No one plans a service of worship with the intention of doing it poorly. Call me an idealist, but I believe there is a deep desire in every church to worship God with passion in spirit and truth. My belief is continually confirmed in the continual conversations I have with church leaders who feel some kind of insufficiency in their church’s worshipand the multitude of blog posts being written on the deficiencies of worship in the American church.As a result, many church leaders seek to implement change in worship – restructuring the format, altering the style, or targeting a specific demographic – all in hopes that somehow worship renewal will take place.
As much as those solutions may be successful and well intended, in my experience I have found a different approach to worship renewal to be more substantial, though it takes more time. Simply put, I believe that worship education leads to worship renewal.
Of course, it is important to recognize that worship renewal does not take place because of human ingenuity but because of the work of the Holy Spirit moving in people’s lives. That being said, I believe that worship renewal also does not happen haphazardly, cannot be simply for the sake of change, and should not be bent on the goal of appealing to worshipers. Instead, as the Calvin Institute for Worship says, “Worship renewal must come as a result of a congregation’s understanding between the connection of its worship practices and the way which that body lives out God’s purposes for the world.” In other words, as church leaders educate congregations in the whys and hows of worship, renewal will take place in powerful ways.
Though many methods of education are appropriate in the church, and a variety of approaches should be considered, I encourage church leaders to not dismiss the importance of reading and discussing a book with a small group, Sunday school class, worship design team, etc. In my own experience with a worship design team at my church, book discussions have been extremely meaningful and formative. Here are five books I strongly recommend as a good starting point for worship education and renewal:
1) Ancient-Future Worship: Proclaiming and Enacting God’s Narrative by Robert E. Webber.
This is the book on worship I have most recommended to others and one I constantly return to with the worship design team from my own church. In Ancient-Future Worship, Webber circumnavigates the focus on style that has pre-occupied American discussions of worship over the past few decades and instead centers worship in proclaiming and enacting the story of God. Using biblical and historical models of worship, Webber lays out important values in worship crucial for renewal in the church today.
2) The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services by Constance M. Cherry.
Take Webber, add practical application, and you get The Worship Architect. Constance Cherry was a student of Webber, and his influence is quite evident in her theological approach to worship. Additionally, Cherry does a wonderful job of giving helpful tips, applicable examples, and guides for planning that are lacking in Ancient-Future Worship. I appreciate that Cherry stays mindful of a variety of styles and denominational backgrounds in the church, thus offering principles conducive to a variety of approaches to worship.
3) Diverse Worship: African-American, Caribbean, and Hispanic Perspectives by Pedrito U. Maynard-Reid.
The more I realize that my understanding of worship is limited to an American, mainline denominational background, the more I appreciate the book Diverse Worship. In the volume, Maynard-Reid explores three cultural contexts for worship, (named in the subtitle), providing both the historical developments and ethnic characteristics of their worship traditions. I appreciate Maynard-Reid’s perspective on worship as he considers both the global values and the universal truths central to Christian worship.
4) Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship by David G. Peterson.
I include this book precisely because of the subtitle – it is a biblical theology of worship. Unfortunately, far too many books and discussions on worship do not begin with a biblical theology of worship. This is by and large due to the lack of education on biblical worship. In Engaging with God, Peterson looks at Old and New Testament forms of worship, using biblical examples to teach the purpose of worship. Though the book is somewhat long, (317 pages), it is written in a way that I believe any lay person or church leader would be able to read and appreciate.
5) The Message in the Music: Studying Contemporary Praise and Music edited by Robert Woods and Brian Walrath.
I hesitate to include this book because it alienates the scope of its study to only the ‘contemporary’ style of music. I do include it, however, primarily for two reasons: 1) I have not included any other books that focus directly on worship music; 2) Through a series of articles written by a variety of authors, The Message in the Music addresses worship music through an evaluation of lyrical content. Since music has taken such a central place in worship discussion over the past few decades, it is important to consider the musical content of worship. The words we say and sing in worship are formative – they shape and proclaim our understanding of God. Though its scope is limited, The Message in the Music offers very good evaluation of the content of worship music written in recent years and stimulates good thought on how to better plan the musical elements of worship.
By no means is this an exhaustive list. In fact, it pains me to not include authors such as C. Michael Hawn, Alexander Schmemann, James Torrance, and James White. Likewise, I do not mention good practical resources such as hymnals, planning websites, The Worship Sourcebook, or The United Methodist Book of Worship. My hope is that the above books can be a launching point of worship renewal, prompting good discussion and gradual implementation. If you would like further theological or practical sources, please feel free to contact me or comment on this post. In the meantime, I pray that God will bless and empower us by His Spirit as we seek to bring both worship education and worship renewal to our churches.