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Book: Trouble at the Table: Gathering the Tribes for Worship

Carol Doran and Thomas H. Troeger. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1992.160 pages.

Even before you open the cover of this book, it has made a powerful statement to you. It's a book written by a pastor/musician team, testifying to the fact that such teams can work together in profitable collaboration. Doran is a professional church musician, and Troeger is a preacher and professor of preaching. This book represents what they have learned through planning and leading hundreds of worship services together. Their intent is to strengthen worship gatherings by encouraging joint planning by leaders and lay members.

Their even greater purpose is to give some insight and direction to the stress that exists within the church today because of diversity that easily leads to polarization. The analogy of the tribes of Israel gathering at Jerusalem for worship runs throughout their thought pattern. The church needs to draw on the best of what each tribe has to offer, must resist fragmentation, and must avoid the struggle for domination that seems to characterize so much of our culture. That's a tall task!

Doran and Troeger provide insight into two strategies for achieving balanced change: A congregation needs to identify its mission for the future and reflect a unity of purpose, and it needs a worship planning committee to reflect the diversity within the congregation.

The authors not only call us to the task but also give some helpful guidelines for accomplishing it. In a particularly valuable section of the book they give offer five "liturgical maps" for the worship planning team to use as they find their way to a revitalized worship life. They stress that there must be balance between (1) structure and anti-structure, i.e. the secure and the mysterious; (2) intrade-pendence and extra-dependence, i.e., praise and empowerment; (3) different personality types and what each desires; (4) different levels of worship history that sees some elements as enduring and others as temporary; and (5) efforts to draw worshipers together in achieving a common vocabulary about worship.

In a time when the church is wrestling with the nature of worship and how we can best offer our worship to God in a changing society, it is both refreshing and encouraging to read a book that strives to clarify issues and not merely style.