The Role of Elders in Worship

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A few weeks before I was scheduled to sing a solo at another congregation, the worship planner called and asked, “Would you please send a copy of the lyrics of the song you plan to sing? The Elders need to approve of the words of your song and the theology it represents.” That conversation happened nearly a decade ago, but I’ve remembered it as the most rigorous interpretation of Elder supervision of worship that I have experienced.

I wonder . . . do Elders still discuss every song’s lyrics and theological message in our worship services? Do Elders determine the content and intent of other parts of our worship? How has the role of Elders vis-à-vis worship changed since I typed up those lyrics and dropped them off back in those pre-email days?

Here is what Article 52 of the Church Order says:

The consistory shall regulate the worship services. The consistory shall see to it that the principles and elements of worship approved by synod are observed, including the use of liturgical forms, songs, and synodically approved Bible versions. If liturgical forms are adapted or additional psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are used in worship, these elements should conform to synodical guidelines.

After reading that instruction from Church Order, I can see why the Elders wanted to know the lyrics of my song, but I wonder if today’s Elders are aware of Church Order Article 52, and if they are aware, how are Consistories interpreting those expectations regarding worship?

I think it is fair to assume that the worship services of many CR churches are now being planned and led by lay people with skills and training in specific worship-related tasks such as music, liturgy, technology, etc. These folks often work relatively independently from the Elders. Other churches have a Worship Committee, perhaps including a pastor and/or an elder, which is responsible for schedules, banners, seasonal services, shifts in style and music, etc. This committee may or may not report to the Consistory in its church.

Have these lay leaders and committees replaced the Consistory in “regulating” worship? Or do Elders still play an active and participatory role in the planning, leading, determining expectations and setting direction of worship in our churches? What is the current role of the Elders in worship in the CRCNA?

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