We asked a variety of church leaders five questions about the formative practices in their churches; this article is a digest of their responses. After reading this issue of Reformed Worship, we encourage you to engage your church council, staff, or worship committee in a similar discussion, using these same questions to guide your reflections:
People often ask, “How can we improve or renew our worship?” My response is that we should restore the central things and practice them robustly, using contemporary forms rooted in the practices of John Calvin, a sixteenth-century pastor and liturgical reformer. Even though Calvin is most widely known as a systematizer (Institutes, 1536-1559) and exegete (Commentaries on almost all the books of the Bible), the twenty-first century church should not ignore his leadership in liturgical renewal.
In early 2007, Gabriel Surjana, 16, began reaching for the communion cup and the tray of bread as it was passed in worship. Before that he had shown interest, but now he was indicating in his own way that he wanted to eat and drink the Lord’s Supper like his parents, Pearl Shangkuan and Okke Surjana. So they explored with his Sunday school teachers the possibility of Gabriel professing his faith in Christ at their church, Neland Avenue Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In early September, many churches begin a new season of church education classes and a host of other programs with a special “kick-off” worship service. Most often these services focus on a theme of dedication, and there never seems to be enough songs with words like “Take My Life and Let It Be.” While this is a strong theme, it can also focus a lot of attention on the enormous outpouring of busyness the new year promises.
Congregations have always been charged with forming the faith of their members. Regardless of how well your church currently handles this important task, it is helpful to learn from the best practices of others. Of course, it would be difficult and probably unwise for any single church to try to do all of the ideas presented here. We hope you’ll use them to spark discussion and creativity in your own congregation.
Even Google knows about David and Goliath. Enter “five smooth stones” and “sling” in the search box and you’ll get thousands of websites about the well-known Bible story. Many explain the story as a tale of courage, which is how you may have learned it in Sunday school.
Sermons posted online ask listeners to name their personal Goliaths: things like cheating, using drugs, or problems as giant as AIDS and poverty.
Preachers describe David’s five smooth stones as the ammunition we need to face impossible odds.
“In the future when your descendants ask their parents, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The Lord your God did to the Jordan what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
It probably all started in Mr. Klyn’s class. As fifth graders, we weren’t too cool yet to sing together every morning, and Mr. Klyn decided that anyone in the class who could play piano well enough would accompany that singing. He chose a tune from the Folk Hymnal for each of us newly-anointed accompanists to play the following week. I went home and practiced “He took my feet from the miry clay; yes, he did! Yes, he did!” until my parents begged me to stop.