toward God. Amid the sorrow we find God’s great grace: an unconditional love for his people and a desire to save them from their own wickedness and the wickedness of the world around them.

The minor prophets live in Israel’s “dark night before the dawn.” They speak to Israel in the time before the hero comes, when everything is looking hopeless. After the minor prophets conclude, we are left with 400 years of silence—a silence that is finally broken by the birth of the Messiah. 

Although it’s tempting to gloss over these difficult books, it’s a temptation we should resist. Through the entire Old Testament we see the world’s need for a Savior. The books of the minor prophets represent the pinnacle of that need. Alongside (and inseparable from) some of God’s harshest judgments are God’s greatest promises of mercy.

Telling the Story in Worship

How do we begin to tell the story of the minor prophets? How do we help people absorb their message? Because of the abstract nature of the minor prophets, our congregation opted to use the visual arts to provide context and deepen our understanding of what was written.

Trading Cards

With the bulletin we handed out “minor prophet trading cards” to provide a quick visual summary of that week’s prophet. They were fun for the children (and for 30-year-old kids like myself) to collect and learn about the prophets. Each card included the prophet’s name, the place and date of writing, length of book, and a brief summary of the book’s contents. A member of our congregation who works in a print shop volunteered to print the cards for us on standard 8.5 x 11 glossy cardstock. Sheets of eight cards are available for download at tinyurl.com/lifeintheminorkey for whomever would like to use them.

“Life and Times of the Prophet” Videos 

The minor prophets of the Old Testament are similar to the epistles of the New Testament in that they were written to a specific people, at a specific time, to address a specific issue. Without that context, it is impossible to truly understand the meaning of the text.

While it’s fairly easy for us to relate to Paul’s letters addressing the ways in which the church should follow Jesus, the problems facing the minor prophets (such as slavery, exile, hunger, and war) can be harder for many to relate to in North American culture.

To alleviate this inaccessibility, we created a series of short videos to provide historical and theological context. Each week before we read the Scripture we showed the video for that specific prophet. This provided our congregation with the needed context to engage the text as it was read and preached.

Painting the Prophets

While the trading cards and video provided historical context, our resident painter, Ed Westervelt, provided artistic interpretation. He began with twelve black-and-white panels that resembled piano keys, and hung them with Velcro around our sanctuary. Each week he would take one home and paint a semi-abstract interpretation of the prophet in a unique artistic style representative of the text. He would then bring it back to church and hang it up for the week in which we read that particular prophet. On the final week he removed all the completed panels from the walls and slowly put them together (on stage) to reveal a new image: a large tree transforming from death into life.

Worship Atmosphere

The minor prophets lend themselves to a reflective atmosphere during worship. During the series we held church “in the round,” placing all chairs in a circle around the communion table. We replaced our drum set with percussion and moved our worship band down on the floor, as part of the circle where the congregation sat, to provide a more intimate, acoustic atmosphere for worship. If worship in the round is not possible in your space, you could also considering moving your musicians off-stage or to the side.

Using the Whole Text

While we could read a few of the books in their entirety in worship (the whole book of Obadiah is only 21 verses), most are too long for a typical worship service. We used a few different strategies to utilize as much of the whole text as possible. Each week we invited the congregation to come meet at the church’s coffeehouse and read through the whole book. The longest of the minor prophets is 14 chapters, so it rarely took longer than an hour. Our pastor chose a few select verses to preach about that were the most representative of the message of that prophet, and we used other portions of the book as parts of our typical liturgy. For example, the week we used Amos the call to worship was from 5:4-15, the prayer of confession was 5:18-24, the words of assurance were 9:11-15, and the sermon was based on 7:7-9.

Do involve your congregation in the worship planning, too. If you meet to read through the entire book, ask people to listen for parts of the text that would be good to use in your worship service. For all weeks, consider using Michael Morgan’s “Song of the Prophets” (Lift Up Your Hearts #53). Each week sing the first stanza, the stanza for that day’s prophet, and the final stanza.

Following are service plans that center on each of the twelve minor prophets.

Week 1
Hosea

Summary
God uses Hosea’s marriage and his unfaithful wife to illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.

Assurance of Pardon
Hosea 11:8-9

Song Suggestions
“One Thing Remains” (Johnson/Black-Gifford/Riddle)
“Mighty to Save” (Fielding/Morgan) LUYH 611
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (Chisholm) LUYH 348, PH 276, PsH 556, TH 32, WR 72
“Softly and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling” (Thompson) LUYH 615, TH 479, WR 348
“Give Me a Clean Heart” (Douroux) LUYH 621, SNC 64
“Give Us Clean Hands” (Hall) LUYH 628

Week 2
Joel

Summary
Joel preached judgment on Israel and is well known for predicting the “pouring out” of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Call to Worship
Joel 2:1

Call to Confession
Joel 2:12-17

Song Suggestions
“Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” (Heber) LUYH 538, PH 138, PsH 249, TH 100, WR 136
“Always” (Stanfill)
“Fear Not, Rejoice and Be Glad” (Wright) LUYH 240, PsH 201, WR 392
“Deep Within” (Haas) LUYH 723
“Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness” (Manley) LUYH 238, WR 326
“We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit” (Smallwood) LUYH 321
“Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God” (Getty/Townend) LUYH 746
“Where the Spirit of the Lord Is” (Hillsong Worship) WR 396

Week 3
Amos

Summary
Amos was a shepherd called to condemn Israel for its increasing immorality.

Call to Worship
Amos 5:4-15

Prayer of Confession
Amos 5:18-24

Words of Assurance
Amos 9:11-15

Scripture Reading and Sermon
Amos 7:7-9

Song Suggestions
“The Heart of Worship” (Redman)
“For the Healing of the Nations” (Kaan) LUYH 289, WR 621
“Let Justice Flow” (Romanow) LUYH 295

Week 4
Obadiah

Summary
Obadiah’s short prophecies describe the destruction of Israel’s enemy, the nation of Edom.

Song Suggestions
“How Great Is Our God” (Tomlin/Reeves/Cash) LUYH 574
“O Great God and Lord of the Earth” (Bell) LUYH 293
“My Lord, What a Morning” (African American Spiritual) LUYH 481, PH 449, TH 328, WR 537

Week 5
Jonah

Summary
Undoubtedly the most well-known minor prophet, Jonah flees from God’s call to take a message to the city of Nineveh.

Song Suggestions
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (Robinson) LUYH 521, PH 356, PsH 486, TH 457, WR 68
“Mighty to Save” (Fielding/Morgan) LUYH 611
“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” (Faber/DeMey) LUYH 689, PH 298, WR 61
“By Grace We Have Been Saved” (Edwards/Whitfield) LUYH 675
“Depth of Mercy” (Wesley/Kauflin) LUYH 702

Week 6
Micah

Summary
Micah pleads with Israel to turn from their evil ways and “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Assurance of Pardon
Micah 7:18-20

Summary of God’s Law
Micah 6:8

Song Suggestions
“Build Us Back” (Walker/Stuart)
“God of Justice” (Hughes)
“Kyrie Eleison” (Townend/Getty)
“Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” (Tomlin) LUYH 691/693
“We Are Called” (Haas) LUYH 296
“O For a Closer Walk with God” (Cowper) LUYH 324, PH 396/397, PsH 551, TH 534
“What Does the Lord Require of You” (Strathdee) LUYH 713

The minor prophets live in Israel’s “dark night before the dawn.” They speak to Israel in the time before the hero comes, when everything is looking hopeless.

Week 7
Nahum

Summary
Nahum foretold the destruction of the Assyrian empire, which had enslaved God’s people. This book provides a dire warning against pride and power.

Song Suggestions
“Our God” (Tomlin) LUYH 580
“Spirit of the Living God” (Iverson/Baughon) LUYH 749, PH 322, PsH 424, TH 726
“Have Thine Own Way, Lord” (Pollard) LUYH 737, PsH 287, TH 688, WR 486
“May the Mind of Christ, My Savior” (Wilkinson) LUYH 334, PsH 291, TH 644, WR 464
“When We Walk with the Lord/Trust and Obey” (Sammis) LUYH 327, PsH 548, TH 672, WR 443
“At the Name of Jesus” (Noel) LUYH 220, PH 148, PsH 467, TH 163, WR 321

Week 8
Habakkuk

Summary
Habakkuk converses with God and asks hard questions, such as, “If God is sovereign, why do the wicked prosper?”

Song Suggestions
“When Peace Like a River/It Is Well With My Soul” (Spafford) LUYH 451, PsH 489, TH 691, WR 428
“God of Our Life” (Kerr) LUYH 404, PH 275, WR 409
“God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (Cowper) LUYH 25, PH 270, PsH 434, TH 128, WR 65
“The First Place” (Westerholm) LUYH 15
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” (Johnson) LUYH 44, PH 563, WR 729
“Deliver Me From Evil/Psalm 140” (Psalter, 1912 rev. Witvoet) LUYH 656, PsH 140
“All My Life/Psalm 73” (Medema) LUYH 333, PFAS 73A
“Why Stand So Far Away, My God?/Psalm 10” (Duck) LUYH 648

Week 9
Zephaniah

Summary
Zephaniah contrasts the destruction that comes from wickedness with the blessings that come with righteousness.

God’s Greeting
Zephaniah 3:17

Assurance of Pardon
Zephaniah 3:14-18

Song Suggestions
“Be Thou My Vision” LUYH 859, PH 339, TH 642, WR 502
“How Vast the Benefits Divine” (Toplady) LUYH 688, PsH 497, TH 470
“Goodness Is Stronger Than Evil” (Desmond Tutu) LUYH 707, WR 296
“In Christ Alone” (Getty/Townend) LUYH 770

Week 10
Haggai

Summary
Haggai encourages God’s people with the promise of God’s faithfulness as they try to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.

Song Suggestions
“Better Is One Day” (Redman)
“Build Your Kingdom Here” (Rend Collective)
“The Steadfast Love of the Lord” (McNeill) LUYH 347, SNC 242
“Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (Chisholm) LUYH 348, PH 276, PsH 556, TH 32, WR 72
“Day by Day” (Berg) LUYH 437, TH 676, WR 449
“You Are Good” (Houghton) LUYH 577

Week 11
Zechariah

Summary
Zechariah speaks clearly to Israel about the promise of the coming Messiah.

Call to Worship
Zechariah 9:9-12

Song Suggestions
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (Robinson) LUYH 521, PH 356, PsH 486, TH 457, WR 68
“Forever” (Tomlin) LUYH 578
“Lo! He Comes, with Clouds Descending” (Wesley) LUYH 479
“Sing to the King” (Foote) LUYH 474
“Come, We that Love the Lord/We’re Marching to Zion” (Watts) LUYH 483, WR 67
“Jesus Christ Is the Way” (Walter Hawkins) LUYH 471
“View the Present Through the Promise” (Troeger) LUYH 470, SNC 90

Week 12
Malachi

Summary
Malachi, the last prophet of the Old Testament, echoes Zechariah’s promise of a Savior, which would be fulfilled in Jesus 400 years later.

Assurance of Pardon
Malachi 3:1-4

Song Suggestions
(also see the song list from Week 11)
“Beautiful Things” (Gungor)
“Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” (Wesley) LUYH 351, PH 376, PsH 568, TH 529, WR 358
“Oh, the Deep, Deep, Love of Jesus” (Francis) LUYH 796, TH 535, WR 398
“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light” (Thomerson) LUYH 730, SNC 77, WR 248

All of the resources we created, including graphics, trading cards, and videos, are available to view or download at tinyurl.com/lifeintheminorkey. If you have any questions, contact Nathan Drake at Ndrakephoto@gmail.com.