Ron Rienstra

Ron Rienstra is associate professor of preaching and worship arts at Western Theological Seminary and co-author of Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009).

Articles by this author:

  • Each spring at Western Theological Seminary we hold an end-of-year awards convocation, as do many educational institutions. It’s a special ceremony to celebrate God’s gifts to the whole community and to honor students who have made particularly good use of those gifts. Awards are granted for excellence in biblical studies, church history, ethics, missiology, preaching, pastoral care, systematic theology, and so on.

  • One of my favorite churches is the beautiful Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles, California. While this church has many striking and meaningful features, I especially love the majestic earth-toned tapestries hung along each side of the nave.

  • Pastors know that one of the most significant things they do in their ministry is pray for and with their parishioners. When the sorrow of a recent loss, or the fear of what a cancer may do, or the joy of two lives joined together compel people to ask their pastor (or anyone else!) to pray for them, the one sitting in the living room chair or beside the hospital bed is, in fact, standing on holy ground.

  • There are many worship planning resources available on the Internet—some better than others. One site you may want to spend some time on is http://worshiphelps.blogs.com (see RW 80). We have culled the following practical ideas from three different blog entries.

  • As we plan weekly worship here at Fuller Seminary, the worship interns and I have been talking quite a bit lately about three persistent and related problems.

  • Worship Pedablog

    New times call for new tools. I learned that lesson these past months as I struggled to find adequate “together” time with the worship interns at Fuller. We have a set time to meet, of course, but there is so much to do just to get ready for worship that we don’t have the leisure for genuine schooling. It’s important for us both to plan and to do regular reflection on our weekly worship planning; we need concentrated as well as casual interaction in order to bring our lives and work into conversation.

  • In the previous article (Campus Notes) I outlined some of the features of online web logs (blogs) that make them an intriguing new communication tool:

  • As the new chapel interns at Fuller Seminary gathered to begin planning worship at the beginning of the year, it became apparent that we had a problem. After we’d assembled our raw materials—piles of hymnals, sheaves of guitar fake sheets, and stacks of songbooks, there was little room left on the table for our pencils and notepads. The collection was just too cumbersome to work with.

  • Worship planning in the old days was easy, or so we’ve been led to believe. The pastor picked a Scripture text on Tuesday. The organist selected a few hymns the next day, and the church secretary typed it all up on Friday. No muss, no fuss.

    Perhaps those halcyon days seem so unbelievable because worship planning today is a very complex affair. It involves layers and layers of decision-making (themes, Scriptures, prayers, drama, art, and musical options) and schedule coordinating.

  • 11/17 Pre-planning

    It’s been five years since we tried using those O Antiphons (see box) at LOFT. I’m thinking of introducing them again after one of the new worship apprentices mentioned reading about them in Webber’s Complete Library of Christian Worship. But if memory serves, the last time we tried to use them, the service didn’t go so well.

    To do: Look at notes from last Antiphon service.

    11/19

  • In this column, I want to explore the great-granddaddy of worship websites, the expanding-by-the-day website of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (www.calvin.edu/worship). This site reflects the wisdom of a whole congregation of worship gurus, clustered around the vision of CICW and its director, John Witvliet. That vision encompasses both rigorous, high-level scholarship and wheels-on-the-pavement ministry practice.

    The Big Picture

  • How many North American families, in our harried, push-God-to-the-margins culture, still pause before eating in order to pray? One recent poll suggests a dismal 29 percent, another, an encouraging 64 percent. But a more important question might be, What sort of prayers are they? If daily prayers underscore and help children make sense of what happens in corporate worship on Sunday, what do children learn from the awkward moment of silence, or a perfunctory “Good food, good meat, good God, let’s eat” before dinner? We can do better.

  • 2/12 Afternoon Ruminations . . .

    LOFT has felt so flat these past weeks, and I’m not sure what that’s about. But God is good: today Nord and I talked about his work helping students to have healthy devotional lives, and how that’s a prerequisite for healthy weekly worship. Then I found this quote while digging around some old sermon files: “We can do all sorts of things to try to generate vigor in our worship, but if we do not have fire for the Lord on Wednesday afternoon, how can we on Sunday morning?”

  • 9/2

    This could be the start of something very, very good. Or not. A remarkably enthusiastic first-year student came up to me expressing an interest in being part of LOFT team—nothing unusual there. But Rebecca wants to do liturgical dance. We’ve never done dance before at LOFT. Not sure why not. OK, the chapel’s flat floor means that the sight lines are all wrong; so that’s one reason. Still, it is odd how our focus on music means the other fine arts get neglected.

  • Introduction

    These excerpts from my LOFT notes indicate that sometimes the synergy promised by team-based worship planning goes unrealized. On the other hand, there are times when efficiency isn’t necessarily a virtue—when a little team-based diversity of opinion might be welcome.

  • The adventurous pilgrim in search of true wisdom will brave harsh clime and harrowing climb to question the mountaintop guru about the meaning of life. Modern pilgrims in search of worship-related wisdom need only brave slow Internet connections. The era of the point-and-click expert is here, via the World Wide Web. Of course, not all experts are equally helpful or equally wise. What follows, then, is a report of three helpful worship guru websites I’ve discovered on my electronic travels.

    Robert Webber

  • Iappreciate a good gadget. Many times a day, I reach into my pocket for my personal digital assistant (PDA) in order to look up a phone number, schedule an appointment, or update my to do list. When I do, no one around me looks twice. However, if I pull out my Palm Pilot (one brand of PDA) to do a pastor-specific task—look up a Bible verse, write out the melody to a new song I’ve just heard, review my prayer list, or brush up on my Greek at the bus stop—peers and passersby rubberneck without shame.

  • Some years ago, I was leading a Master Class workshop at a local church with some of the LOFT gang. We arrived to discover that the church’s “band” was a rather odd assemblage of musical talent. Accompanying the vocalists was an electronic keyboard. And a piano. And an organ. I listened to a couple songs, and then asked, “Are you all playing the same music, the same notes?” When they responded affirmatively, I blurted out, “Well, stop it! Don’t do that any more!

  • 8/12

    I’m trying to schedule meetings for September, and keep running into conflicts with “We Haul”—the whole “help the frosh unpack” enterprise. I’m imagining all those first-year students in their rooms at home the last weekend in August, their lives about to get turned upside down, sorting through all their clothes, books, CDs, high-school memorabilia. Wondering what to bring to college, what to leave, what’s important.

  • Maranatha! Praise Band with Angela Dean and Bobby Brock. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003. $27.99.

    Like many resources for churches doing “contemporary worship,” this collection (a book plus a VHS video or a DVD) focuses primarily on the technical aspects of leading a congregation with guitars, drums, mics, monitor speakers, and so on.

  • LOFT (Living Our Faith Together) is the main student-run contemporary worship service at Calvin College. But it isn’t the only one. A little over two years ago, students on campus began a midweek, late evening, jazz- and poetry-based prayer service held in an underground coffee house known as the Cave. Ron Rienstra coordinates that service as well as LOFT. This column is offered in response to many inquires about what goes on there.

    A Kuyperian Experiment

  • Behind the Curtain

    There’s a lesson for worship leaders in a famous scene in The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy and company are meeting with the Great and Powerful Oz, whose voice and visage have them shaking in awe and wonder. Meanwhile, the dog Toto pulls back a drape, revealing an ordinary fellow frantically pushing buttons and pulling levers, desperate to conceal his role in the spectacle of sight and sound. He bellows, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”

  • 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.

  • On Thanksgiving Day many churches offer a very traditional worship service: Psalm 100, a litany of thanksgiving, “Come, You Thankful People, Come.” On a day when we look back with gratitude at God’s good gifts to us, it makes sense to make use of the work and wisdom of our forebears and to worship using that which is tried and true. Other congregations seek innovation: pilgrim puppets behind the pulpit, prayers of thanks colored (not written) in crayon on scraps of paper and dropped in the offering plate.

  • Part of what makes the World Wide Web so interesting is the way it links together things you wouldn’t ordinarily find in the same mental zip code. Two stray clicks and you’ve discovered a connection between the Great Barrier Reef and wine-soaked raisins; robotic sergers and distant quasars; justice and worship. To the church’s great shame, these last two items—working for justice and worshiping a just God—are too infrequently considered together.

  • 10/20—After LOFT

    Ouch. Kim used a translation of Scripture tonight—not sure which one—that was remarkable primarily for its gender exclusivity. This isn’t a God-talk issue (that’s a whole different conversation). But can we at least not go on and on in worship about the evil man and the good man and the blessed man and the foolish man and how God came to save men. . . .

    What, women don’t need saving?

    10/21

  • 3/14/99 After LOFT

    As usual, after worship was finished and most folks had cleared out of the chapel, the band kept on play-ing. We spent nearly ninety minutes "jamming for Jesus." Matt and the Aarons really got us going on that Herbie Hancock number "Chameleon." It's amazing how much music you can make with just two simple chords. And how much variety!

  • For dozens of generations, hymns have been the mainstay of worship music. Christians have praised with them, prayed with them . . . and played with them. Good pastoral musicians have always played around with hymn arrangements, seeking creative expression and the best liturgical effect. And of course, texts and tunes are made to mix and match.

  • The disciples asked Jesus a simple question: “Teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). He gave them, in response, the Lord’s Prayer. Today’s wired Christian might ask that same question not only of Jesus, but also of Jeeves, an electronic concierge/search engine located at www.askjeeves.com. What he or she gets in response will show that in the daunting task of putting words of prayer on the lips of God’s people, good help is hard to find. Hard, but not impossible.

  • Singing the Church Year

    Unlike other LOFT services, which take place on Sunday night and go for seventy-five minutes or more, this hymnsing service took place on a Friday morning and lasted under twenty-five minutes. It was part of a week-long project of educating students about the seasons of the church and what it means to find our identity, as Paul says, in Christ, inserting our stories into his story, giving our own lives context and purpose.

  • The weekly head-scratching exercise (“Well, what do we do this Sunday?”) is well-known to preachers, liturgists, dramatists, and musicians. Visual artists, on the other hand, contribute to worship less regularly. That is to say, while congregations enjoy artwork week in and week out, the work of producing that art—a new banner for a new season, a new baptismal font, ceramic pieces thrown for a new communion set—happens, at least for the traditional visual artist, more periodically.

  • This service, with multiple options, is intended as a celebration of what God is doing in the educational and discipling ministry of the church. It can be used at any time during the church year, not just when kicking off your education program. It concentrates on the lives of young people and especially encourages their participation—for which advance preparation (especially musical) may be helpful. Consider using young people as leaders throughout the service in every appropriate way and at every appropriate place.

  • When deciding which sung prayers to put on the lips of God’s people each Sunday morning, worship leaders today have more choices than ever. Well over 200,000 songs are now available in print alone. But we’re entering a post-Gutenberg age; the Internet has become a significant source for worship music.

  • 4/10 Working Group

    After another dreadfully distracting prayer at chapel today (of the earnestly meandering sort), we talked about how wonderful it would be if everyone who leads worship on campus—in whatever capacity—could receive some rudimentary worship training. Not a seminar, not even a workshop—just some basics about speaking and singing, and a basic theology of worship too.

  • The Internet was first touted to the general public as an extraordinary information-sharing tool: a resource to help like-minded people exchange knowledge, encouragement, and inspiration. But today what people share, as often as anything else, is credit card numbers. Everyone, it seems, is out to make a buck—even in the world of worship. There are dozens of sites on the web that offer worship resources—drama, music, liturgy, technical advice, even sermons—for a price.

  • The other day I was grocery shopping. The cashier and I exchanged the standard “How are you doing today?” But this time she took my question seriously.

    “Not so good.”

    “Why is that?” I asked, going (somewhat unwillingly) into pastoral care mode.

    “I had a hard weekend. Two funerals—an aunt and a friend.”

  • 4/10 Planning Meeting

    The team helped me make sense of the cryptic note I’d made on our order of worship for last year’s service: “Too big, too fast.” They remembered how the beginning especially felt like forced celebration. All those “Alleluia”s and “He is risen”s and a long set of exuberant songs to start things up. But the night was cloudy and dreary, and the team was tuckered out from helping to lead the “pull out the stops” services in their home churches that morning.

  • We developed and have used or adapted this litany for several Thanksgiving services. The structure is simple—the leader gives thanks for very specific things, and the people affirm their thanks for those items with a more general phrase. We encourage the use of several different leaders on the different sections of the litany.

  • 11/27

    Neal just e-mailed his topic for Sunday’s service. Texts are Genesis 1, John 1, and Ecclesiastes 3—“A Time to Be Silent.” Says there’s a rhythm between silence and speaking, a rhythm as old as creation, seen in the Incarnation. In the fullness of time, God finally speaks the Word into the world.

    Makes sense to use silence in the service. The trick will be how to make the silence as lively and participatory as the singing.

  • Vol. 1. 1998. 234 pp. $43.95; with diskette, 49.95; Vol. 2 (2001) 216 pp. $49.95, includes CD. Canton, Ohio: Communication Resources, 2001. order@ComResources.com

  • When I began working at the LOFT, the worship staff at the college agreed on a worthy goal: to embrace with both arms, and to lift up with both hands, the practice of singing the Psalms—a challenging task in a very contemporary setting. These are notes from a number of different Sundays recording the variety of ways we have tried to use the prayer book of God’s people in our worship.

    10/14 Post Rehearsal

  • I remember being envious once, in pre-Web days, of a pastor friend who was showing me the Bible software he had just purchased. He could look up any passage in an instant, search for multiple uses of a particular word, even pull up two different Bible translations side by side on his computer. The tables were turned recently when I told him of two popular websites that offered all those Bible study tools and more—for free.

    http://bible.gospelcom.net

  • 9/27 Advance Planning for Next Month

    That “testimony” service is coming up soon. Part of me knows it’s a good thing, yet another part of me is nervous. Just about anything could happen if we just open things up for students to come forward and talk. Like open mike night at improv. How worshipful is that? I still remember an Easter service at an Episcopal church where a fellow stood up and droned on and on about El Salvador or something until the pastor finally cut him off. Ouch!

  • Alison Siewert (ed.), Andy Crouch, Matt Frazier, and Sundee Frazier. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998. 1-800-843-7225. 182 pp. $14.99.

  • 3/28 LOFT Planning Meeting

    I knew it was coming. After a full season of services with a fairly pronounced sequence of confession and assurance (as is appropriate during Lent), the team articulated at today’s meeting their desire to “do something different” this week.

  • Anyone who has been to the Church of Reconciliation in the small French village of Taizé and worshiped there with Christians from all over the world, knows what an unforgettable experience it is. But translating extraordinary worship experiences to our own communities and congregations is notoriously difficult.

  • When worship leaders get together, they inevitably trade favorite new songs with the eagerness of children on the playground swapping Pókemon cards. Part of this is the earnest desire to find and share with others “the good stuff” amid the staggering amount of new music available today. Another motivating factor is simply a desire to see what others are using in their churches.

  • Baker’s Wedding Handbook: Resources for Pastors. Paul E. Engle, ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1994. 183 pp. $16.99. 1-616-957-3110; retail@bakerbooks.com

    Sample services from a variety of denominations, all taken from official sources of those denominations. Also some alternative services (a “brief” service, a contemporary service, remarriage, renewal of vows, and so on.) Also includes some resources for wedding rituals (unity candle), alternative vows, Scriptures, prayers, and homilies.

Blogs by this author:

  • Revisiting Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s Liturgical Wisdom for Today’s Church

    This post is the concluding part of a three-part article “Three Theological Themes for Worship,” a condensation of a presentation given at the 2018 Symposium on Worship. This series explores Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s most generative insights and considers how they might shape the worship we prepare and lead today.

  • Revisiting Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s Liturgical Wisdom for Today’s Church

    This post is part two of a three-part article “Three Theological Themes for Worship,” a condensation of a presentation given at the 2018 Symposium on Worship. This series explores Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s most generative insights and considers how they might shape the worship we prepare and lead today.

  • Revisiting Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s Liturgical Wisdom for Today’s Church

    This post is part one of a three-part article “Three Theological Themes for Worship,” a condensation of a presentation given at the 2018 Symposium on Worship. This series explores Jean-Jacques von Allmen’s most generative insights and considers how they might shape the worship we prepare and lead today.

  • A healthy normal provides repetition and predictability—allowing the meaning-making character of ritual to do its work. The exceptional service, … stretching us, reminding us of God’s ability to work in surprising as well as regular ways.

  • Each year, on the second day of class, I give a little speech to my Intro Preaching 101 students. I tell them that I know some of them do not believe that the Holy Spirit has gifted women to preach. In their reading of scripture, women are not authorized to proclaim the Word of God. But, I continue, I am persuaded — and this class will be guided — by the conviction that they’re wrong about this. Not obtuse or ill-intentioned — just wrong.

  • A friend of mine came to my office a few weeks ago. His congregation is beginning to think about a sanctuary renovation, and he wanted to talk through some of the dynamics at play when considering liturgical furniture. He had found himself, in an initial meeting, agreeing with those who argued, for example, that a pulpit was both beautiful and indispensable. Five minutes later he found himself agreeing with those who said a pulpit was anachronistic at best and at worst an impediment to hearing the gospel.

  • I occasionally consult with churches who are looking for renewal and revitalization in their worship. Often these churches tell me that they are hoping that I can help them negotiate a transition from offering  "traditional" to offering "contemporary" worship. (Though I have consulted with churches moving in the other direction!)

  • Temple Transitions

    Not long ago I was speaking at an evangelical Christian college in the Midwest. After my presentation, a young woman, a leader of the praise band in her church, invited me to think with her about a frustration she had: "What do you do when you only get 15 minutes for worship?" she said. "I need more time than that to get the congregation from here," she said, raising her arms above her head, and waggling her hands, "to here," she said, lowering her arms and folding her hands gently together in front of her, just above her waist.

  • The Whole Point

    Early this season I returned to Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, to attend my Ph.D. commencement ceremony and to be duly “hooded” – i.e., officially welcomed into the company of hopelessly nerdy liturgical and homiletical scholars.