Video Viewpoints: A review of current worship videos

We live in an image-saturated society—a reality that brings both blessings and challenges to the church. One of the benefits is the recent avalanche of videos in the area of worship, some of which are described on these pages.

This sampling is exactly that, a sampling. Rather than attempting to view all the current possibilities, I limited my selection to those recent Protestant productions that are available through the following sources:

• TRAVARCA, the video and film lending library of the Reformed Church in America and the Christian Reformed Church. You may request membership information or place an order by calling 1-800-968-7221 or writing 4500 60th St. SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49512-9670.

• Calvin College Bookstore, 3201 Burton SE, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49546. 616-957-6376.

• CRC Publications, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49560-0001. 1-800-333-8300 (US) 1-800-263-4252 (CDN)


Viewpoints: Exploring the Reformed Vision. CRC Publications, 1992. (20 minutes per topic)
Suitable for: All adult audiences
Available from: CRC Publications

This twelve-part series addresses a number of issues of life and faith within the Reformed tradition. Host Peter Paulsen narrates these discussions with various leaders from the CRC and RCA. In addition, comments and reflections from pastors and laypeople are interspersed throughout each topic. Both the Introductory section "What does it mean to be Reformed?" and part four on worship relate to our theme.

This high-quality video provides a brief but valuable overview to some of the major principles of Reformed worship. Topics included are the nature and purpose of worship, God's presence in Word and sacrament, the importance of preparation and planning for worship, and the need for crafting a balanced order of worship.

The Meaning of Mystery: Baptism and Communion. Presbyterian and Reformed Educational Ministry, 1992. (45 minutes)
Suitable for: All adults, especially membership/ adult classes and worship committees or worship teams
Available from: TRAVARCA

This joint venture of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the RCA explores the two sacraments of our faith. The format is similar to the previous video: a narrator introduces some of the major themes, while pastors and laypeople offer additional reflection. Topics considered are the biblical roots and historic development ofworship, God's presence in the sacraments, the congregation's responsibility and participation, and the actual components of the respective liturgies for baptism and the Lord's Supper. Further, the issues of frequency and method of celebration, and children at the table are discussed for Communion. This excellent tape is further strengthened by a 31-page leader's guide that offers six lessons, a glossary of terms, and bibliography.

Why Worship? Questions of Faith III. United Methodist Communications, 1991. (22 minutes)
Suitable for: Membership/adult classes
Available from: TRAVARCA

A wide range of speakers—including Tony Cam-polo, Joan Chittister, William Sloane Coffin, Keith Miller, Parker Palmer, and Ann Ulanov—explore the nature, meaning, and importance of worship. The focus is more philosophical than practical, and a brief summary guide is included to spark further discussion.

Through Jesus Christ: Worship and Faith. The Foundational Curriculum of the Presbyterian Church and Reformed Educational Ministry, 1992. (61 minutes)
Suitable for: All adults, especially musicians, membership/adult classes, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: TRAVARCA

Following an introductory prologue, this video surveys the themes of hymnody, sacraments, preaching and prayer, liturgical space (architecture), and liturgical time. Unfortunately this ambitious project is rather inconsistent. The important principle of formative worship introduced in the prologue is ignored until the fourth section. Its treatment of baptism is more complete than that of the Lord's Supper, and the heavy emphasis on Easter leads to inadequate handling of Advent, Christmas, Pentecost, and Ordinary time. A helpful 29-page leader's guide offers biblical references, discussion suggestions, and bibliography.

The Liturgical Year. Calvin College Forum, April 1994. (30 minutes)
Suitable for: Musicians, membership/adult classes, pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: Calvin College Bookstore for $25

Host Bill Buursma engages Harry Boonstra and Emily Brink in a round table discussion on how the church year assists the church in telling time. Topics include the historic origin, preaching, and the educational and ecumenical value of the liturgical year. The respondents also note how celebrating the church year encourages greater opportunities for planning, more balanced worship, and sensitivity to symbolism, color, and the senses. This video provides a valuable overview to an important topic.


Worship Comes Alive: Touchstones for Creative Planning. United Church of Christ (101 minutes)
Suitable for: Musicians, pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: TRAVARCA

This video was professionally taped at a worship seminar led by the Rev. Martie Swan. Swan considers six touchstones for vital worship which remind the viewer that worship needs to be historically based, theologically sound, participatory, appealing to the senses, unified and balanced, and relevant and appropriate.

Basic to this video is the invitation for greater creativity and participation on the part of both worship planners and worshipers. Numerous specific examples are offered as a means to stimulate those responsible for planning the worship experience.

This highly practical and excellent resource would find a welcome reception by those interested in expanding the variety of ways the people of God can experience and worship God. However, the video could have been strengthened by including a leader's guide or a copy of the speaker's outline to which she periodically referred.

The Lay Liturgist: The Oral Reading of Scripture in Worship. BBC Communications, Inc., 1993. (18 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: TRAVARCA

Sadly, the public reading of Scripture often reflects little preparation. The premise of this video is that reading and listening to Scripture should be enjoyable and dynamic. An accompanying interactive leader's guide assists the viewer in exploring and practicing the three components of communication: the message, the listener, and you the speaker. The church would be well served by frequent use of this superb video, which offers excellent counsel to improve the reading quality of lay people and pastors alike.

Dance for Joy: Worship and Praise Through Davidic Dance, vol. 1. Messianic Video Productions, 1987. (34 minutes)
Suitable for: Musician, pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: TRAVARCA

This fascinating piece contends that when God pours out the Holy Spirit, there will be new expressions of praise and worship. Davidic dance is one way to release joy and glorify God. After a brief review of the biblical references to dance in the Psalms, six people demonstrate four basic steps and two complete dances (based on Hebrew tunes). While this video might initially appeal most to those in charismatic worship, it articulates a strong reminder to all of us not to neglect our bodies as we worship God.

Children and Youth—Children in the Church. Calvin College Forum, December 1993. (30 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, worship committees or worship teams, youth
Available from: Calvin College Bookstore for $25.

Host Bob Meyering interacts with Emily Brink and Sonja Stewart as they explore the place of children in the church. Recognition of how children listen and the importance of imagination and the senses leads to a consideration of the "Children in Worship" program. This tactile, right-brain, experiential approach to learning and worshiping invites children (and adults as well) to "fall in love with God." Related issues of children at the Lord's table and how the Children in Worship emphasis has influenced traditional worship to become more visual and participatory are included. This video contains valuable insights for understanding and developing worship for children and the childlike nature within all of us.

The Growing Edge: Youth Encounters in Worship. Presbyterian and Reformed Educational Ministry, 1993. (20 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, youth
Available from: TRAVARCA

This video describes the insights of three Presbyterian church youth groups and their advisors (upstate NY, New York City, and suburban NJ) as they visit and experience worship in each of the three churches. Together they examine the communal nature of worship, the presence and role of children, and the eucharist (these youth were not permitted at the Lord's table until they had made profession of faith). The youth and their leaders also discuss God's initiative in Reformed worship and conclude their time together by summarizing some key principles of worship. A five-page leader's guide offers suggestions on using this helpful and instructive video as well as providing further reflection questions.


An Inside Look at the Willow Creek Seeker Service An Inside Look at the Willow Creek Seeker Service: Show Me the Way. Zondervan, 1992. (116 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: CRC Publications

This video includes the entire June 9, 1991 seeker service at Willow Creek Community Church, located in the western suburbs of Chicago. Willow Creek targets unchurched baby boomers and attempts to reach them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This church has experienced phenomenal growth and attracts over 15,000 people to their weekend services.

The Saturday and Sunday gatherings are designed for seekers, those who are open to considering the message of Jesus. Reflective of the church's research and community survey, they employ contemporaiy music, drama, and do not expect the seekers to contribute to the offering. Surprisingly, the message consists of a forty-five-minute teaching from the Scripture that does not compromise on the seriousness of the gospel. Since many of these seekers have little church background or awareness of worship, the weekend service intentionally minimizes their participation. Normally that involvement is limited to the singing of a single song and greeting people around them.

It needs to be emphasized that Willow Creek considers these weekend services to be evangelism and not worship! Members of the Willow Creek congregation gather on Wednesday and Thursday evening for worship (see review below of their worship gathering). The quality of this helpful and illustrative video is further enhanced by the interview with Bill Hybels, senior pastor, and two other staff members as they dialogue about the philosophy and mission strategy of Willow Creek. This conversation provides valuable insights into the rationale of why and how they do what they do. One may question and challenge the Willow Creek assumption that seekers expect the church to be out-of-date, boring, and traditional. However, there is much that can be learned from their pioneering efforts to reach people under the age of forty-five.

Sunday Morning Live, vol. 1. Willow Creek Resources and Zondervan Video Resources, 1992. (48 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, worship committees or worship teams, youth
Available from: CRC Publications

Drama is one of the key components of the Willow Creek seeker service. Every weekend event employs drama. However, it is not used for the weeknight New Community Worship. This video begins with Steve Pederson, drama director of Willow Creek. He explains that the purpose of drama is to raise questions, not provide answers. The answers will come later in the service as the pastor teaches from Scripture. The majority of this tape contains six full-length drama sketches used at Willow Creek. Well written and performed, they convey a powerful message. In addition, a book with the complete sketches granting copyright permission to reproduce them can be purchased.

An Inside Look at the Willow Creek Worship Service An Inside Look at the Willow Creek Worship Service: Building a New Community. Zondervan Publishing House, 1992. (116 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: CRC Publcations

This tape presents an entire believers' worship service. New Community is the name for the believers service at Willow Creek. According to their philosophy, once they have attracted the unchurched to their weekend services, they attempt to assimilate them into the more active opportunities to worship and grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. The service is normally built around two components: 30 minutes of singing and exaltation of God and 45 minutes of teaching from the Bible. This taped service also includes their celebration of the Lord's Supper, which is observed monthly. One quickly observes that all the teaching pastors and worship leaders are male.

As in the previous tape, the actual service is followed by an interview with Bill Hybels and two of his staff members. One of their basic planning principles is to be unpredictable and keep people guessing by varying each service. All of the Willow Creek materials are high quality and provide a helpful window through which to explore this fast growing mega-church.

Worship and Evangelism for Shy Christians: Creating the Welcoming Church. New Vision Resources, Voyageur Communications, Parti, 1992. (37 minutes); Part II, 1993. (39 minutes)
Suitable for: Pastors, worship committees or worship teams
Available from: TRAVARCA

Lutheran professor and church consultant Pat Keifert explores some of the reasons why mainline Protestant churches are in crisis. Among other things, he contends that these denominations have lost their sense of imagination. Keifert's goal in this professionally taped seminar is to make worship a place for people "to experience the loving presence of a merciful God on Sunday in worship." He contends the church must re-envision itself as a "mission outpost" if it desires to reach the unchurched with the message of Jesus Christ.

Throughout these two parts, Keifert poses numerous questions to challenge and help the local church explore how it worships. Indicative of that is the question, "When you think of your worship space, whose is it?" God's (who wants to welcome others) or a family home (only for those who presently are a part of the family). He then offers five tests to determine whether your church building is God's home or a family home.

This video contains many thought-provoking insights and questions to assist churches in addressing the unchurched who live outside their front door.

After viewing and reflecting on this lengthy parade of worship videos an important insight surfaced; many of those responsible for designing and leading worship today are inadequately trained. More than ever it is crucial for pastors, musicians, and worship leaders to be properly formed in the nature and purpose of worship. Biblical and healthy worship has always combined head and heart, intellect and emotion. While we want to encourage new and fresh expressions of hymns and songs, as well as sensible creativity, we also should insist that those who play and those who pray are sensitive to how these components need to be crafted and offered to God and the worshiping community. This means that pastors need to be equipped not only to preach but also to lead worship. Musicians and worship leaders need the sensitivity and awareness of how to offer their gifts to God. Seminaries need to be more intentional in offering required courses and continuing education events in worship, music, and the related arts.

Tom Schwanda is a Reformed Church in America pastor whose ministry is devoted to research, writing, and offering workshops and retreats on worship and spirituality.


Reformed Worship 37 © September 1995, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.