Once more in this issue, we have selected (some Q&A's from the final section of Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture, a report to the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) synod in June 1997. The purpose of this study is to equip church leaders with perspectives and insights that will help them make decisions about worship—decisions that are biblically and theologically informed as well as culturally discerning.
This study has already received acclaim both within and beyond the CRC. James F. White, one of North America's foremost liturgical scholars and author of Introduction to Christian Worship (Abingdon, 1990), says of this report: "What the Christian Reformed Church has accomplished in articulating the theological, biblical, and historical dimensions of the church's most important activity should be widely admired and imitated by other churches."
Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture is now available in an expanded study version including discussion questions and suggestions for use with worship committees, elders, or adult education groups. Available from CRC Publications, 1-800-333-8300.
Q. Our church has just started mutual greetings, where we turn to greet each other early in the worship service. Some people call it a distraction. They say they came to worship God, not to greet Joe. Is a time of greeting one another so bad?
A. No. We worship as the body of Christ. A time of greeting one another, welcoming visitors, interacting between adults and children can only enrich the worship of the body of Christ. Sometimes people oppose the exchange of mutual greetings because it seems to be part of a broader package of changes, the unspoken goal of which seems to be to remove all vestiges of reverence and dignity from worship. That, of course, is a different matter. But on the narrow question of mutual greetings, our hunch is that when the early church "devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42), Joe got not only greetings but also hugs of joy and sorrow.
Q. It seems that we laugh more in church than we used to, but it also seems that we cry more in church. What's going on here?
A. It's probably fair to say that in the past Christians (at least Christian Reformed Christians) have tried to separate their worship from their personal pain and brokenness. That is, they left their problems at home when they came to worship. Both cultural factors and other influences on worship (particularly the charismatic influence) have changed that for more and more people. Today we tend to take our brokenness with us to church and offer it up as part of the broken self that worships.
For the most part, this is a positive development. The psalms are filled with examples of worship in the middle of brokenness, not worship walled off from brokenness. How wonderful that Christians can share the burdens they have with child raising or mental illness or alcoholism or marital strife—-and can do so in the context of worship and community in such a way that all members of the body are strengthened and blessed.
Many churches actually design services around the expression of such brokenness. Services of lament focus upon our collective brokenness. Services of healing and prayer offer people the opportunity to bring their brokenness to the Christian community and receive prayer and healing mercy from God.
Q. Our congregation's choir is on the rocks. We just can't get enough people to commit themselves to the time it takes to practice. Wliat should we do?
A. You are not alone. Many churches in your situation are going to seasonal choirs to give people the option of shorter commitments. For example, you might have an Advent choir for four weeks, a Lenten/Easter choir for six weeks, a men's chorus for three weeks, a women's chorus for three weeks. Each choir probably will have the same core of people, but another group of people in the church will probably be willing to make more limited commitments to one or two such choirs.
Many churches are being forced to rethink the purpose of the choir. Is it to give accomplished performances of difficult, sophisticated music, or is it to lead the congregation in worship? As congregations are seeking greater diversity in their worship, many churches are coming to see the role of the choir less as performance and more as leader of the congregation. We think that is the right direction, especially for churches with limited resources in this area. In this regard it is significant that church choirs and worship teams are both moving the church in the same direction—away from the performance of a few to the singing of the congregation as a whole.