A Single Thematic Approach to Reformed Worship

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Clearly, we in the CRC embrace public worship with profound respect. Our interim Banner editor has written an editorial on the subject entitled “Key Features of Reformed Worship.” He selected two principles from others as the defining ingredients: covenant renewal and Trinitarian. I appreciate his writing on this subject and for the most part heartily agree. Reformed Worship among us has it’s own institute and conferences, hymnals, theologians, liturgists, worship leaders, and ordained pastors. It is on the front page of CRC life as it should be.

Still, I wonder about how we are putting Reformed Worship into practice. I come from the perspective of a home missionary (which we used to have) but now call church planters.  Home missionaries by definition served in places where there was only a small gathering of CRC people. They were in places other than Grand Rapids, Pella, Edgerton/Leota, Hanford,Toronto, Winnepeg and Edmonton. In home mission churches, it was not only necessary to connect with the CRC nucleus but also the surrounding assimilated American Germans, Italians, Russians, Latin Americans, and Polish. It was necessary because the Bible mandated it but also survival as a church required it. Barring any new influx of CRC people, you had to reach this surrounding community and enfold them or risk extinction.

At this point in history it is clear that Reformed Worship among the CRC people in America has worked well and is still working well in Grand Rapids, Pella, etc. It is not so evident to me that Reformed Worship as we practice it has worked so well among the surrounding community of diverse ethnicities.

I see a couple of programmatic challenges for Reformed Worship. We need to keep worship seamless with only one conversation occurring per service. The conversation should be controlled by the selected scripture that will be preached. Reformed Worship as we now practice it tends to chop things up: greeting, service of confession and assurance, service of the law/other passage on living gratefully, service of the Word,  service of intercession, service of offering, and service of departure to serve. I fear that the service of the Word gets drowned out by all the other services we are carrying on in just one hour. Every Reformed Christian knows that repentance, confession of sin, assurance of pardon, instruction from the Word, prayer, grateful living, etc. are important, but we would never try to do all five or six within a very brief period of time.

We practice the spiritual disciplines. The apostle Paul declared: “Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” We need the fresh air of Holy Spirit freedom in our Reformed Worship. We do not need to fit all aspects of the Christian life into every single service. Worship Leaders, Pastors, and theologians need to be free to select 1-2 other elements along with the Word and forget the others for a given service. 

One other consideration, we need in my opinion, is to design worship services that are more accessible for the non-professional musician and theologian.  What I fear we might have happening in the CRC (judging from our evangelism statistics) is what Robert A Schuller warned us about many years ago. He said, “If my sermons were evaluated by theologians, I would get an F, but if they were evaluated by those who listen to the “Hour of Power” they would get an A.”  In other words, let the participants in our worship tell us, perhaps by their feet, whether they are being edified. Our Reformed Worship is undoubtedly correct but does it edify? 

Paul’s goal in preaching and christian worship was edification of the participants. “He who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may be edified.” 1 Corinthians 14:5.

A single thematic approach to worship would edify, unify, and be “transformative, missional, and winsome.”

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Robert Schuller?

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What is the question about Robert Schuller?

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I read this post and gave a lot of thought.  I am coming from the "well-established" congregation experience.  You have some valid points about what to include, not include, etc, in the perspective of Reformed Worship and new church plants, small congregations, etc. We don't always do that either.  Some seasons of the church year or if a sermon series calls for an emphasis of something, then we might lessen some of the other elements to give focus to the theme or focus.  

But I would have to disagree with you that you are dumbing down to those who you are trying to reach.  No, they aren't going to get it all and it all shouldn't be thrown at them at once, but if you start somewhere "one-inch" at a time, I truly believe they will receive it well and it will become the fabric of the worship experience.  How you present it is the "Robert Schuller" grade you will get from the congregation.  Robert Schuller did some unorthodox things to gain TV ratings, not to instill good liturgy.

I was at a seminar with a Christian college Chaplain and he described his new position and the worship life of the student body.  He described the Sunday chapel service as a "Holy Ruckus" when he first arrived.  SLOWLY, the dean of the chapel developed a well meaning liturgy one semester at a time.  This is a few years ago so I'm sure some great progress has been made and it all started with lighting the Christ candle and acknowledging God has called them to worship and God's presence in worship.

The people we are "reaching out" to are intelligent, the only ignorance is not knowing.  Telling them and showing them why it is important and why God has called us to confess our sins in a time of confession, etc. is just as important and making them aware of the Psalm 150 incorporation that all called to "Praise the Lord".  We aren't very good at telling what is important to us as reformed Christians as far as heritage, worship, traditions, etc. because we are afraid to offend them.  Other well established religions are not afraid to tell and show - and they are growing! 

Yes, we cannot assume that they automatically walk into worship knowing those things, but neither does a 3 year old child.  But as they mature in their faith, so doesn't their worship and their approach in worship, but only if you tell them and show them.

As for a unified thematic approach to worship, I don't always have one, sometimes it is better.  Themes and "take home" messages don't always present themselves up front.  But I always trust that the Holy Spirit will guide the worship and that we will give God the glory and be edified by his Word.

I'm sorry for this post if it sits with you in a different way, but I would have to disagree with your post. I could say more, but I'll end it here, reach out to where they are - meet them - and walk with them in a way that they should go.

Community Builder

 

Thank you for your review of my post, I appreciate it even though we may have misunderstood each other.

For starters I do not think you mean what you say in the first line of paragraph two of your review.  You do not mean to say that you disagree that I am dumbing down what I think you meant to say is that you disagree because you think I am dumbing down.  Correct?.  I sometimes think faster than I can write as well and do not say it quite as I intended to.  Not a problem.  I do not think there is any need to dumb down our worship or in order to make it more accessible to untrained musical and theological members would involve dumbing down.

Actually, I am reflecting some feedback I have received from mature believers in the CRC.  They are family members, college students who have worshipped during college at evangelical community churches and other non-muscians and non theologians. They think this form of muti-message worship is confusing and not edifying because it is dis-jointed. The college students I refer to have gone from their home CRC and experienced evangelical more seamless worship while at college.  When they come back they do not  appreciate Reformed Worship as we practice it. So they find a church home now which is more like what they had in college.  Perhaps I'm the only CRC pastor with such experiences.  I hope if there other pastors like me out there that they will speak up.   If I'm alone or only a few agree with what I say I will be quiet and direct my time and energy elsewhere.  

I keep hearing words like yours from our worship leaders but I also keep reading about how we are losing our young adults.  

Thanks again for your feedback Ken.  I would like to meet you sometime and discuss these thoughts further with you.

Until then,

Respectfully,

Larry

Community Builder

What if it's not an either or proposition? What if we can work on making our liturgy flow more by making transitions more seamless (unless we want intentional silence)? What if we "boldly" decided to have the music continue in the background when we hear God's word? What if we made sure that when someone is reading they came up at the ending of the song instead of when it was over? No comment on right or wrong, but ideas.