You go for the kids. At least that’s what you tell yourself. You know the story, and though the songs may change from year to year, little else does. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable; it’s just that it’s so predictable. The story doesn’t change, and you don’t expect it to change you—not after all these years.
Q My church sings contemporary music, but with piano accompaniment rather than guitar and drums. It doesn’t sound very contemporary. Why can’t the music be led by a band, like it was designed to be?
A There are a lot of layers to this question. Some churches don’t have a praise band because they don’t have people with the necessary skills. Others prefer piano or organ or have discerned that in their context piano or organ accompaniment leads to the best possible singing. All of those judgments need to be made contextually.
Because Advent can be a hectic time of year, our Creative Arts Team wanted to give worshipers the opportunity to slow down. For the four Sundays of Advent we intentionally set aside time at the beginning of each worship service to enable worshipers to take a breath, reflect, and focus on the coming Savior. It was our hope that this slow-paced opening would help us all “wait for the Lord.”
Psalm 150 declares, “Praise [God] for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (KJV). God requires our very best, and we dishonor God if we offer anything less (see Malachi 1:8).
Most of the worship leaders I know strive for excellence, and most of the conferences I attend encourage excellence too. But what does excellence in worship mean to you? How do we know when excellence is achieved? What standards do we look to?
It’s not surprising that the topic of lament is generally ignored in November and December. During this time, when sparkling window displays surround us and manic Christmas music streams from every department store, lament seems shockingly discordant with the season—an inappropriate drifting from “the Christmas spirit.” Though some churches do seek to minister to those who experience grief, loss, and loneliness during Advent, lament is not generally a part of our church services.
This article is taken from a 1980 editorial in Liturgy and Music in Reformed Worship, the precursor to Reformed Worship. Unlike back issues of Reformed Worship, the jewels in these newsletters are not available online, so we decided to share a few of them with you. You may be surprised at how much hasn’t changed in the last 30 years.
All families develop rituals and traditions. In one family, the grandmother always cut off one end of the Easter ham and baked it in a separate pan. When someone eventually asked Grandma about the symbolism behind this ritual, she laughed and said there was no symbolism. For the many decades she’d been in charge of the Easter feast, she’d never had a pan big enough to hold the whole ham, so she always cut it. It was as simple as that.
Awhile ago I happened to be reading one of the minor prophets when I came across a prophecy about the Messiah. I wondered why this prophecy was not included in the traditional service of lessons and carols made popular by the King’s College, Cambridge. My interest piqued, I decided to try to create a new service of lessons and carols using different lessons than those we usually hear.
We Did It!
I thought I would send you some photos of what our visual arts committee did with your idea. The back cover of Reformed Worship is always our favorite. Thanks so much for all of your work and ideas.
Worship Director, Brookfield CRC,
is at the root
is at the heart
and not for one day only
but for each waking day.
At the heart
of Christ’s incarnation
is the truth
that God makes extraordinary things
in ordinary places,
that heaven and earth
holy and earthly
God and human
The wonder of Christmas
Lately I’ve been struck by the frantic pace of life. Some folks are complaining about being overloaded; most simply look tired. Meanwhile, I feel increasingly compelled to help people rest in God’s presence.
Sometimes, having an art education can be a problem when choosing books for your kids. There are many fine storybooks out there, but there are also many so-so offerings with overly simplistic storylines and color
palettes that include only primary colors.
And then there are the picture books of Eric Carle and Lois Ehlert. Clever and beautifully illustrated with cut and torn paper, they are a treat for kids and the adults who read with them.
All in the Family
Afew years ago, we designed a worship service for the first Sunday of Advent to introduce and explain the general themes of the season, including the lighting of Advent candles. In past years, the latter had received cursory attention, consisting of a short Bible reading followed by the lighting of the corresponding candle. I saw value in giving the Advent candle themes more attention, perhaps by “illuminating” their meanings (hope, love, joy, peace) visually. We decided to create a banner for each Advent candle.
This dramatic reading was written to show how the announcement of a coming Savior fit snugly into the history and expectations of God’s
people, how the Lord Almighty is a God of justice who watches over the needy, and how this God will be manifest in Jesus.
Forty or fifty years ago, there wasn’t much question of what you’d find when opening a hymnal: congregational songs displayed in four-part harmony. Glorious SATB! There is nothing like the sound of a congregation raising its praise in a robust balance of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Many of the best singing congregations in Reformed, Mennonite, and Lutheran traditions don’t even need the support of an organ or piano to complete their harmonies.
Discovering fresh worship music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphanycan certainly be a challenge. In no other season is the pressure to singfamiliar songs so evident. And yet, in this season we are surrounded bywhat we already know. We hear the old Christmas strains on our commute,at Starbucks, and in the mall.
To help my faith community stay spiritually awake in December, I usetwo methods: creatively arranging old favorites and introducing newworld and modern songs. Here are a few suggestions for doing both.
I can’t imagine worship through the cycle of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany without music. Through the centuries, composers and arrangers have offered the church a wealth of music that is consistent with the themes of worship for these seasons.
Note: The readers’ parts should be adapted to fit the “voice” and experience of the readers as well as the context in which this script is used.
[Violin plays through “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” CH 245, PH 9, PsH 328, SFL 123, SWM 81, TH 194, WR 154 one time.]
Reader 1: When I was a child, I had no patience for family reunions or for the drawn-out discussions about family genealogy that occurred over Sunday morning coffee at my grandfather’s house.
It’s coming, just like it always does, ready or not: the moment when the congregation becomes quiet and everyone’s eyes turn toward you. The moment when you take a deep breath and then do your best to unfold the mysteries of Scripture. The moment when you find out whether the sermon that seemed so compelling in your office can compete with this week’s episode of The Office.
Every preacher faces that pressure. But different preachers may take very different approaches.
This is the second of three letters from Tapescrew to his nephew Woodworm, in which he delights in the human tendency to resist dependence on “the Enemy.”
My dear Woodworm,
The following article, though not typical for Reformed Worship, is well worth spending some time on. Pastors, musicians, and worship planners alike can benefit from considering the pairing of text and tune and the challenges that arise from a plethora of choices. In addition, several denominations are in the process of developing new hymnbooks for congregational song. This series of articles provide a peek into some of the detailed discussions that take place when considering the pairing of texts and tunes.