It hit me a couple of weeks ago when I realized the worship planning team or someone—the pastor, probably, late Saturday night—used a banner I had designed at least fifteen years ago to signal this Sunday was Communion Sunday. Surely we must have done something different or new since then, right? Nope. I couldn’t think of anything beyond an on-screen graphic done up a couple of years ago for a Good Friday service.
It is common to come into a church and hear music. Singing, on the other hand, is another issue.
I have worked at several kinds of churches, including Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, and non-denominational. I’ve been a choir director, worship leader, and organist. I’ve noticed a common thread about singing running through every church: Each has a pastoral musician whom they trust.
Note: This article is adapted from the introduction of Visser’s book The Birth of Jesus the Messiah: The Stories of Matthew and Luke for Preaching and Teaching, (WestBow Press, 2017).
At the Calvin Worship Symposium in January, world-renowned New Testament scholar N. T. Wright emphasized that congregations and Christians today need the broad themes of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. We treat Scripture in devotional or moral bits, but we don’t know how the Scriptures go together. While the Revised Common Lectionary does provide some tools for this—it essentially organizes the church year around the life of Christ—it is missing the narrative or chronological journey through the Scriptures.
Recently Reformed Worship was able to pose the following questions about the incarnation to three individuals.
I’ve sometimes heard the phrase “incarnational worship.” What does that mean? What is the significance of the incarnation for our daily living and worship?
Here are their responses:
During this season of Advent we celebrate God’s extraordinary gift of his son, Jesus, who became the bridge between heaven and earth, a redeeming bridge between God and us. Through the incarnation of Christ, this spark of God’s glory, the Word, became flesh and dwelt among us. This is one of the core treasures of the Christian church, shared by believers of all faiths and denominations.
The World Needed a Savior . . .
Call to Worship
With two readers.
People of God, today we worship a God of revolution;
a God who is in the business of turning our lives—
turning the world―right-side up.
The prophet Isaiah says:
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”
A branch, bearing fruit?
What a vision of peace the prophet Isaiah paints for God’s people in the southern kingdom of Judah! Invasions by the ruthless Assyrians came from the north, they were betrayed by their sister kingdom Israel, and inadequate kings of their own made the time perilous.
Christmas, children, and surprises go together like peanut butter and jam. There is nothing more delightful than seeing a child’s eyes light up as they unwrap a Christmas gift they really wanted but didn’t expect to get, or than when you’ve found that perfect gift for someone. Christmas surprises are joyful surprises.
At a Church Near You . . .
Lisa, overflowing with energy and excitement greets a visiting couple. “It’s so good to have you here today. I’m on the worship planning committee and we have so many special portions to our service this morning. While this will be a surprise to the congregation, we asked the brass ensemble to join the opening song, but they are in the balcony so it will be an unexpected delight for all. We also get to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together. This is a great day for you to be part of our community.”
Last week I was asked to lead worship at a small church plant. It was a young church where I, a 31-year-old, would be one of the older attendees. So I looked through my song list and choose three songs that would be fitting for the night before Easter. I wasn’t looking for any particular kind of song; just songs that conveyed the message of the cross and that might be familiar and singable with this group. It wasn’t until after I picked out the songs that I realized all three were hymns.
I’m sure I’m not the only worship leader to wonder what to do for the annual Thanksgiving Day service. Sometimes it feels like I have to manufacture a spirit of thankfulness for this one day before returning to business as usual the next morning. What if I’m not in a particularly thankful mood? What if my congregation is facing or enduring a tough situation? Manufacturing thankfulness for an hour of worship sounds trite and inappropriate.
Our church feels called to address some major societal issues as a congregation, including racism, the history of genocide of indigenous peoples, and human trafficking. The question is how we will do this in worship. Some have suggested we have a special service that focuses on each key issue. But that doesn’t feel right. I fear we will just have a succession of single-issue services and then drop our concern.
As Reformed Worship enters its 30th year, it is natural to look back and wonder what has changed since this publication began. My colleague John Witvliet can testify to the explosion of work in the area of liturgics and worship. The serious study of worship has gone from a relatively rare enterprise a few decades ago to a growing academic phenomenon. In addition to Reformed Worship, worship planners and pastors now have access to a mind-boggling wealth of resources.
To the artist John August Swanson, art is a journey into the wonder of life. His art explores the ongoing narrative of God and God’s people through visual stories filled with hope, faith, and love. Swanson’s art guides us to see the sacredness of our ordinary lives and reflects the unique beauty of our everyday experiences. They become visual parables of the daily lives we share.
At the August 2014 meeting of the worship, music, and arts committee of Central Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia, one of the youth on the committee suggested an art installation project for our Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany seasons. Her name is Avery West, and her suggestion was that we create a large origami star mobile to hang from the ceiling of our sanctuary.
This service is the first in a series titled “Sing 10,” which highlights services in which 10 or more songs are sung. Sometimes it will be in the form of the traditional hymn festival, but in this case it is a worship service with many options for congregational song in a more modern genre. What will set these articles apart from other services is that we will include lead sheets or full scores to a few of the songs as well as background or performance suggestions where applicable.
Last year our congregation chose to take a look at the Christmas story through the lens of our five senses.
On the first Sunday of the Advent season we looked at the tastes of Christmas. We began by looking at the reason why Jesus came, and we tasted the bread and the juice of communion as a reminder of the body and blood of the Lord.
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