God's Words, Whose Voice

2/16—Sunday Night after LOFT

Something’s been bugging me the last few LOFTs. Couldn’t put my finger on it before, but now I think I know what it is. It’s God’s voice. I could hardly hear it. Noticed its absence particularly after our prayer of confession tonight. We sang a Kyrie but there was no assurance of pardon after. There was a song about grace, but I’m not sure anyone understood the connection between the two. There was no clear absolution of guilt. No declaration of emancipation. No welcome home. Just a free-floating “God is good” that never landed on my head to bless or forgive or wash me clean.

U To do: Look at last few worship services. Identify places (songs, transition, and so on) where God speaks explicitly to the congregation.

U Talk about this with student leadership.


Mused today with the apprentices about God-talk in worship. I contextualized my questions by pointing to worship’s covenantal character. Worship is a conversation, a dialogue. We hear our own voices all the time—singing praise, offering prayer, sharing testimony. But when and how do we hear God’s voice? Naturally, everyone identified the Scripture reading and the sermon as the primary places where God speaks. Fine enough. One reminded us that “God speaks the whole time.” Of course that’s right too. We needn’t box God’s ability to speak into this or that liturgical locale. But what about those places where God explicitly addresses the congregation, like the assurance of pardon? How have we lost these important moments?

I urged them to go ahead and own the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, to boldly greet and forgive and bless. Then Dean asked if he really could. Weren’t there rules about it? He remembered there being restrictions at his church about who could raise how many hands during the benediction. He didn’t remember the details, but the gist was that ordained folk could, lay folk couldn’t. I wondered, sarcastically, how far from one’s side a leader’s hands might accidentally wander before a whistle blew and they were judged to be illegitimately “raised.” Too glib a response, I know. He’s genuinely concerned. He wonders whether or not as a worship leader, he’s allowed to speak God’s Word to God’s people. But if he doesn’t, who will?


How many other congregations must struggle with the same dynamic? In today’s contemporary worship services, who is sanctioned to play God’s part in the liturgical drama? Who feels the responsibility to do so? And logistically, who is able to? The ordained pastor is on the sidelines during much of the service. He (or she) can’t be popping up and down constantly. And the folks in the band haven’t had hands laid on them; they don’t feel they have permission to speak for God. So apart from the sermon, the divine voice is muted; not altogether absent, but submerged in the rest of the liturgy.

So much for diagnosis. How do we try to fix it?

U To do: Inquire about benedictory hand-raising. U Get some collegial wisdom about sanctioning God-talk by lay leaders.

2/25—LOFT Leadership Meeting

Searching for solutions, we came up with some innovative ideas. It’s often a very deep moment when we look at each other in the communion circle and say, “This is Christ’s body, given for you.” Similarly, after confession of sin, prompted by a worship leader, we could say to the person next to us words of forgiveness from Psalm 103: “As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.”

The team also liked the straightforward approach. When God is supposed to speak, put it out there plainly. “Listen to God’s Word of greeting” or something like that. Rachel pointed out that we’d better make sure the words we use are actually God’s words, not our paraphrases thereof. “Listen to God’s Word of blessing from Deuteronomy 6: ‘The Lord bless and keep you . . .’” Dean suggested some minor pronoun tweaking to relieve the fear of claiming too much authority: not “In Jesus Christ, you are forgiven,” but “we are forgiven.”

These aren’t comprehensive solutions, but they’re a start. Interestingly, Tim felt that lifting up these moments more plainly would help relieve some of the pressure the team sometimes feels to whump up a little “God-in-our-midst.” If God is here speaking to us, there’s no reason to strain. 

Rev. Dr. Ron Rienstra has been a regular contributor to Reformed Worship over the years. He is the director of worship life and professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. He is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America , author of Church at Church, and coauthor with his wife, Debra, of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry. Together they have three grown children, a multiplicity of living-room instruments, and a tame backyard they are slowly rewilding.

Reformed Worship 69 © September 2003, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.