Someone who is a Christian for forty years and regularly attends Sunday worship will spend roughly 2,500 hours of his or her life in church. This post is about how to think about those services and order them well.
One of my favorite things about Presbyterians is their thoughtfulness about everything they do; I disagree with them in some critical areas, but I appreciate that they take the gospel and the church seriously. I came across a syllabus from the class “History of Hymnody” a friend sent me the other day. Due to my schedule last spring I wasn’t able to take the class, but the syllabus is 127 pages which is the next best thing. Kevin Twit of Indelible Grace taught the class. This guy takes church music seriously! It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he had 500 hymnals.
Being charismatic, I haven’t thought as much about the content of songs as I should. Worship order has always been important to me, by this I mean first thanksgiving and praise songs, and then more personal devotional, reverential songs. I also want a good mix of songs; it drives me crazy when the worship team plays the same eight songs over and over for a year. Beside that I’ve just want the songs to be stirring.
One of the first things the professors taught us when we started seminary was to take the content of the music sang seriously. “People will forget your sermons,” they said, “but they will remember the songs.” I think this is excellent advice. In the past I’ve gotten annoyed when the pastors of my church “meddled” with what the worship leaders wanted to play (ok, I’ve had some issues on that score). Now I believe that is one of the elders’ most important jobs related to the Sunday service. You don’t want the congregation singing nonsense or falsehoods just because the songs are popular or catchy.
I know next to nothing about this topic so I can’t say anything worthwhile, but I can point you to some of the books from the syllabus. The principle I’m recommending here is openness to other traditions, receiving what is good from our brothers and sisters in other streams. Speaking as one coming from the fastest growing block of Christianity, Charismatic believers can think we have nothing to learn from other traditions. We need to remember that these guys kept the faith for 1,900 years before we came along.
Here are some of the books Kevin Twit recommended. I’ve looked over these and given brief comments:
Desiring the Kingdom by James K.A. Smith – The most important book I’ve read in seminary. It makes the case that we are desiring creatures, not primarily thinking creatures. Smith views all of life’s events as liturgical experiences that shape our desires. Then shows how Christians can create shaping experiences ourselves.
Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down by Marva Dawn – Plea for more meaningful Christian worship. Twit recommends this first.
Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame – Seeks to present Biblically what worship is and what requirements and freedoms we have in worship. I’m very interested in this one.
Leading In Worship by Terry Johnson (ed.) – how to lead a High Church Reformed service. Interesting because it is so different from what I have experienced. He gives reasons for his recommendations.
“The Worship Sourcebook” by the Calvin Institute Of Worship – an 800 page collection of prayers, calls to worship, confession, etc.
Praying Twice by Brian Wren – A popular level book aimed at pastors and worship leaders about the songs sung during Christian worship times. Covers why singing is important, style, lyric content, change, how hymns do theology and other topics.
Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell – In a nutshell this book is about letting the gospel shape our services, and how each element of the service can do that.
Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin – By the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries, this is a guide for worship leaders (meaning song not service leaders) on how to lead worship well.