As I reflect on this issue the word that comes to mind is expansive. This is the issue for Ascension and Pentecost, two days that are all about expanding. When Christ ascended into heaven his work did not end; it expanded. Christ now sits at God’s right hand ruling the world. Christ is the sovereign Lord, and not just of those who recognize his lordship. He is Lord of all. At Pentecost we see the expansive grace of God in the giving of the Holy Spirit.
When “faith and vocation” books speak of “connecting Sunday worship to Monday work,” they often mean overcoming the false dichotomy between individual Christians’ personal, private faith and their public lives. This is captured, for example, in the subtitle of pastor Tom Nelson’s book Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. From this perspective, the primary task of integrating faith and work is to instill a biblical worldview in Christians on Sundays and encourage them to make connections to their weekday work.
We are excited about a vision of “vocational discipleship,” the idea that faith shapes how we engage in the workplace. We are starting to think about setting aside a Sunday to focus on this. What advice do you have?
Sometimes we don’t know we have something until it is taken away. Sometimes we don’t value something until it’s gone. Sometimes we fail to recognize the significance of something until we try to imagine our lives without it.
This service was developed as a result of our church council’s desire to build congregational awareness of the persecuted church. Pentecost, when we remember Jesus’ apostolic charge to “make disciples of all nations,” seemed to be an appropriate service in which to do this.
At least three thousand miracles happened at the festival of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. Three thousand people put their faith in Jesus Christ. Each of those miracles involved three people: an apostle who preached in an intelligible language; a festival-goer who heard the gospel message in his or her own language; and the Holy Spirit, who produced faith. As the apostle and the festival-goer come together through the work of the Holy Spirit, we see the mission of God and his church. Pentecost especially is about those three-person missional miracles.
During three of my four years as a student at Calvin College I served on the Knollcrest Worship Service Committee. This was a group of about a dozen students who were advised by the two college chaplains. It was our job to plan and help lead the two worship services held every Sunday during the school year. We were also supervised by a consortium of local church councils that sent elder representatives to every service.
Twenty years ago I adopted my daughter from Russia. While I was there I had the opportunity to visit several Russian churches with their golden onion-shaped domes and altars covered in icons. Icons are paintings of biblical characters, and the artists over the centuries were careful to keep the style and form of each character as consistent as possible. I asked our tour guide a question that betrayed my ignorance. “Why icons?” She quickly reminded me that most of the peasants in those days were illiterate, and the icons were there to help them “read” the Bible.
In Psalms 42 and 43 the psalmist speaks of his anxious soul that is disturbed and would rather retreat than encounter the Lord God who is most worthy. The psalmist is assailed with doubts and confusion. His resolve is weak. Yet the psalmist has heard God’s call, and the deep longing of his heart is to hurry to worship the God who he knows loves him.
And so the two psalms oscillate between a confident approach and a doubting retreat. This shows itself in a kind of liturgical stammer, a conflicted hesitation that is not readily resolved.
When a new pastor is ordained or installed in a congregation, much celebration usually occurs. Several ordained people might take part in the service. Councils of neighboring churches are invited to send representatives to witness the occasion. The official installation and/or ordination form is read and sometimes embellished with ministry symbols and several readers. Perhaps the choir presents music, or congregational singing time is enlarged. To add to this celebration, cake or even a meal may be served after worship!
If you can’t hear the Word clearly, how can you worship effectively? If the worship sound is distracting, how can we join with others in worship?
While how microphones are used doesn’t affect the spiritual quality of worship, it makes a great difference in its technical quality and, if done poorly, can impede worship. To have the most technically excellent worship service, one must understand how microphones work and how to use them effectively.
A news story I read today about a popular picture-sharing smartphone app included this quote: “People wonder why their daughter is taking 10,000 photos a day. What they don’t realize is that she isn’t preserving images. She’s talking.” This struck me. It’s common knowledge that pictures speak louder than words and that vision is one of the strongest of our senses. Why then do we have such trouble including pictures in our worship? Certainly it can’t be a carryover from the fifteenth-century Reformation, can it?
A friend of yours says, “You have got to read this book! I’m halfway through it, and it is amazing. The drama, the plot, the unexpected surprises. It really is out of this world . . . but I’ve decided to stop reading it.”
"It is the Spirit that creates the new humanity where God’s dwelling will be forever.” —Herman Bavinck (in Reformed Dogmatics, ed. John Bolt, Baker Academic, 2011)
The church was founded on the bedrock of reconciliation—the reconciliation of God to humanity and the reconciliation of humanity to one another. This is evident in three significant ways:
Combining words and images is a powerful way to communicate the gospel. For Pentecost in 2011, we designed a service focused on four symbols of Pentecost: breath, wind, fire, and dove.
Todd selected Scriptures and wrote reflections for each image. Amy prepared for a visual presentation of the four symbols to unfold during the readings. Choral music and hymns were selected to follow each reading, highlighting each symbol.
The coming liturgical season is one in which we reflect on the mystery of the Easter event, witness Christ’s ascension, and participate in the stirring day of Pentecost. It is a time focused on the departure of the Christ, whose earthly ministry turned lives and prophecies upside down and who reigns as the sovereign Lord of all.
We are very grateful to Dr. Amos Yong for allowing us to share his insights with you. This article, based on a talk given at the National Worship Leader Conference in Dallas, Texas, on October 2, 2015, is a bit more academic than most that are found in Reformed Worship. But after reading it you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the Pentecost event and its implications for our lives and worship today. —JB
At Thornapple Covenant Church in Grand Rapids, MI, in the summer of 2014, our preaching pastor, Rob Peterson, planned a worship series on the book of James entitled “A Word to the Wise: Exploring the Themes in James.” The book of James is full of godly wisdom, wisdom that is needed today especially in order to develop Christian maturity and a healthy Christian community. Some of the questions addressed in James include these:
Mary Kay Beall and John Carter are a husband-and-wife hymn-writing team. Mary Kay was born on August 16, 1943, in Akron, Ohio. She graduated from Ohio Wesleyan University (B.M.), Ohio State University (M.A.), and Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio (M.T.S.). An ordained minister in the American Baptist Church and United Church of Christ, Mary Kay and her husband have served in a variety of positions in numerous churches of different denominations.
I have recently been reading some literature that speaks about public worship as a “concentrated form of Christian practice.” I like the sound of that phrase, but I can’t define or explain it. Can you help me?
It’s safe to say that most Christians have memorized the Lord’s Prayer. But when we do so, we often become attached to the wording of a specific Bible version. As a result, some of us find it distressing when we hear a different reading of the Lord’s Prayer. When planning worship you might have been surprised by the strong response of some when you use an unfamiliar version. “What next?” they say. “Is nothing sacred?”
Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.
Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.
Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
always giving thanks to God the Father for everything,
in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A Psalm Prayer and Blessing for Children
Note: Words in bold type indicate congregational response.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold
against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger. (Ps. 8:1b-2)
At Third Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, when planning a series on prayer the imagery of Revelation 5:8 captured our imaginations. The elders were before the Lamb, each holding a harp and “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.”
It is getting near the end of the school year, which also seems to mark the end of choir rehearsals and other regular rehearsals to prepare for worship. As you think of the many people involved with worship over this past season, consider how you might recognize the gifts they have given the church. One idea is to write them a letter, maybe even publishing it in your church’s newsletter. Roger Hicks has provided this one for the faithful choir member.
Dear Choir Member,
Sometimes I feel weary. I feel weary when I hear about the “nones”—those who claim no religious belief. I feel weary hearing about millennials leaving the church and thinking about all the energy exerted to keep them coming. This week I read about the “dones”—those who used to be involved in the church but simply are done with the whole organizational mess.
Have you ever wondered if God might have a favorite color? Perhaps that sounds like a trivial question for theology, but what is the first color mentioned in the Bible? Might it have any significance in God’s design for creation and redemption?
Ascension Day and Pentecost are major events in the life of the Christian church. We confess the truth of Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Spirit every time we repeat the words of the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed. But what difference do these days make in the life of the average worshiper today? And how do Christians and churches mark these important events?
In the spring of 2014 I had the opportunity to visit Light of Hope Presbyterian Church in Marietta, Georgia. There I heard about their recent Pentecost celebration. It was clear that the visuals they created for their celebration had a significant impact on the congregation and could be an encouragement to the broader body, so I asked Pastor Edwin Gonzalez-Gertz to describe the process and final visual.
For Pentecost 2012 at Village Chapel Presbyterian Church in Charleston, West Virginia, we decided to visually depict the fire of Pentecost and the Holy Spirit. We were blessed by the results!
First, using white copier paper from the recycle bin, the worship committee folded 150 paper cranes (but called them “doves” since they were for Pentecost). With a small hole punch we punched a hole near the top of each dove’s back.
This engaging and active children’s message is designed to be shared on Pentecost Sunday. Red feathers are used to symbolize the flames of Pentecost that hovered over Jesus’ friends as they gathered.
There’s a word used to indicate the practice of singing two different songs at the same time. The musicological term is quodlibet. My teenage children call it a “mash-up.” Sometimes melodies or texts are superimposed over one another to demonstrate the musical skills of a composer. Other times it might be done simply for the fun of it.
More recently Jeffery Archer wrote a book titled The Gospel According to Judas. Like Short, Archer sought to give insight to the gospel by looking at it in a new way: this time through the eyes of the disciple who betrayed Christ.
The problem we humans have, as one of my seminary professors put it, is that people forget. Even in a world where death is all over the news, where gravediggers are always employed, where Ebola and war and famine wreak havoc, people forget about death. We don’t passively forget—that is not possible. But we actively turn our minds away from our own deaths, even if we cannot avoid death in the world around us. We lobotomize the part of our brain that considers the fact that except Christ comes again, all of us will die.
When a church closes, its remaining members grieve. But in Christ we are not without hope. The final service of Gallatin Gateway Community Christian Reformed Church in Bozeman, Montana, was a moving expression of remembrance, pain, and faith.
Call to Worship: John 11:25-26
Hymn of Praise: “How Great Thou Art” LUYH 553, PH 467, PsH 483, TH 44, WR 51
The Lord’s Greeting
Passing of the Peace
The ballots had been counted, and we, the members of the McBain CRC, had voted to close our church after ninety-seven years of service. The decision came after a year of prayer, soul-searching, and seeking guidance from the denomination’s Home Missions office.
Three people were appointed to plan the closing service; we hardly knew where to begin. But we chose the theme “Celebrating God’s Faithfulness.”
Q Why does Ascension Day matter? We don’t celebrate it anymore, and I need to give my congregation a better rationale for why we should. By the way, they don’t have patience for a treatise on the matter. I need short, pithy explanations.
In 2009, Emily Brink and Paul Neeley participated in two worship conferences in Pakistan co-sponsored by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (CICW) and the Tehillim School of Church Music and Worship (TSCM). Rev. Eric Sarwar, a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan and founder of TSCM, arranged both conferences, one at the Presbyterian Seminary in Gujranwala, and the other hosted by Christ the King Roman Catholic Seminary in Karachi.
While I was talking with someone the other day, she spoke of the “time collapse” of the Christian year. “Every year, Christ is born, then dies, and rises again. The next year he is born, then dies, and rises again. . . .”
Why do we rehearse the entire gospel message year after year? We do it because we are people who forget. We need to be reminded of the truths the Christian year contains. We need to be reminded of the grace of God’s story and of the fact that we are God’s beloved, saved, and redeemed children.
The liturgical church year and the “programmatic” church year often feel most at odds in the weeks when we celebrate Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. In the midst of children’s and family ministries winding down for the season and church staff and worship leaders beginning to sigh with relief after the holy (and blessed) busyness of the Easter season, it’s easy to lose sight of the significance of these important Sundays of the church year and the unique opportunities for teaching and worship they afford.
Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sundays deal with heady theological stories and themes, so it’s especially important to reinforce them in concrete ways that interact with our senses. We learn best when not just our brains but all of our human capacities are engaged.
Make new friends but keep the old. . . . These songs for Ascension and Pentecost are presented in pairs: a newer song attached to one that is well known. Your congregation might appreciate having the company of a familiar hymn while they work to learn a new song. The Pentecost songs are arranged to give you the option of weaving the pair together, moving back and forth between the two songs as best fits your particular worship situation.
This is the first of several articles by David Music spotlighting contemporary American hymn writers.
I love RW, but I attend a congregation with minimal resources, minimal talent, and minimal openness to creativity. It is my congregation and I don’t want to leave. But my frustration is growing. How can I manage the gap between my ideals and reality? Is there anything I can do to help expand our vision?
O God, you are like coffee to me!
. . . I thirst for you in the morning when I wake.
. . . Your warmth continues to travel through me.
. . . I return to you throughout the day and get renewed and refreshed.
When a new pastor arrives at a church, it is a time of transition and celebration. Though obviously this pastor will impact most the gathered congregation, his or her ministry and leadership have ripple effects out into the community. This litany was written by council members from a sister church and read during a service of installation.
Who pastors your pastor? The answer, all too often, is “No one.” But, like the rest of us, your pastor needs spiritual support. Your pastor needs people to lift him or her up in prayers of thanksgiving and intercession. If you or a group of people in your church would like to support your pastor in prayer, here are four “need categories” to consider.
Our Sunday evening worship service has experienced a mini-revival.
Though Sunday evening services are part of our church tradition, it appears they’re on the decline. At least, that was the case with our evening service several years ago. The numbers were down to ten or twelve people. And we wondered what to do.
Sunday worship can be a strange thing. What we do and say in church can seem a little bizarre, both to those who haven’t missed a Sunday service in twenty years and to those who are warming a church pew for the first time.
This wedding liturgy sets the bride and groom’s story in the context of God’s story. The entire ceremony took about 1 hour 15 minutes total. To help you with your planning, estimated times are included in parentheses behind each element.
If you wish, you may use multiple readers for the readings, which is a wonderful way to include children in the ceremony. Images, song lyrics, and congregational readings (which are not included in full here) were projected on a screen.
“I don’t like change,” I wrote in a previous editorial. Since transitions include change, I don’t like transitions much either. Transitions are difficult and scary times, since the future often seems unclear.
Christian worship praises the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but in practice we find it far easier to worship the first two persons of the Trinity than the third. This is reflected in the hymns that we sing. Songs that praise the Father or Jesus Christ far outweigh songs of praise to the Spirit. In fact, most of the time the Spirit is only praised when included as the third stanza of praise to the Trinity (“Father/Jesus/Spirit we love you”).
A Call to Confession
Brothers and sisters, hear these words from Galatians 5:
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want (NIV, 1984).
Drama: Christian, Grimes, and Allgood
Characters: Christian, Grimes (who represents a devil), and Allgood (who represents the Spirit)
This psalms service is based on a lessons and carols format that grows out of a thoroughly Reformed theology of Scripture. Third Church has developed an appetite for services where long portions of Scripture are woven with song, prayer, and silence. The development of Advent and Good Friday services that use this form has led to the planning of other types of services that use this pattern as well.
All: We believe in one God,
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
People: We believe that God the Father is our Creator.
Reader 1: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:3, NRSV)
Unchurched people often look at local churches as being completely unrelated to each other. One of the best ways to testify to the truth of the gospel is by demonstrating the unity of Christ-centered churches. Promoting community-wide worship can help do this.
Many congregations wrestle with the question of who should lead them in worship, especially in spoken prayer. Historically this has been the task of the pastor, but there is much to be gained by including the different voices of the congregation in the leading of prayer and in other parts of worship. Read the following testimony from one church that has moved toward such a practice and what they discovered along the way.
Stewardship is a difficult subject to address. Every member of the congregation is at a different level of understanding about the issue of stewardship. No matter how hard we try, it is impossible to cover all the topics necessary during a traditional stewardship emphasis time.
Second Corinthians 5:7-6:2 is one of the great declarations of the new life given in Christ. In this passage, Paul calls believers to accept and embrace the new identity given to them in Christ. They have not merely adopted a new philosophy or gained new knowledge or spiritual insight. In the depths of their being, their very nature has been changed. This is not a scattered redemption of select individuals, but part of God’s overriding action of restoring all of creation. We are new creatures participating in God’s new order.
It’s hard to have a relationship with ants. Try as you might, they’re just not very good listeners, and they seem to pay little mind to humans. Granted, ants are marvelous creatures with amazing strength and a way of communicating and working together for the good of all that serves as an object lesson for humans. But since they can’t communicate with us, there is no relationship.
So why are we including a series on Romans in this Ascension/Pentecost issue? Because Romans helps us see what a difference Christ’s resurrection and ascension make in the lives of believers and highlights the role the Holy Spirit plays in our daily striving to become more like Christ.
This article shows how a focus on creativity changed a church’s worship. Through a Worship Renewal grant, the congregation of First Presbyterian Church in San Bernardino, California, was able to create meaningful, intergenerational opportunities to express the image of God the Creator in members young and old.
There are many different ways to tell the story of the Protestant Reformation. A favorite centers on the heroic tale of Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk newly convicted by his discovery of Paul’s forensic
gospel, furiously hammering his ninety-five Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. The Reformation is thus launched by a kind of medieval blog post about justification by faith that becomes the catalyst for a theological
Why This Dark Conspiracy/Psalm 2
Psalm 2 may be best known through that famous aria in Handel’s Messiah in which the bass thunders and the strings shudder: “Why do the nations so furiously rage together? And why do the peoples imagine a vain thing?”
There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
O comforting fire of Spirit,
Life, within the very Life of all Creation.
Holy you are in giving life to All.
Holy you are in anointing
those who are not whole;
Holy you are in cleansing
a festering wound.
O sacred breath,
O fire of love,
O sweetest taste in my breast
which fills my heart
with a fine aroma of virtues.
O most pure fountain
through whom it is known
that God has united strangers
and inquired after the lost.
If you’ve ever watched a group of dancers on one of those reality so-you-think-you-can-dance shows on television, you might have asked yourself “What makes this group so much better than the last?” When a group is in sync with each other through each movement and transition, that makes them stand out. It’s the unity within the choreography—both physical and emotional—that heightens the excellence of a dance piece.
Over the past fifteen months, it has been my joy to worship with more than forty congregations from twenty different denominations as part of our family’s sabbatical in southern California. It would take a book to unpack all the things we experienced. For now, here is a brief report on eleven things that we noticed—some to celebrate, some to ponder, some to lament.
A service in which every congregational song is a Genevan psalm? In this day of blended services, of drawing on song resources in many styles and from the global community? That is exactly what First Christian Reformed Church did on Reformation Day in 2010.
When the prayers of the worshiping community, the small group or family, and the individual are formed and guided by the psalms, the result is a balanced, God-centered, complete diet of prayer. People grow in grace and God hears what God is waiting to hear. Here are some examples and suggestions for including this diet in Sunday worship and throughout the week.
Note: All Scripture quotations in this article are from the NRSV.
Q: How can we publicly welcome children who are ready to participate in the Lord’s Supper for the first time without putting too much pressure on very shy children?
A: Churches are wise to find ways to publically celebrate this milestone moment in children’s lives. Here are a few suggestions from a variety of congregations for doing so in age-appropriate ways:
This worship outline is adapted from the opening service of the "With a Shout: What Difference Does the Ascension Make for Everyday Life?" conference held on Ascension Day 2006 at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Litanies and prayers marked TWS are from The Worship Sourcebook, 2004, Faith Alive Christian Resources (www.faithaliveresources.org).
“Help us not to be so overwhelmed by the details of ministry that we forget what is central. And help us to find that which is central, even in the details.”
—Maryann McKibben Dana (p. 40)
Help us not to be so overwhelmed by the details that we forget what is central. . . .
Q. Our small church is losing members to bigger churches that are more modern and use more technology than we do. Should we think about putting a screen up to project songs in worship like so many churches do these days?
This is a service of celebration for Ascension Day. Parts of the service might also be used on Ascension Sunday. It requires at least one leader and a Scripture reader. The congregation speaks the lines in bold.
The Lord’s Supper is the pivotal feast that celebrates the victory of God, which he shares with each person in his kingdom. Here we gratefully acknowledge our inclusion in the community that God has designed. Here we confess our reluctance to demonstrate the full power of the gospel on our lives together, particularly as it pertains to the lack of hospitality and grace extended to others. Here we all recommit ourselves to following the example of Jesus—the Host at the table—who calls us, in view of his sacrifice, to serve others with humility and love.
Alive to the Spirit at Neland Church was a season of focusing our lives and worship on the Holy Spirit. Using six biblical pictures—wind, breath, down payment, seal, dove, and fire—we explored and experienced the Spirit’s presence and work through sermon, song, dance, visual arts, writing, and prayer.
Encounters with the Holy: A Conversational Model for Worship Planning
by Barbara Day Miller.
Alban Institute, 2010. 142 pages.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Reformed Worship to Celebrate 100th Issue
The staff of RW has been working hard in anticipation of our 100th issue, which marks twenty-five years of sharing worship resources and articles. That issue will be dedicated to the theme of celebration and joy, with resources from the book of Philippians.
When you receive your next issue of RW you will notice many exciting changes to both the print and the web copy as we continue the tradition of providing excellent resources for the next generation. Here is an overview of what to expect:
This litany was used for the 2010 Pentecost worship service at our church. That service was held the same weekend as the local high school’s graduation ceremony, making the theme especially meaningful as graduates seek God’s guidance for the future.
Song: “Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit” PsH 427
Of this poem, author Peter Menkin writes: “I chose the imagery of the Exodus from the Old Testament to say that we are liberated by our God, Christ, and that he brings us to freedom.”
Pentecost Sunday Prayer
For I am empty and forlorn,
so I hope and pray.
Tongues of flames. Language.
I search; let me
welcome the Holy Spirit.
The God who brought
us out of Egypt to freedom;
let God do this emancipation:
accept and welcome,
and let us receive the Spirit.
In this prayer, Julia Esquivel teaches us the meaning of each intercession of the Lord’s Prayer as we pray, opening our minds and hearts to a greater understanding of our great God and to the experience of brothers and sisters in Christ in another part of the world. Though our congregations may not experience many of the situations mentioned, we can pray on behalf of those for whom these things are realities.
Note: You may choose to read the boldface portions either in English or in Spanish.
The next issue of Reformed Worship will celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary—number 100.
Anniversaries of any sort are a great time to take a look at what you’ve been doing for months or years or decades and to ask if what you’re doing still works. Has your audience or environment or approach to worship changed, but you’re still thinking the old ways are doing what you want them to?
This prayer litany for leader and congregation was originally written for World AIDS Day, which takes place each December 1. However, this is not an issue that should be relegated to one particular day each year, but one that the Church prays about regularly, interceding for all those affected by this epidemic. We need to confess our own complacency and unwillingness to get involved, reach out, care for, and advocate on behalf of the 33.4 million people who live with HIV/AIDS.
Note: This article is slightly adapted from its first printing in The Banner(June 2010). Used by permission.
If you’ve ever recited the Athanasian Creed in a worship service, please send me an email to tell me about it!
In truth, I’ve never heard this creed used in church, and it’s not difficult to see why. Even a quick glance shows you that in addition to being much longer than either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed, this creed is also sufficiently repetitive as to get tedious.
Note: Scripture quotations in this article are from the NRSV.
Planning the Series
Ephesians illustrates both the density and exuberance of Paul’s theological vision. For these and other reasons, creating a six-week series on the letter can feel a bit daunting. Therefore, a month and a half before the series began we brainstormed one evening with anyone in the congregation interested in joining us. They arrived having read through the letter or at least the one-page summary we made available that outlined its movements and major themes.
Post-game handshakes are a time-honored tradition. Little League baseball players, traveling soccer teams, and NCAA athletes never miss this ritual of sportsmanship. During the game they “fight,” engage in “battle,” “conquer,” or suffer “defeat.” But at the end of the day athletes are not at war. By a simple hand gesture, athletes declare that they are at peace.
On Ascension Day, the church celebrates Christ’s going up and returning to his Father in glory as a resurrected human being, the firstfruits of the new creation. Ten days later, we celebrate God coming down again, this time not in human form in a particular time and place—as we celebrate at Christmas—but now as Spirit, a gift to each believer in every time and place. The Christian church has also traditionally followed Pentecost Sunday with Trinity Sunday, our praise and adoration ascending to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“Why did Christ come? Why was he conceived? Why was he born? Why was he crucified? Why did he rise again? Why is he now at the right hand of the Father? The answer to all these questions is, “in order that he might make worshipers out of rebels; in order that he might restore us again to the place of worship we knew when we were first created.”
—A.W. Tozer, Worship: the Missing Jewel
What is the goal of preaching? According to John Calvin, the highest purpose of preaching is to give glory to God. But the act of praise is never a preacher’s solo performance—he or she seeks to edify the body of Christ as well. In preaching and in leading, the pastor seeks to call people to faith in Jesus Christ, grow the congregation’s collective commitment to holiness and righteousness, and increase their awareness and understanding of their role in the kingdom of God.
The days are getting longer; the sun is stronger; and we are beginning to make summer plans. For many of us those plans will include one or more Sundays away from our place of worship. We may be able to join another community in worship, which is a great opportunity to get outside our comfort zone and learn from our brothers and sisters from other denominations.
Each spring I meet with a group of clergy colleagues for a week of Scripture study, rest, renewal, laughter, and support. Each member of The Well brings two exegetical papers corresponding to pre-assigned Sundays in the liturgical year. We share these papers with one another, and the discussion provides us with a great jumping-off point for the next year’s preaching. Our time together has become a not-to-be-missed event.
Obedience to God is always a struggle among God’s people. This dramatic reading challenges the congregation to examine their excuses for not following Christ in obedience.
The reading is designed for four readers, male or female, and one unseen voice (narrator). The dramatic reading takes approximately four minutes.
[All four voices are on the stage spaced five feet apart with their backs to the congregation.]
Voice 1: [turns to face congregation] Lord, you know I want to follow you. But first let me go and bury my father.
Disturbing.” “Odd.” “What does it have to do with worship?” These are just a few responses I’ve heard to the cover image of this issue. What does The Eyes of Gutete Emerita by Alfredo Jaar have to do with worship?
When we look into Gutete’s eyes, what do we see? Anguish? Despair? Christ? Do we see a child of God? Our sister? She has a name; she has no voice. Will we speak and pray on her behalf? Will we sing the songs she needs to hear?
Today we have immense control over our music. With the advent of MP3 players we can skip, shuffle, delete, and mix genres. We can listen alone or with others, listen on or off the phone, listen in the car or on a walk outside. While we listen we can view photographs, videos, play computer games, or check the location of the nearest Starbucks. Music is available to us where we want it, when we want it, and how we want it.
Planning a service that incorporates staff, volunteers, and a congregation can feel like a particularly daunting task. But there’s no need to reinvent the wheel—while each church is unique, there are general planning techniques that can be helpful to almost any worship planner. Our church finds the following outline helpful. It is not a detailed map, but it does provide the fundamentals. The trick is for each church to find what works best for its own staff, volunteers, and congregation.
Rochester Christian Reformed Church, New York, crafts its own Lord’s Supper litanies to help connect the theme of the service or the season of the Christian year with the sacrament. This is the first of several litanies they will be sharing with RW readers. It is based on the sacramental sections of the Belgic Confession, one of the confessions held by many Reformed denominations.
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.”
It’s not often that the closing session of an adult Sunday school class is the beginning of something new, but that’s what happened at our church.
The atmosphere was electric. Worshipers came in, greeted each other with friendly chatter, and found seats as close to the front as they could. It was obvious even before the service began that this worship time would be much more energetic and celebratory than what our English-speaking Christian Reformed congregation was used to!
Christ’s ascension is a pretty big deal. Saint Luke includes detailed accounts of Jesus’ instruction, blessing, and supernatural departure in both the ending of his “first book” (Luke 24:44-53) and the beginning of his “second book” (Acts 1:1-11). And those in the Reformed tradition stress the importance of Christ’s ascension as a witness and guarantee of our own resurrection as well as a call to evangelism, justice, and compassion (see, for example, Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 46-52).
- Our church has a part-time worship coordinator and rotating worship teams, but everyone is feeling burned out. What advice do you have for restructuring our work?
- Our music director is retiring, and we want to revise the job description. We want to involve more people in worship.
Note: This litany has been adapted from Psalm 20:6, Revelation 5:12, and Romans 8:34.
Loving God, merciful Father, we wonder at your surpassing goodness, but we are discouraged by the evil we see in this world and in ourselves. We long to be your humble and faithful servants, but we always fall short. Even when we think we are doing your will, we are often deceived. How long before you bring an end to the world’s suffering?
How long, O Lord?
The Association of American Baptist Churches of Rhode Island has seventy-seven member congregations, including the historic First Baptist Church in America founded by Roger Williams in 1638. The mission of the association is to “resource our people and engage in Christ-centered ministries by promoting and building healthy pastors and healthy churches to bring the whole gospel to the whole world.”
Note: This litany has been adapted from Acts 1:8 and Acts 2:1-4, 17-21.
When the day of Pentecost came, the twelve disciples, now with Matthias, were together in one place. Suddenly, a sound like a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house. And they saw what looked like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
On this day of Pentecost, we remember Christ’s great promise to us. Before he ascended from the earth, he said to the disciples:
This readers’ theater was originally written and performed for a women’s Bible study event several years ago. It was also used in a worship service with members of our church’s Friendship program, a ministry for people with cognitive impairments
Scripture passages used include Revelation 19:9; Luke 14:16-23; Luke 15:22-23; John 4:1-26; Luke 19:1-10; Luke 23:42-43.
Permission is granted for not-for-profit use (print, projection, or spoken) in a worship setting. For all other purposes please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This prayer was used in a Pentecost service. Though the Spirit is not explicitly mentioned throughout, the Spirit is part of all that the Godhead does. This prayer, though appropriate for Pentecost, can easily be used and adapted for any worship service, particularly one with the theme of hope.
A little over a week ago, my seventy-seven-year-old father died unexpectedly. Although I can’t describe exactly how I am feeling, I’ve had the strongest desire to draw or paint or create something. Anything. I wonder why that is.
I also wonder what we’re going to do with the stack of beautiful cards sent to us, each filled with messages of hope and calls for God’s peace.
Dear Church Musicians:
Is it not time, perhaps, to sing reformer Martin Luther’s great songs with the sprightly rhythm in which they were originally composed? The new translation included here could give fresh vigor to the canonic status of “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”
RW on Facebook
You may have noticed the Facebook link on our website and the symbol popping up in this very issue. While we have had a Facebook presence for about six months, we have not used it in relation to the print issue. Beginning with this issue, though, we will be choosing articles we think could use additional reflection as discussion starters on Facebook. We are eager to create a great online environment for us to be able to learn from each other.
These days we’re connected to people all over the globe. The Internet and other electronic media allow us to be as “plugged in” as we want to be: websites and e-news blasts provide us with up-to-date information on what’s happening in the world (see sidebar).
As Christians, this awareness informs our personal devotions and our corporate worship whenever we intercede on behalf of those suffering from injustice in our own communities and around the world. It’s a natural step to put those prayers to music so that they may be sung by God’s people.
A few months ago a package arrived in the mail from a friend of RW. Inside was a full set of Liturgy and Music in Reformed Worship newsletters. This RW precursor set the trajectory for providing worship leaders and committees with practical assistance in planning, structuring, and conducting congregational worship in the Reformed tradition. 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.
Download bulletin cover here.
Food is one of the cornerstones of God’s good creation. It nourishes and sustains God’s creatures. Its richness and diversity brings joy to many who delight in the bounty of gardens and grocery stores. But whenever food is hoarded, over-consumed, scarce, or withheld, it can also be emblematic of the brokenness of humanity. When access to nourishing food is lacking, justice is also lacking.
Note: All names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals mentioned.
My church has the smallest sanctuary I’ve ever seen. The front wall of the sanctuary used to be painted with a kind of 3-D archway or portal that was black inside. The painting was old, chipped, and mildewed along the bottom. I always wondered what it meant and who had put it there. When I started asking around, many parishioners admitted to being “creeped out” by the painting. Finally someone told me that the painting symbolized the tomb. Eventually we painted it over in order to brighten up the worship space.
Everybody loves stories. And, like children at bedtime, we never want our stories to end—we want them to go on and on. You could say we want an eternal story.
In our worship we enter into a dialogue between God and God’s people—a dialogue that neither begins with our entrance nor ends with our exit. More accurately we are joining in a conversation that started long before we ever showed up. Indeed, worship is a cosmic gathering in which we are privileged to participate.
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.
Note: Multiple song suggestions are provided; choose as many as fit your worship context.
Gathering for Worship
“Come, All You People” SNC 4, SWM 4
“We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise” CH 213, SNC 12, WR 651
“Gift of Christ from God Our Father” SNC 167
“Spirit, Working in Creation” PsH 415, WR 128
[Include a brief explanation of Pentecost and its connection to global mission.]
Q I always am anxious about Pentecost. I feel pressure to create a service in which people experience the Holy Spirit in an Acts 2 kind of way. Any advice?
A For starters, recall again the whole scope of the Bible’s teaching about the Holy Spirit. The Spirit works through both order and spontaneity, both dramatic intervention and long-term formation.
“Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’” (Ezek. 37:11, RSV)
Let us pray:
God of hope
we bring before you
those whose lives are dried up:
Come from the four winds,
O breath of God,
and breathe upon these
that they may live.
We pray for those dried up
by guilt . . .
We pray for those
whose spirit is drained
by despair . . .
Resources for Planning Worship
When you plan worship services year after year, it’s easy to fall into a rut and start repeating the same phrases and images. Keeping up with new resources can help you resist this temptation. Of course, no resource is a perfect fit for every church, but you can use the following resources to spark new ideas and adapt them to your own situation.
Is it possible that my desire for the logical, the factual, and the easily comprehensible has kept me from seeing, experiencing, and maybe even believing that God is at work here and now? That’s the question that arose in my mind (or was it my soul?) as I read through the articles in this issue.
Do you search for hymns and worship music for worship services? Are you researching a particular hymn? Looking for an arrangement or media file? If so, the Hymnary is for you.
The Hymnary is an online hymn and worship music database for worship leaders and others. It’s a collaboration between the Christian Classics Ethereal Library and the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. At the Hymnary you can search or browse hymns by title, tune, meter, key, Scripture reference, and more.
The Mysterious Kingdom
The kingdom of God is never quite what we expect. We see this in two rather surprising back-to-back parables in Mark 4.
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. . . . When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” . . . Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel. . . .
—Genesis 28:10-11, 16, 18-19a
Reader 1: Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. (Isa. 46:9)
Reader 2: I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. (Isa. 46:10a)
Reader 1: We remember Christmas—the former time when Jesus, the Son of God, was born in human flesh, emptied of his glory.
Just in time for the holidays, here’s an easy one for all you sewers and weavers and other overworked “banner people.” These simple but dramatic visuals are made of lowly colored butcher paper hung from ceiling to floor. We used plain old white glue to add store-bought die-cut letters. Drama on a (time and money) budget!
The following is the third of a three-part series based on a transcript of a lecture given by Dr. N.T. Wright at Calvin College on January 6, 2007. (Parts 1 and 2 of this lecture can be found in RW 89 and 90.) Much of this lecture is based on Dr. Wright’s previous writings, particularly the book Simply Christian (New York: HarperCollins, 2006). We are grateful to Dr. Wright for allowing us to share this lecture with our readers.
Sunday after Sunday, year after year, young people across the country participate in worship. What difference does it make in their lives? Most people believe that worship has a formative influence on the worshiper. But how do we understand that influence? What keeps youth involved in church and bolsters their faith?
The Approach to God
Call to Worship
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
Opening Song of Praise
“Laudate Dominum/Sing, Praise and Bless the Lord” SNC 30, S&P 35, T 12
“In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful” SNC 220, S&P 47, T 10, WR 448
The unfortunate history of the Lord’s Supper is that we have always managed to find a way to fight over the very thing that was meant to bring us together. So what are we disagreeing about this time? In many Reformed and Presbyterian churches the clash of the day is over whether baptized children who have not professed their faith should be allowed to take part in the Lord’s Supper.
I’ll never forget my visit to see the famous leaning tower in Pisa, Italy. I had not realized that the tower was a bell tower at the east end of the church in Pisa, a separate building with bells that would peal when someone died. I actually became more interested in the building at the other end of the church—the round baptistery, a separate building dating from the thirteenth century built just for baptisms, with fantastic acoustics.
Paul Ryan’s article “Addressing Sexuality in Worship” (RW 85, Sept. 2007) challenges worship leaders to honestly name the sexual struggles all Christians have in the midst of a sex-saturated culture. In this article Robert Bayley continues that call to speak openly and honestly about those struggles and even to sing of them. He has written two hymn texts to help us do that. —JB
Declaring what we believe in the words of a creed is an important part of many worship services. It helps us express our theology and ties us to believers around the world and across the ages. When we recite something often enough, though, the words simply roll off our tongues and we don’t think about what we’re saying.
Use these two short worship litanies to build a bridge connecting your congregation to youth or adults who go out to serve on mission trips. Both litanies can be easily inserted into your church’s regular worship service. The first is designed to commission the group before it leaves on its trip. The second is designed to welcome them back. Read through these litanies carefully and adapt them as necessary to reflect the focus and tasks of your particular mission trip.
We are excited to introduce Bob Langlois to you in this issue. Bob has extensive experience in the world of technology, particularly as it relates to churches. We hope you’ll be inspired to send in specific questions for Bob to answer—whether you’re considering investing in new equipment, trying to solve a thorny techno-problem, or just want to discover the best way to use what you have. —JB
Twice a year at Redeemer University College we gather together for a time of extended prayer. We are a young university (established 1982), but from our inception we’ve had a strong tradition of seeking to be grounded in prayer. Our small campus includes a lovely prayer room for small group prayer, with two adjoining prayer “cells” for personal prayer. Every fall the student body organizes a 24/7 prayer week during which many students, faculty, and staff sign up for an hour each of continuous prayer.
Q As our worship services have evolved over the past few years, intercessory prayer seems to get less and less attention. What can we do about that?
Each issue of Reformed Worship has its beginning in a brainstorming meeting that takes place more than a year before readers hold the printed copy in their hands. Yet I am always amazed by two things: how certain topics pop up that were never part of our original plan, and how the individual articles, when placed side by side, tend to create an overarching theme for the whole issue.
When our congregation changed its method of choosing elders and deacons from election to the casting of lots, we searched for a liturgy to use in the new process. Finding none, we created our own, borrowing heavily from the rich text of Worship the Lord: The Liturgy of the Reformed Church in America (Order for the Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons). We followed this process:
Pentecost is a season of senses—everything is alive and there is an air of mystery that can be visually and physically shared with the congregation. Pentecost is brimming with sights and sounds we can use in our worship as we recount the amazing events of the first Pentecost and reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives and in the world.
One fall day in the fifth century before Christ, the people of Israel gathered at the Water Gate in Jerusalem (Neh. 8:2-12). Ezra and several assistants read and interpreted the Book of the Law in a festive setting. As the meaning of the text began to sink in, the people wept. But Ezra told them that this was a day for a feast, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).
The Day It All Comes Together
We mourned our sin during Lent, commemorated Christ’s death on Good Friday, and celebrated his resurrection on Easter. But this is the day it all comes together—this is the day we celebrate the coronation of the King!
Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community
by Simon Chan. InterVarsity Press, 2006. 160 pages.
Simon Chan, an Assemblies of God minister with a Ph.D. from Cambridge who teaches at Trinity Theological College in Singapore, maintains that we cannot fully comprehend the richness of worship without basing it firmly in the doctrine of the church; conversely, we cannot understand the church apart from its life of worship.
What does spiritual formation have to do with worship? Everything. Our dialog with God in worship moves us through the same formation, conformation, and transformation process as Richard Foster suggests takes place in spiritual formation. As you read the following article, consider how your worship supports spiritual formation. Brainstorm with your worship committee or another group about how your worship can better lead congregants through the process of formation, conformation, and transformation. —JB
In RW 86, Curt Gesch was incorrectly identified as worship director of Telkwa CRC. It should have read, “Curt Gesch is a member of Telkwa CRC.”
What Resources Do You Use?
Have you found a particular resource helpful for your worship planning? A book of prayers, a music resource, a website? Let us know and consider writing a review of that material.
“A Global God, a Global Task” is the theme Christian Reformed World Missions has chosen for celebrating the Holy Spirit and Missions for Pentecost Sunday 2008. See the “Series for the Season” article by Gary Brouwers (p. 4) for a Pentecost Sunday service outline. —JH
Reader 1: In the beginning was God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
For various reasons I now live in two cities. My wife and I have our home in South Bend, Indiana, and I work in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We usually spend about three weekends a month in South Bend and one in Grand Rapids.
It was his first church service since World War II. Two weeks earlier Danny had buried his wife of fifty years. The family had searched the Internet for a church that might host her memorial service, choosing Granite Springs Church because it was close. Now he was attending worship. As the congregation stood and began to sing the opening song, I noticed him near the back. He selected a seat on the outside edge, the perfect place to make an early exit. As the congregation sang, “He gives and takes away . . .” tears were streaming down his cheeks.
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.
We all know Pentecost is important—after all, living a Christian life would be impossible without the Holy Spirit. That said, Pentecost barely causes a ripple in many churches. There’s no week of preparation the way there is in Lent. No slow unwrapping of Advent to prepare us for celebrating Christmas. Pentecost simply comes and goes.
Here’s a visual idea using God’s original Pentecost symbol to help highlight the significance of Pentecost in the church year.
This service was submitted by a pastor who created the service for a specific situation in his congregation: a young mother who was dealing with cancer. He writes, “Her recent chemotherapy treatments were not working. We talked about having a special prayer service and how that was to be an expression of trust, not desperation. . . . The service was a powerful experience of God’s presence for everyone.”
Muskegon Christian School, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, is a pre-K through 8th grade school serving the greater Muskegon area. Last year it was the recipient of a worship renewal grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, (funded by the Lilly Foundation) to teach kids about Vertical Habits. (For more on Vertical Habits, see RW 84.) We asked Tara Macias, who developed the curriculum used by the school, to tell us about the project.
Who comes to mind when you think of prisoners and prisons? Perhaps violent criminals—murderers, rapists, child molesters—and you’re thankful they are locked up. On the other hand, you may think of prisoners, past and present, who have been unjustly imprisoned for their faith: heroes like Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, or the apostle Paul in Rome.
Imagine yourself into this scenario: the New Year’s Day prayer vigil you planned for your congregation last year was a disappointment. The only people who signed up—besides you—were three faithful ladies and the youth pastor, who owed you for chaperoning the Christmas teen event. It’s taken you three months to figure out that the idea of spending a whole hour in prayer is intimidating to your congregation. Spending that much time in prayer seems an impossible and unspeakably boring prospect.
For trumpet, clarinet, and French horn players, transposing is a normal part of playing their instrument. For singers, violinists, pianists, and flute players, on the other hand, it may seem like some strange secret code. Instruments that have their notes written differently than they actually sound? Up a step? Down a fifth? What’s that all about?
Faith formation is an important part of church ministry. This is the third article in a series on how to encourage faith nurture in your congregation’s worship.
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench. When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—He is God! The Lord—He is God!” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
Is this unique and potent passage familiar to you? Can you imagine singing it during a weekly worship service?
Robert Nordling (see his article on p. 32) tells a story about taking his five-year-old son, Jackson, to a young friend’s birthday party: All dressed up, brimming with enthusiasm, Jackson rushes into his friend’s house to join the festivities. But when his father arrives to pick him up after the party, Jackson looks dejected. “What’s the matter, Jackson?” asks his father. “Didn’t you enjoy the party?” The answer is a terse no. “But you were looking forward to this party so much!