On the Worship of Worship Leaders, Liturgical Colors, and Worship-Related Bible Studies

Q. I find my own worship suffering because of my role as a worship leader. I’m too concerned for the details of the service to really enter into worship. Any advice?

A. This question comes up regularly in classes I’ve taught. Here are some insightful comments from my students, many of them veteran leaders:

  • “It’s true that we need to keep track of many things during the service, but we also have the privilege of living with the scriptural and musical texts over the course of the week. This is far richer than simply encountering them for the first time on Sunday morning. On balance, I think I come out ahead!”
  • “I find it useful to ‘worship through’ the service ahead of time, using each act of worship as part of my own prayer. I need to do more than think about the texts of the day—I need to actually pray them myself.”
  • “I look for a church nearby that has a service on a weeknight—particularly if that church represents a different cultural group than my own. There I am not only challenged to worship in new ways, but I see things through the eyes of the worshiper rather than the leader. This really helps me stay grounded.”
Q. We’re talking a lot about liturgical colors in our church. Some people say they are set in stone. That feels a bit fussy to me. What do you think?

A. I agree that they are not set in stone. For roughly 1,000 years, we have little if any record of color designations at all. And of course we have no biblical prescriptions to guide us—only some color associations with Old Testament temple and priestly garments.

Although a fairly standard set of colors is used ecumenically, there are also notable variations. For example, many churches use purple in Advent because of its penitential or royal associations, others use blue to suggest expectation or to link Advent hope with baptism. Some use the gold and white of Epiphany, suggestive of the image of light or royal gifts given by the Magi, for a whole season of Sundays. Others quickly replace the Epiphany colors with the green of Ordinary Time until Lent begins.

Liturgical colors signal the changing mood of the seasons of the Christian year. They visually communicate a healthy balance of repentance and joy, celebration and longing. Used over many years, the colors prompt us to recognize the seasons of the year and to personally enter into each in new and meaningful ways. Finally, developing strong associations between colors, themes, seasons, and aspects of the Christian life is a wonderful teaching tool for children. They will not miss the dramatic transformation of Lenten purple to Easter white!

Q. I am writing to inquire about resources suitable for a Bible study related to worship for worship leaders, most of whom are lay leaders.

A. I highly recommend two books by N. T. Wright. For All God’s Worth: True Worship and the Calling of the Church (Eerdmans, 1997) is a collection of fourteen short sermons about worship, not a formal Bible study with discussion questions. But his writing should generate very thoughtful discussion. Reflecting the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World (Augsburg, 1998) is a collection of forty meditations with discussion questions, based mostly on texts in 2 Corinthians and John, for use during Lent. Many of the reflections refer, directly or indirectly, to the worship and the role of leaders in the church. Other helpful Bible studies on worship include Larry Sibley’s Worship: Discovering What Scripture Says—Bible Study Guides (Shaw, 2001), Robert Webber’s Learning to Worship with All Your Heart: A Study in the Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship (Hendriksen, 1996), and Tremper Longman’s Immanuel in Our Place: Seeing Christ in Israel’s Worship (Presbyterian and Reformed, 2001).



Any questions?

We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you’ll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids, MI 49560), fax (616-224-0803), or e-mail (info@reformedworship.org). You can also e-mail John directly (jwitvlie@calvin.edu).

Rev. Dr. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.

Reformed Worship 71 © March 2004, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.