All I Ever Really Needed to Know About Worship I Learned from <em>Reformed Worship</em>

After many years at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario, Bert Polman (bdp5@ recently joined the staff at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, as chair of the music department and professor of music. He is also a senior research fellow at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He is currently writing two books, one on contemporary Praise and Worship songs, the other on musical settings of the Magnificat.

This is the second in a series of articles during the twentieth anniversary year of Reformed Worship. In RW 77, Robert Webber started off the series on twenty years of liturgical change. Here Bert Polman provides another perspective. Polman has served as an editorial council member and has written several articles for RW.

Among the memorable events of the year 1986, two publishing ventures stand out in my mind: Robert Fulgham published a brief essay in The Kansas City Times entitled “All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” and the first issue of Reformed Worship was issued by CRC Publications. Given that I prize Fulgham’s kindergarten essay, I propose to comment on the value of RW for worship planners and leaders by engaging in a “call-and-response” dialogue between Fulgham [in italics] and RW—with gratitude and apologies to both parties!

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.

While it is true that some folks have graduate school training in worship, church music, theology, and ministry (training that I value highly), it is equally true that most worship planners and leaders have limited formal training, pick up some skills from mentors, attend an occasional worship conference, and thrive on the use of a handful of resources. RW has become such a “sandbox” from which many worship planners and leaders borrow and adapt materials for weekly worship.

Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people.

Though oriented by a Reformed view of life and worship, RW has drawn widely on the rich, ecumenical tradition of Christian worship. In an era when worship wars abound, the tone of the articles in RW has been generous of spirit and the resources have ranged from seasonal series designed according to the lectionary to free-form sample services. And while some RW authors have been critical of some contemporary or older practices of worship, there has been no bloodshed.

Put things back where you found them.

Modern scholars have done a lot of work to uncover the worship of the first centuries of Christianity, but such knowledge needs to be translated for use in our current era. Both in articles and in resources, RW has offered practical advice on how to incorporate such scholarly insights into contemporary worship.

Clean up your own mess. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Some traditional services can get very cerebral about sin, while some modern services can omit confession of sin and words of forgiveness all together. RW has consistently held out the importance of these elements in worship and offered resources that range from short sample texts to entire healing services, from discussion of laments to suggestions about hearing God’s words of grace afresh.

Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

RW has had theme issues and various articles that pertain to the primary sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Given its Reformed orientation, perhaps it is not surprising that RW has not engaged the modern dialogue between those who baptize infants and adults and those who baptize only adults. However, it is surprising that RW has not consistently upheld the unity of Word and Table in its sample services, though it has paid lip service to that principle in some articles and resources.

Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work some every day.

Worship scholar James White once characterized Reformed/Presbyterian worship as “cerebral, penitential, and didactic.” Postmodern changes in the church and culture have altered our experience of life and our practices of worship. Thus RW has routinely offered designs for banners, examples of old and modern hymns (including, if sparingly, some Praise and Worship songs), suggestions for hand and body movements, and, at least in some articles, has paid more attention to whole person and emotive involvement in worship.

Take a nap every afternoon.

Biblical stories, creation theology, and modern psychology all affirm the importance of rest and of silence. RW has modeled the use of silence in a number of its sample services and prayers, and has featured articles on the stations of the cross or worship at Taizé, but it has (yet) paid little attention to the contemplative life or to other spiritual disciplines.

When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

One of the great virtues of RW is that its Reformed vision affirms the unity of Sunday-style worship with everyday life worship. There have been articles and resources on worship and justice, worship and evangelism, and worship and daily work.


Three Invitations

Reformed Worship Reader Survey

Many of you—those for whom we have e-mail addresses—recently received a Reader Survey, with an invitation to help us prepare a fresh start for our twenty-first year. Our thanks to those who have already responded.

Now we’d like to extend the invitation to all our readers. How can we better serve you and the churches you serve? Reformed Worship has consistently provided 48 pages of content (no commercial ads) four times a year for the past twenty years. A few times we’ve tweaked the design; we’ve added some columns and dropped others, and we’ve added a website. You may have some great new ideas for design, contents, columns, or use of the Web. We’d love to

hear from you! Please go to our website (, and take a few minutes to fill out our online survey before the end of this year.

RW 79 Theme Issue: Celebrating Anniversaries

Right now we’re planning our twentieth anniversary theme issue on celebrating anniversaries! We’d love to hear from you if you have recently planned a worship service to celebrate an anniversary of some kind—a building, ministry, ordination, partnership—any remembrances of important occasions in the life of your congregation.

Many resources that appear in RW, including this issue, are published because subscribers helped develop or were blessed by a particular service and then sent it to us. We’re always glad to receive annotated bulletins with a note that tells us something a printed bulletin cannot convey about planning, collaboration, visuals, participants, and responses to the service.

Write to Us

We encourage you to write to us—during this, our anniversary year, and any time. We thrive on two-way communication.

Again, check out the survey. We’d especially love to hear your thoughts on the last question. Curious? Take a look. And do write us.

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 78 © December 2005, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.