On Children's Sermons, Blended Worship, and Introits

Q. In our church, we begin every service with something called an "introit." What does that term mean?

A. The term "introit" is a very old term from the medieval Latin liturgy of the Western church. The term simply means "introduction." In the medieval period, the term referred to the chant that was sung while the clergy processed in at the beginning of the service. The text of the introit was most often a psalm text. In modern usage the term usually refers to a scriptural text that is sung as the service begins. Its purpose is to invite the gathered congregation to worship God. To make their service more accessible to a broad range of worshipers, some congregations use the term "sung call to worship" rather than "introit."

Q Several people in our church have been asking questions about our children's sermon. How long have children's messages been a part of Sunday morning worship? Are they widely used? What's the thinking behind having a special message for the children? Are some opposed because these messages could disrupt the flow of the service?

A. Children's sermons are nothing new. Books of resources on children's sermons were published as far back as the nineteenth century. Before that, Chrysostom, in the early church, and John Wesley, in the eighteenth century, referred to preaching to children at their level, though it is difficult to know whether this preaching had a formal, congregational-liturgical context. In our century, children's sermons have become increasingly common since the 1950s; in fact, today congregations in nearly every denomination regularly listen to a message for children. The rationale for this practice is to provide a part of the service that's accessible and understandable to children.

Reactions to this practice are varied. In some congregations, the practice has caused problems, especially when what happens is neither a sermon nor for children. At times, children's sermons have degenerated into a trite moralism or a catchy story. Or they may be too complicated for children to understand. In some congregations, it seems that every children's sermon is geared to lead to a congregational chuckle (what has been called "the most ritualized moment in Protestant worship").

In other congregations, children's sermons have been a great blessing to children and adults alike, especially when they focus on the theme and Scripture text of the sermon and when they are imaginatively presented in language children can understand.

At times, the children's sermon may seem to interrupt the flow of the service, especially when it doesn't have a logical place in the order of worship. Placing the children's sermon after the reading of Scripture and before the sermon helps both the children and the congregation understand its function in worship as an integral part of the proclamation of God's Word.

Q I keep hearing about "blended worship." What is this all about?

A. Most people who use the term "blended worship" are referring to a service that features both so-called "traditional" and "contemporary" music. In a "blended service," you might find music led by both an organist and a praise team, with singing from both a hymnal and from words projected on a screen. Used in this way, the term implies an eclectic approach to style, and mostly refers to music.

However, "blended worship" as defined by Robert Webber means something quite different. Webber calls for using a variety of musical styles, to be sure. But he argues that this stylistic diversity can best serve the church in the context of the traditional form or order of the worship service. Webber wants to unite or blend traditional form with a variety of musical expressions.

One problem with the term "blend" is that it focuses a great deal of attention on worship style (indeed, most discussions about worship in the past ten years have focused on questions of style). Unfortunately, this often has the effect of displacing reflection on the content of worship. (For example, does our worship acknowledge the mediation of Christ? Do we trust that the Holy Spirit will work in and through preaching and the Lord's Supper to unite us to Christ? Is our congregation receiving a balanced diet of scriptural readings? Does our worship challenge us to experience more fully the deep fellowship of the body of Christ?) The best conversations about worship style always point to these deeper questions about the meaning and purpose of worship.




Welcome to John Witvliet, the new author of the Q&A column.

John is a frequent contributor to RW (see, for example, his article on p. 30), and we are delighted that he has agreed to respond to your questions. John holds graduate degrees in both choral music and liturgical theology and is currently Director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Send your questions to him by mail at Reformed Worship 2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids, Ml 49560 Or send a fax (616-224-0803) or e-mail (rw@crcpublications.org). You can also e-mail John directly (jwitvlie@calvin.edu).

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 49 © September 1998, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.