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).
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This service is adapted from the forthcoming Volume 2 of Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship (2006, Faith Alive Christian Resources). The original Ten Service Plans (2002) is also published by Faith Alive. Available at www.faithaliveresources.org.
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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!)
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.
Not long ago I found myself on a Sunday morning visiting a church where some friends of mine are the pastors—Jim and Steve the lead pastors, and Mark in charge of music (their names have been changed here). The worship was wonderful – strong preaching wedded to both missional and sacramental sensibilities. The people were friendly, the music eclectic and excellent, the Spirit alive in the sanctuary. Yet there were a few moments where I cringed when we sang songs with sexist language in them.
I am a frequent lurker — and occasional participant — in an online discussion group on Facebook. It is comprised of worship pastors and other people responsible for the liturgical life of their gospel communities. We ask each other questions. Not ivory-tower abstract questions, but real-life theological/worship-leader questions.