Well-Chosen Words: Introducing the Worship Sourcebook

The Worship Sourcebook stands in a long tradition of worship books in the Christian church. The biblical Psalms may well have functioned as a prayer book for the people of Israel. Some of the earliest Christians compiled their advice about forms and patterns of worship into church order documents, the first of which, the Didache, dates back perhaps into the first century a.d. Over time, especially in the early medieval period, these documents grew very complex, with detailed instructions about every aspect of worship.

Out of the various Reformation traditions, the Anglican and Lutheran traditions retained the most detailed instructions. The Anglican tradition preserved common patterns and texts for worship in the famous Book of Common Prayer, while the Lutherans did so in service books adapted for each town or region. The Reformed tradition was also a service book tradition, albeit with far simpler liturgy. Throughout the early decades of the Reformation, pastors did not create new orders of service for worship each week, as so many do today. Worship was, to the surprise of many contemporary readers, “by the book.”

Despite this tradition, most evangelical and even many Reformed and Presbyterian congregations in North America have resisted the use of formal service books and set liturgies. This resistance resulted partly from the influence of Puritan critiques; the formation of early Methodist, Baptist, Anabaptist, and other “free church” congregations; and the spread of North American populism, pragmatism, and revivalism. Congregations in many streams of North American Christianity have long resisted being told how to structure worship and have cherished their ability to respond to their own preferences and sense of what is most effective.

As a result, thousands of North American congregations today owe a great deal both to a two-thousand-year history of service books and to the legacy of North American freedom and populism. In recent years, amid remarkable changes in the practice of worship, hundreds of those congregations are looking for new ways to appropriate both of these aspects of their identity. Some efforts go by the names “blended worship,” “convergence worship,” or even “ancient-future” worship. But despite vast and remarkable growth in contemporary music based on popular styles, many of the best-selling books on worship today are, ironically, studies of worship in the early church, prayer books for formal daily prayer, and books about recovery of the sacraments.

The Nature of the Sourcebook

In light of this history, this book is something of an experiment. It is designed to be used by Christians who value free-church, low-church, nonliturgical, evangelical approaches to worship but who also want to learn from and draw on historic patterns of worship. At the same time, the book aims to be useful and instructive to congregations who practice traditional or liturgical worship and who may be looking for ways to adapt it or to rethink its meaning. The following six rubrics help to explain the nature of this book.

1. Classical and Contemporary

On the one hand, this book is clearly inspired by classical models. It draws on many texts from historic sources; it features approaches to the various elements of worship that have time-tested value for enhancing participation; and it uses traditional language for the primary elements and main themes in worship. On the other hand, it affirms and enhances the strengths of worship in a more free-church context. It does not mandate one standard service. It provides multiple options so that local leaders are free to adapt and use texts that are pastorally appropriate. It includes examples of fresh new language from sources like the Iona Community in Scotland as well as words of welcome and invitation designed for seekers in contemporary North American culture.

2. A Worship Leader’s Reference Book

This book is designed primarily for people who prepare and lead worship rather than for people in the pew. In this way it is different from the Book of Common Prayer, which is designed for all worshipers to follow during the worship service. Further, this book is designed as a reference book rather than as a service book to be used by a minister or leader during the service. Most users will likely transfer and adapt the texts in this volume into their own manuscript, set of notes, printed bulletin, or projected resources—perhaps using the CD edition to download texts.

3. A Book for Public Worship

This is more a liturgical book than a devotional book, though many may find helpful resources for devotional use. The goal here has been to find texts that are imaginative and evocative without calling much attention to themselves; to use words that are accessible on first hearing; and to find language that is both “fresh” and “contemporary” as well as “classic” and “elegant.” Our goal has been to produce a single book that can be used, with appropriate adaptation, to guide the preparations of worship in a wide diversity of congregations.

4. Classic and Enduring

One danger of our time is the production of a vast number of resources, including songs, service outlines, and prayers, prepared for temporary or even one-time use. While these certainly can be very helpful, our worship life also needs to be sustained by practices that will last a lifetime. In this context, this book is designed to be more like a “classic” resource than a merely occasional one. We can readily identify a number of scriptural texts that can be inspiring and challenging calls to prayer or assurances of pardon in any age. By compiling a relatively comprehensive set of scriptural resources, we are attempting to provide a useful resource for a generation of leaders.

5. Multiple Options for Pastoral Application

The book presents multiple options for each act of worship—sometimes a rather daunting list of options. These are provided so that the book can function in a wide variety of ministry contexts. Nonetheless, it may be very wise for congregations to limit the range of options they use. We encourage you to use only the best resources for your congregation.

Further, there can be significant value in repeating particular prayers or words over time. The repetition is especially important for children. And repetition inevitably entails limitations to the range of options a given congregation will use. So while we present several options for use as statements of faith, for example, it may be wisest to use just a few of them, such as the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, most of the time.

6. Ecumenical and Evangelical, Reformed and Presbyterian

This book is designed for use by all biblical, evangelical Christians. Because the volume includes so much Scripture and so many classical resources that transcend time or place, it can be used in many varieties of congregations. Most of the elements of a worship service (Part One) and the themes of the creed and church year (Part Two) are held in common by Christian congregations of various traditions. When Scripture and scriptural themes are at the center of worship, there is much more that unites us than divides us. For this reason, there are remarkable similarities between this book and a variety of other published books of resources, including the Book of Common Prayer (Episcopal), the Methodist Book of Worship (United Methodist), Chalice Worship (Disciples of Christ), and various books used by other evangelical or independent congregations or pastors (such as Baker’s Worship Handbook).

Still, each Christian tradition speaks with a particular accent. This volume has been prepared by believers from an evangelical and Reformed/ Presbyterian branch of Christianity in North America. The Reformed/Presbyterian accent will be very clear at several points. The volume includes texts from confessional documents such as the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Shorter Catechism, as well as more recent documents such as Our World Belongs to God (Christian Reformed Church in North America), Our Song of Hope (Reformed Church in America), and A Brief Statement of Faith (Presbyterian Church, USA). The volume also draws on approved texts by these denominations, especially the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship.

Given the increasing diversity of worship practices and theological traditions within Presbyterian and Reformed denominations, no single volume can pretend to be equally serviceable and appropriate for all. Some congregations may be able to draw exclusively on this volume and use almost any text here. Others will no doubt use other resources and use only a portion of what is presented here. Whatever the case, we hope that this volume will be at least a reference source for a broad range of congregations and that its effect will be to promote the sharing of texts and resources from various traditions.

Distinctive Features of This Book

Scriptural Texts. For nearly every element of worship this sourcebook features numerous scriptural texts, many more than in comparable volumes. With this feature we hope to encourage the use of more scriptural language in worship.

Confessional Statements. This book also includes many confessional statements as liturgical texts. Often they contain a simple and accessible beauty that is especially appropriate for worship. One goal for worship is to have it work together with a church’s educational ministries so that the language of catechetical and confessional teaching becomes familiar in congregational confession and prayer.

Congregational Participation. Many notes and rubrics in this book encourage congregational participation. This does not imply that every text with boldfaced type can only be used responsively. Leaders may alter boldfacing as they wish to suit the needs and style of their congregation’s participation.

Classic Texts. This sourcebook also features a variety of classic texts—some that date back hundreds of years and have stood the test of time. Protestants have not often had easy access to remarkable, evangelical prayers from historical sources. Our goal has been to place prayers in the context of where they will most likely be useful in a variety of evangelical and Reformed/Presbyterian churches.

Structure. The outline of the traditional church year has been subsumed under the structure of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. Like the church year, creeds provide a narrative outline of Christ’s life on this earth. But they also add important emphases on God’s creation, the work of the Spirit, and the life of the church. As a result, these resources are equally useful for a variety of congregations whether they follow the church year or a catechism or another structure that includes the teachings of these creeds.

Prayers. One premise of the book is that worship at its best often features a balance of extemporaneous and prepared prayers.

Resources for Including Children. Throughout this book many texts are identified as especially appropriate for use with children, though these designations are somewhat arbitrary (many more texts, especially scriptural ones, could be similarly identified). Worship at its best is intergenerational and invites children to be full, conscious, active participants, not just onlookers.

Resources for Hospitality. Various texts in this book are designed to extend hospitality to spiritual seekers, guests, and others who do not worship regularly. This language is essentially new to the prayer-book tradition, reflecting the missional context of the church in North America. The presence of these texts emphasizes that hospitality should be a key goal for all worship services.

Several of these features are new to collections of liturgical texts. But we trust that they will become a part of the church’s ongoing learning process and growth as practices of worship continue to develop.

Planning “Traditional” as Well as “Contemporary” Worship

This is a book designed for use by both so-called “traditional” and “contemporary” worship leaders and pastors. Any book of words like this will, by nature, appear to be most useful for “more traditional” churches that maintain a fairly detailed order of worship, print out the order of service in a bulletin each week, and use a number of spoken responses or litanies by the congregation. We very much hope that this book will be useful for these churches!

At first glance, this book may not seem a likely resource for leaders of “contemporary worship”—for churches whose worship is led by a worship team, without a detailed order of worship, without printed orders of service, and without congregational responses and litanies. But in fact it can be very useful!

First, the book provides texts that leaders, whether lay or ordained, can use or adapt at almost any point in a service. In all services, whether contemporary or traditional, leaders need to find words to call people to worship, to offer a prayer of confession, to prepare people for the reading of Scripture, or to introduce the offering. Often we fall into patterns of speech that are, at best, tired or, at worst, distort the meaning of an action of worship. Having a resource that provides multiple options gives us ways of both testing our own language and of deepening it through the use of additional Scripture texts or other resources.

Second, this volume provides suggestions for leaders who specialize in extemporaneous leadership. Some leaders may have every word printed out, others may lead from a prepared outline, still others may speak entirely extemporaneously. But even if you lead worship extemporaneously, consider preparing to lead in prayer (or other aspects of worship) by writing your prayers out before leaving the script behind. Writing a prayer out or adapting another resource forces us to think about our language and to avoid language that becomes monotonous or even meaningless through overuse.

Third, this sourcebook does not dictate the medium to use in presenting particular resources. In some churches the texts from this book will be printed out in a pastor’s or leader’s manuscript. In others they will be printed in a bulletin or worship folder. In yet others they will be projected on a large screen for all to see or read. The method of presentation will vary widely from church to church.

Finally, this book provides a structure that can enrich both traditional and contemporary styles. An increasing number of churches that follow contemporary worship models are rethinking the form or structure of their services, trying to find ways to make the structure more balanced and meaningful. There are few better resources for accomplishing this task than the basic structure used by Christian churches for two thousand years. So even if a church doesn’t prepare a printed order of service, there is great value in following the basic pattern presented here (gathering and praise, confession and assurance, proclamation of the Word and response, celebration of the sacraments, and concluding blessing), or—at minimum—making sure that each of these elements has a regular, sensible, and natural place in congregational worship.

In sum, this book is designed not to dictate a certain style of music, leadership, or use of multimedia. The goal has been to provide resources that can guide and instruct worship leaders in any style into the better use of God’s gift of language.

As much as you are able, use this resource book to God’s honor and glory!




  • Part One provides resources for each element of weekly public worship, along with teaching notes about the meaning and purpose of each element.
  • Part Two provides additional resources and teaching notes for common themes taught in ecumenical creeds of the Christian church and for seasonal celebrations of the traditional Christian year.
  • Each section is assigned a number for ease of reference and comparison between Parts One and Two of this book. Within each section, each resource is also numbered. For example, in Part One, resource 1.2.2, a call to worship, is found in section 1 (Opening of Worship), subsection 2 (Call to Worship), under resource number 2. Similarly, in Part Two, a call to worship for Christmas (Section E) would be found in E.1.2.
  • Each book comes with a CD that allows easy access to all the texts. You can use a computer search function to locate sections by name or number. For example, to search for Calls to Worship, you can search for “1.2” and then choose from among the search results. You could find call to worship options for Advent by searching for “D.1.2” and compare with options for Christmas (E.1.2) or Epiphany (F.1.2). Once you select a resource, you can cut and paste for use in a printed bulletin or on a projection system.
  • Indexes include sources, the Revised Common Lectionary, and Scripture references.


Prayers of the People

Because many churches use the gifts of many people to lead in congregational prayers, section 4 of The Worship Sourcebook is being released simultaneously in a separate paperback edition. Call 1-800-333-8300 to pre-order your copy.


Organization of the Sourcebook

Part One: Elements of the Worship Service

1 Opening of Worship
2 Confession and Assurance
3 Proclaiming the Word
4 Prayers of the People
5 Offering
6 Baptism
7 Profession of Faith and Remembrance of Baptism
8 Lord’s Supper
9 Closing of Worship

Part Two: Central Themes of the Christian Faith

We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.
A Creation
B Providence
C Thanksgiving

We believe . . . in one Lord Jesus Chrst. . . .
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven;
he became incarnate by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary,
and was made human.

D Advent
E Christmas
F Epiphany
G Baptism of our Lord
H Transfiguration
He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered and was buried.
I Ash Wednesday
J Lent
K Passion/Palm Sunday
L Maundy Thursday
M Good Friday

The third day he rose again, according to the Scriptures.
He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.
His kingdom will never end.

N Easter
O Ascension
P Christ the King

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.

Q Pentecost
R Trinity Sunday
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
S Unity of the Church

Rev. Dr. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.

Reformed Worship 71 © March 2004, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.