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Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: "Engage" (Nelson Searcy & Jason Hatley)

TITLE: Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services
AUTHOR: Nelson Searcy and Jason Hatley
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2011, (224 pages).

This is a guide book on crystallizing a philosophy of worship, a plan in preaching, a guide to planning and conducting the weekly Sunday service, a range of evaluation methods, and above all, a practical help for engaging the whole church to worship God in Spirit and in Truth. Extremely readable. Wonderfully practical. Clear and understandable. This book fills in the gap between theology of worship and the practice of it during the worship service. The core belief in the book is that the weekly Church service is never meant to be something that is mundane, boring, stressful, or simply an unthinking matter-of-fact way of life. Instead, it can be managed well. Once a system of planning, preparation, practice, and prayer has been established, the entire worship service can take on a life of its own. When this happens, the worry and stress will not fall upon any one person. It becomes the responsibility of the whole worship team, church leaders, and pastoral group to listen to God and to listen to others.

Part One talks about the PHILOSOPHY of worship. Here, the authors remind readers to take time to work out a unique philosophy for their church. WORSHIP is an acronymn to help describe 7 principles of 'life-transforming worship.'

  • W = 'Work as a Team'
  • O = 'Outline Your Preaching Calendar'
  • R = 'Repentance is the Goal of Worship'
  • S = 'Sunday Matters'
  • H = 'Honor God through Excellence'
  • I = 'Invite People to Take the Next Steps'
  • P = 'Planning Honors God'

Part Two is most relevant to those involved in the preaching ministry. The important point is the planning via a preaching calendar. Apart from the practical steps, several ideas are introduced. For instance,

"The key to planning your preaching for maximum impact is to layer your attraction, growth, and balance series strategically over the natural attendance patterns of your yearly calendar." (71)

The authors provide 13 tips and warn of 3 temptations on preaching.

Part Three brings all the planning together through execution and implementation. Here, planning takes a backseat. The authors keep the overarching purpose of worship again.

"If the goal of your preaching is to connect God's truth to real life in a way that leads to transformation, then it's safe to infer that your overarching goal will be to create a life-transforming worship service each Sunday." (96)

There is the awareness of timelines in the planning. One needs to note the message series as well as the specific Sunday timeline. There is also the suggestions of three different kinds of worship formats. The first is the 'simple worship order' which simply allows the singing to form the first part, and the preaching to comprise the next. Second, the 'split' service modifies the simple format by having a singing-preaching followed by a second set of singing-preaching format. Third, there is the 'salsa worship order' which essentially mixes the worship, the preaching, the announcements in creative ways. Chief to the overall worship service is the need to have clear communications among all worship participants.

Part Four deals with the evaluation and the improvement aspect. There is always something to learn and to improve.

Closing Thoughts

I can summarize the key to the weekly service as follows.

  • Before the service: Plan and pray
  • During the Service: Practice and pray
  • After the Service: Prepare again and pray
This book enables the busy pastor, church leader, or lay persons interested in improving and designing the weekly Sunday service to be life-transforming. There are plenty of ideas shared from the experiences of the authors. They are not rocket science, but are highly practical. I appreciate the way the authors provide examples throughout the book, and in the appendix.  I believe this book can reach out to many different quarters in any church.  For the new reader, it gives an idea that a worship service is a team effort. For the more laid-back, it reminds one not to take the worship team, the pastor, or those serving each week for granted. For the stressed out and tired ones, this book shows us that through planning, such anxiety and stress can be minimized. For the pastor, it is a reminder again that the church belongs to God, and prayer is a demonstration of that trust. For the easily worried, this book is an encouragement on why we need not worry.

Nevertheless, I am a little disappointed that the book does not have a chapter or two that specifically deals with how to choose songs for worship, grooming worship leaders, the use of hymnals, the instruments used, or the nitty-gritty of setting up the music. Perhaps, future editions can incorporate this important aspect.

In summary, one is reminded again, that behind the regular Church service, the seemingly smooth execution of worship and preaching, there is a ton of activities, planning, praying, and communicating going on during the other six days. When you are feeling stressed out or running out of ideas, pick up this book. Engage is worth the read. For the weary, it will lift your sagging spirits.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

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