In the fall of 2016, previous and current staff, advisory committee members, and ministry partners gathered to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Reformed Worship. It was a good time to remember and reflect as we walked past all 120-plus issues of Reformed Worship that were laid out. Following that celebration a few of us sat down together and shared some further reflections.
Sitting around the table were:
Joyce Borger (JB), Senior Editor RW 81–124, Associate Editor RW 71–80
Emily Brink (EB), Senior Editor RW 1–80
Dean Heetderks (DH), Art Director RW 1–124
Ron Rienstra (RR), Associate Editor RW 56–70
Sandy Swartzentruber (SS), Managing Editor RW 103–122, Copy Editor RW 82–102
John Witvliet (JW), Columnist RW 63–124, Editorial Consultant RW 46–115
We are grateful to Diane Dykgraaf for making a record of this conversation.
The Early Days
EB: Reformed Worship (RW) was dreamed up on a cross-country tour introducing the forthcoming 1987 Psalter Hymnal. Somewhere between Toronto and New Jersey, driving along the New York Thruway, Harvey Smit, David Vander Wel, and I brainstormed about how to support the growing number of pastors and worship leaders who were asking for more help in navigating all the changes happening in the area of worship. We learned that getting the hymnal ready for the churches was not enough; the request was to help churches get ready for the hymnal and more. We were all newbies. But we had a vision, and we wanted a journal that was practical and ecumenical from the start.
DH: Remember when we could finally afford a little bit of color for the front cover and the center page? That was a big decision. And then we made the really big jump to full color with RW 100.
JW: Right from the start, though, they were copies to save even without color; that’s very different from disposable.
JB: In the very first issue it was stated that RW was meant to be a lasting resource that is passed around. That hasn’t changed.
JW: So grateful for those who helped establish the tone — early staff and advisory members who were theologically formed but had room for innovation and growth, a deeply-rooted growth mindset. Those things don’t always go together.
The Way Meetings Used to Be (For Better or for Worse)
JB: I remember when I first started we used to have these very long meetings with so many people in the room.
DH: Remember how much time we took titling each article, agonizing over layout and copy?
RR: Those were fun meetings!
JB: Remember those folders we used to pass around among the staff? I always had stacks on my desk and in my file drawer. Technology has certainly changed our process. Now we do everything electronically, even editing.
How RW Has Changed
EB: We first included art in RW 13, with bulletin covers for Advent that had been submitted (to my amazement) from an Evangelical Friends church in southern California. The feedback was so overwhelmingly positive that, from then on, attention to the visual arts began to grow and never stopped. At the beginning we were so full of words. Now RW has even full-page visuals.
EB: RW has always included songs for worship with background information and creative ideas for use in worship, including descants and new arrangements. The first few years we even published a good handful of anthems as inserts. But we really weren’t set up to become a music publisher; that was overly ambitious.
JB: In some of our recent issues we didn’t include any printed music because it’s easy to find online, and with the new e-version of RW we can link directly to it.
JB: As I was paging through back issues I was really struck by how much technology has changed in the last thirty years. In RW 3 there is an article about pastors using computers to prepare their sermons, naming problems about losing files, and the difficult learning process. Now it’s hard to imagine preparing a sermon without a computer—not just for writing, but even for commentaries and sermon resources.
What We Are Grateful For
EB: The Advisory Council that started out meeting twice a year represented churches large and small, rural and urban, young and old, and from several denominations. We had wonderful discussions that helped RW shape content and stay connected to the local church.
JW: I am grateful for the four hundred or so authors who have written articles or provided resources for RW. The diversity of authors is really an amazing story, from N.T. Wright to the local church volunteer, rural to urban, and from around the globe.
EB: The willing spirit of so many who want to share resources. Much of what is printed in RW was not solicited because so many people sent in what they wrote or created because they wanted to share what had been meaningful in their home churches.
With Thanksgiving: Advisory Council and Editorial Consultants
James Abbington, Edith Bajema, Kenneth Baker, William Barker, Amanda Benckhuysen, Roy Berkenbosch, Calvin Bolt, Helen Breems, Douglas Brouwer, Timothy Brown, Mark Bush, Miriam Bush, James Busscher, Moses Chung, Lisa De Boer, James DeJong, Karen DeMol, Colette DeNooyer, Paul Detterman, Arlo Duba, Joy Engelsman, Jill Friend, Ken Gehrels, Ronald Geschwendt, Howard Hageman, John Haines, Carol Harris, Peter Hogeterp, Alvin Hoksbergen, Sue Imig, Duane Kelderman, George Langbroek, Ray Lanning, Char Larson, Lynn Likkel, Jorge Lockward, Gregg Mast, Daniel Meeter, George Monsma, John Ourensma, Chris Stoffel Overvoorde, John Paarlberg, Cornelius Plantinga, Bert Polman, Lawrence Roff, Ron Scates, Carla Schemper, John Schuurman, Howard Slenk, Michael Smith, Carl Stam, Lisa Stracks, Norman Thomasma, Mike Van Doornik, Amy Van Gunst, Jack Van Marion, Anthony Van Zanten, Mark Van’t Hof, Mike Vanden Bosch,Yvonne VanderVeen, Howard Vanderwell, Jackie Venegas, Mary Voogt, David Vroege, Karen M. Ward, Wilbur Washington, Robert Webber, Jay Weener, David Winecoff, John Witvliet, and Nicholas Wolterstorff.
Excellent Resources and Articles that Don’t Grow Old
RR: In one of the early issues there is an article by Stanley Hall on the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. I use it every year in the classes I teach at Western Theological Seminary.
SS: The series from New Life Church in Guelph, Ontario, in RW 114, Metamorphosis, was visually stunning.
JB: RW 60, “We Are What We Sing,” by John Witvliet. The concepts that are taught have become a part of our DNA.
Also see p. 46 for more of our favorite resources and articles.
Courage to Tackle Harder Issues
EB: RW 20, a theme issue on Praise & Worship, was cautiously introduced as “the issue you never thought you’d see.” We were struggling to discern how to address worship styles that were starting to divide churches. We wanted to start a dialogue in a positive way.
The Spirit’s Work
JB: With every issue I am amazed at how the Spirit works to bring about a cohesive message that isn’t always planned. Something that was sitting in our files for years because we weren’t sure how to use it suddenly is exactly the article or resource that is needed in an issue. Or a worship leader makes a passing reference to a service and it fits a hole in an issue we are currently working on.
Culture is More Visually Attuned and Reading Less
DH: Worshipers are much more visually sophisticated today; we need to address that. It’s there; it’s happening; how do we do that right?
SS: We need to continue our efforts to treat children and non-readers as full participants in worship. One way is to evaluate the reading level of our liturgies.
Influence of New and Ever-Changing Technologies
EB: Some churches now give instructions on how to give offerings from your smartphone at the same time others are putting cash or checks in an offering plate.
DH: There are new words and concepts to consider. Mindfulness is a word I’ve seen everywhere; contemplation, meditation—is this something the church needs to address in an overstimulated culture?
Increasing Use of Story
JB: Increasing the use of story and narrative. We used to have James Schaap; we aren’t really seeing story in our articles now, though there are some in the blog.
RR: Memoir is a literary genre that is on the rise.
SS: Faith Formation Ministries is hearing churches asking how they can better tell their faith stories to each other. What might that look like in worship? (Check out their Faith Storytelling Tool Kit at tinyurl.com/hkvenas.)
RR: David Lose has said—I’m paraphrasing—“We tell people in church to tell their coworkers what Jesus is doing in their lives, but we never give them any practice.” Worship is a safe place to try. Maybe the preacher needs to cut back on personal stories and let the people tell their stories. Testimony is missing today. We’re nervous about letting people talk. We don’t know how to give the shape and guidelines to people giving testimonies.
Moving Away from the Traditional Church
EB: To what extent are the “nones” increasing? To what extent are millennials opting out of large-group worship and opting for small fellowships, home fellowship?
Becoming a Helpful Critic
JB: How do we become a voice of the helpful critic? We need to ask deeper questions about our worship. It isn’t just about good performance practices and catchy tunes. How is our worship forming those present to live out their faith? What are we doing that doesn’t support that formation? What in our worship is getting in the way of the gospel message?
Back to the Basics
JW: It’s important going forward to revisit the basics. Every year there will be people just beginning their worship ministry. We have to constantly go back to ask how to talk about the basic things in new, fresh ways.
RR: It would be worth making a list of those basics and dedicate to hitting those things every year.
JW: One of the basics is public intercessory prayer. This is the element of worship that is most threatened. The assumption that every week you’d pray comprehensively used to be a given, but now it’s endangered. Intercessory prayer is getting shorter and shorter, and quite a few of the churches my students have attended don’t include it at all.
JB: RW has been around for thirty years. I sometimes wonder if there is anything left to say. But one of the things I love about worship is that there is always something more to learn, another way to grow. Here’s to another thirty years of RW and an eternity of worship—for the glory of God!
We Want to Hear From You
How would you answer these questions? Send us an email with your reflections at firstname.lastname@example.org or take the short survey at tinyurl.com/zuemtzc also posted on our Facebook page. Who knows? Maybe your response will be featured in an upcoming RW article!
How many years have you been an RW subscriber?
- 1 year
- 2-5 years
- 6-10 years
- 11-20 years
- 21-30 years
- Is there an RW article that stands out in your mind that helped deepen your understanding of worship?
- What are the most significant changes in worship you’ve experienced?
- What part of RW are you most grateful for?
- Looking forward, what do you think will be the opportunities and challenges facing congregational worship?
- As RW looks towards the next thirty years, what words of advice do you have for its staff?