Encounters with the Holy: A Conversational Model for Worship Planning
by Barbara Day Miller.
Alban Institute, 2010. 142 pages.

This book is written for committees that want to go beyond discussions about the mechanics of a service—what worked and what didn’t work—to develop “patterns of imaginative discussion and theological reflection in planning and leading.” To that end Barbara Day Miller introduces us to POWR, the conversational process of planning, ordering, worship, and reflecting. The book includes a short, open-ended survey for worshipers to help the worship committee understand who the congregation is as a worshiping community. Rather than asking what worshipers like or don’t like, the survey prompts them to fill out sentences such as, “I participate in worship at our church by . . .” or “I have always wondered why we . . .”

With that background, the committee is ready to begin with brainstorming (planning), then ordering those ideas into a worship framework, and then worshiping, followed by a time of guided reflection.

Though at first glance this book seems to be geared toward the traditional “liturgical” church, quotes from various worship leaders who have used this method attest that it is adaptable to various forms and styles of worship. These “testimonies” sprinkled throughout the book affirm that POWR is a tool that works. If you desire to deepen the conversation around worship in your congregation, you’ll be enriched by the many practical insights this book provides.

The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services
by Constance M. Cherry.
Baker Academic, 2010. 296 pages.

If you are looking for a book that covers the basics of worship theology, history, and practice, this is the one to get. Writing for “present and future worship leaders, both students in the academy and leaders in local churches, who want to learn how to design and lead services of vital Christian worship,” Cherry compares the practice of worship planning with that of an architect moving from the big picture theory to the final product.

The fifteen chapters of the book are divided into five sections referred to as “phases.” Each chapter follows the same pattern: first some introductory questions to explore, then the main content of the chapter, followed by additional questions and ways to engage the material, definitions of key terms used, and sometimes a list of additional sources.

“Phase One: Laying the Foundations of Worship” looks to the Bible as the foundation for all worship practice. Acknowledging that Scripture provides no clear prescriptions for what we ought to do or not do in worship, Cherry does point out many scriptural teachings that provide direction in leading worship.

“Phase Two: Building the Structure for Worship” establishes a four-fold order of worship that takes worshipers on a journey in conversation with God as they move from Gathering, to the Word, to the Table (Lord’s Supper), to Sending. God initiates worship by calling us to come; God talks with us, feeds us, and then sends us forth.

“Phase Three: Creating Doors and Windows for Encountering God” sketches in the details of worship: what is read, prayed, and sung. Cherry offers excellent advice for evaluating music that transcends the issue of style, instead focusing on the fittingness of the text and music for a particular context. She also helps explain the different styles of music commonly used in worship. Rather than holding one style above another, she shows how each style has something to offer in worship. However, placing all contemporary and modern music under the rubric of “chorus” is not a very complete picture of the genre, which has gone well beyond short choruses. I was also left wishing she would have written a little about the melding of styles we are beginning to see in which old texts are set to new music, and the development of modern hymnody such as “In Christ Alone” (Getty and Townend) that is adaptable to various stylistic settings.

“Phase Four: Adding Style to the Worship Event” offers wise advice on being true to who you are as a community rather than trying to pattern your worship after the church down the street. For me the weakest part of the book was the chapter on Convergence, where Cherry seemed to be less charitable and more agenda driven.

“Phase Five: Nurturing Hospitality at the Worship Event” brings the book to a fine close with great reminders that regardless of musical style or the order followed, if a church is not hospitable it will not attract new people. The two appendixes at the back (“Ten Basic Steps in Designing Vital Worship” and “Checklist for Designing Vital Worship”) are another practical resource.

Definitely a book worth spending time with, especially as a worship committee or planning team.

Music and Vital Congregations: A Practical Guide for Clergy
by William Bradley Roberts.
Church Publishing Inc., 2009. 133 pages.

While the intent of this book is to educate pastors about music ministry, it sometimes seems more geared to musicians than pastors, and as such can be useful for both to read—even better, for a pastor-musician duo to work through together. Roberts acknowledges up front that he writes from the perspective of an Episcopalian; while that perspective shows through the examples and language employed in this book, the lessons are applicable in any church setting. There is much wisdom to be gleaned from this book, from understanding the reasons behind the struggle between “traditional” and “contemporary” music, to gaining a better perspective on music from around the globe, to developing a philosophy for children’s music ministry. From “big picture” issues Roberts moves to the practical, such as copyrights, how to go about hiring a church musician, salaries, and developing policies for weddings and funerals. Roberts concludes, “There is little that changes the life of a congregation like great music.” If we believe that, then it is worth investing some time to make sure we’ve built our music ministries on firm foundations.

These books were reviewed by Joyce Borger.

Rev. Joyce Borger is senior editor of Reformed Worship and a resource development specialist at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

Reformed Worship 99 © March 2011, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.