Hiding Spinach

Liturgy as Spiritual Nutrition

Growing up in my small Christian Methodist Episcopal church, each order of worship was printed as prescribed by the denomination’s Book of Discipline. The worship services always included a call to worship, hymns, an affirmation of faith (the Apostles’ Creed), Scripture readings, the Gloria Patri, prayers, an offering, proclamation of the Word, the doxology, and the benediction. I looked forward to getting through the “boring” parts of church to get to the two popular gospel songs that also were included in the service.

For me those gospel songs were like cake—sweet and satisfying—while the other elements of worship were more like spinach—bland and unfulfilling. My youthful palate loved cake and merely tolerated spinach. So as I grew into young adulthood, l looked for a church whose worship was lively and “sweet,” and I avoided the “bland” traditions I grew up with. As I matured, I would come to realize that this “worship cake” does not provide the spiritual nutrition I need. Ultimately, I needed life-giving worship, rooted in the gospel story, that invited me to “taste and see that the Lord is good” regardless of worship style and form.

Recently a group of worship leaders gathered to discuss the importance of planning worship services that are not only rooted in biblical truth but encourage congregational participation. We explored the notion that congregants may dislike strong, deeply rooted worship because it’s lifeless and poorly prepared.

A wise parent might hide nutritious spinach in a tasty omelet or fruit smoothie. In the same way, worship leaders should try to include worship elements in a variety of expressions that enliven worship and lead worshipers to stand in awe before the triune God and rejoice in God’s redemptive work in Jesus Christ.

How can worship elements be included in a way that brings life and sweetness to worship while providing the spiritual nutrients that produce mature, fruitful worshipers?

Consider Your Context

First, ask yourself a few questions: Who are the people in my congregation? Do I love them? In my worship planning am I seeking to serve them and God, or to serve myself? Do I pray for them as I plan worship and think about what would help them grow in faith?

Also consider your congregation’s tradition or denomination and its expressed priorities in corporate worship. How might worship be planned with both the people and those priorities in mind?

In our worship contexts, we must see the people in our congregations for who they are, not for who we wish them to be. We must also love them where they are, recognizing that each person is growing and being formed in worship. How might we help them grow by planning worship that points to the God who has provided salvation and hope for broken people and sent them out to bring hope to a broken world?

Teach As You Go

How many people in our congregations attend worship because of cultural conditioning? Do they understand what they are doing and why? In my own experience, I have come to recognize that it was not the routine of reciting the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer that bored me as a young person. It was that I engaged in them as a ritualistic routine without understanding what I was doing and why. After learning about the meaning and movement of historic worship, I was able to appreciate and embrace the richness and formative power of singing praises to the triune God in the Gloria Patri or in affirming the deep truths of my faith in reciting the Apostles’ Creed.

As worship leaders we have the opportunity to facilitate learning and growth with the songs we sing, the texts we read, and the brief transitional words spoken between the various worship elements. Where the leadership structure allows, consider including the pastor or whoever will preach the sermon in the worship team in order to bring greater continuity and clarity to the worship service.

Also, try explaining any new worship element introduced to the congregation. When worshipers understand how each element points us to the gospel and grows us in our faith, they are able to participate more heartily. But we also need to be careful that any new element in the worship service points to the gospel and promotes faith in those who come to worship.

Be Creative

How might we enliven parts of the worship service that seem dry or bland? I’m not suggesting glittery gimmicks, but rather breathing new life into these timeless elements of worship.

With a congregation resistant to singing hymns, for example, planners might introduce hymns by adding a refrain from a more contemporary song before singing the entire hymn the following Sunday. Or, if your church sings only hymns, but without fervor, why not introduce a re-tuned version to refresh the words?

Be creative in the non-musical elements of the service too. Consider multisensory elements, such as an appropriate image in the printed bulletin or on a screen to help the congregation see what is being taught or sung. Remember to draw attention to the new element and teach about its aim in worship. Be creative when considering who participates. Consider inviting multigenerational and differently-abled congregants to read, sing, or light a candle in the service. Hopefully, by seeing new people leading in worship, the congregation will recognize the richness and diversity of the body of Christ more clearly.

When worship planners continually seek to exalt God and love his people by creating a hearty liturgical meal flavored for every palate to savor, hopefully every worshiper’s heart and voice will proclaim: “I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good!”

Satrina Y. Reid is a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and worship director at Tabernacle Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Christian Education and Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Reformed Worship 136 © June 2020, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.