Q. One of the major stumbling blocks we face is that most members of our congregation know very little about worship. But we don’t want to make worship didactic. Any advice?
A. You’re in good company. We hear this comment often, especially from pastors in new church development ministries. Several new books explore how church education programs should provide people with basic teaching about worship: Debra Dean Murphy, Teaching That Transforms: Worship as the Heart of Christian Education (Brazos, 2004); Jane Rogers Vann, Gathered Before God: Worship-Centered Church Renewal (Westminster John Knox, 2004); and Anne E. Streaty Wimberly, Nurturing Faith and Hope: Black Worship as a Model for Christian Education (Pilgrim, 2004). I encourage you to begin by studying one of these books with your education committee, team, or staff.
Second, design a worship education plan that is manageable. Consider using Sunday Morning Live! (Faith Alive, 2003) as a teaching tool. Designed as a six-week course for youth groups, it works well with people of all ages.
Third, remember that every choir or worship team practice, every council meeting, every Sunday school session, every Bible study group, and every church newsletter is an opportunity for teaching about worship. I recommend teaching one song, introducing one thought-provoking quote, or highlighting one resource in each forum you can—even if it’s the same idea in all the meetings you attend in a given month. Over time, this can be an effective form of faith formation.
Q. We’re in the middle of a worship war. What we do have going for us is that leaders of very different styles are able to have good theological discussions together. What are some common themes that cut across all styles that we should discuss?
A. Several themes are foundational, but they may not help you make progress in your discussions. Principles like “everything should be done for the glory of God,” “all things should be done with excellence,” and “all texts should be biblical” generate quick agreement but rarely lead to new perspectives. Make sure you name these themes, but realize that most leaders will assume that they are already following them.
More helpful topics for discussion include the following:
- Jesus is a Lion and a Lamb, majestic and meek, a king, a priest, a prophet. Good worship should balance our view of Jesus’ identity.
- We don’t worship to make God love us, but because God loves us. Nothing in worship should imply otherwise.
- Honest prayer and balanced worship involves confession, thanksgiving, praise, and lament.
- We don’t sing in order for God to be present, but because God already is present. Nothing in worship should imply otherwise.
- Praise affirms and adores God. By implication, it denies false gods and idols. It protests gods our culture erects in place of God. Good worship should show both.
- What we remember and what we anticipate define our identity. Good worship forms our Christian identity by active recall of the past and active anticipation of the future. It doesn’t dismiss the past as irrelevant or the future as too vague to anticipate.
- When we worship, we don’t create the song of praise. We join in a continuous song of praise that includes the music-like praise of animals and oceans and believers from every time and space. Good worship helps us see that that expansive vision.
You may want to reflect on how recent services have reflected these themes. They typically cut through stylistic discussions and open up more fruitful conversations.
Note that these criteria are not dour doctrines that squelch our imagination in worship. They are joyful themes that point to the abundant life we are offered in Christ. Discuss them with kingdom relish! Savor them. Probe them. Enjoy.
Q. We’re renovating our space. How many people should we include in making decisions on such things as carpet colors, flower arrangements, light fixtures, and so on?
A. Avoid two big (and common) mistakes: (1) having one or two people make all the decisions without input, and (2) having practically the whole congregation involved in making detailed decisions. Begin the decision-making process with a brief statement of values that will guide the process. This helps people begin to think beyond personal preferences. Offer several options for a group(s) of people to comment on. Then appoint a small group of people to read the responses and make a decision. When announcing decisions, make sure to affirm good ideas that may not have made the final cut.
We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you’ll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids, MI 49560), fax (616-224-0803), or e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org). You can also e-mail John directly (email@example.com).