About This Blog

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Worship for the Whole People of God" (Ruth C Duck)

TITLE: Worship for the Whole People of God: Vital Worship for the 21st Century
AUTHOR: Ruth C Duck
PUBLISHER: Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, (358 pages).

Worship is something many people do every week. Worship leaders all over the world will spend hours preparing for worship. There are many people who think that worship is just about "throwing a few songs together." Wrong. Worship is much more than that. This book shows the way.

Without pinning readers down to any one way of doing worship, the author invites meaningful reflection on the diversity of worship, both individually and together as a congregation. With historical background, theological breadth, and practical ideas, Ruth Duck writes from a rich teaching background nourished by years of experiencing worship in a diverse environment. As a professor at a United Methodist seminary, this book is exemplary of the four-fold Wesleyan tradition of using Reason, Experience, backed by Tradition and Scripture. At the heart of it all is to help discover or re-discover the riches of integrating the Word, the sacraments, the preaching, the community, and the overall practice of worship. Duck has several concerns which she wants to address. Firstly, worship and liturgies must be "decentered" from mere White, European, or Western kind of liturgies. In other words, one needs to recognize that worship is much more than that. Secondly, worship needs to be led with theological reflection, care, and pastoral sensitivity. Thirdly, she wants to contribute to vibrant worship that is anchored on liturgical faithfulness. Finally, she wants to reach out to a variety of people of different backgrounds, even sexual orientations, and to remind all that worship is for all people to participate in. This book is thus designed to reach out the congregations at large on many fronts.

Duck starts off with with a theology of worship. In understanding what worship is, she goes by James F White's three ways of defining worship: 1) worship understood by words used; 2) worship understood by what congregations do; 3) worship understood by theological and liturgical reflections. She then goes on to point out the five different theological perspectives of worship.
  1. Worship as Ritual
  2. Worship as Revelation
  3. Worship as Response to God
  4. Worship as Relationship
  5. Worship as Rehearsal
Then there are six ways of participation: 1) lay leadership with the lay leading the service; 2) "interiorized verbal participation" where prayers and responses are done by heart; 3) "Silent engagement" where silence is a big part of reflection and worshipfulness; 4) Sensory Participation where audience move a lot, like kneeing, raising hands, etc.; 5) Spontaneous participation, where unplanned events can happen during service; 6) "Prophetic Verbal Participation" with preaching a primary vehicle. Duck also deals with tips for worshiping with families, children, differing abilities, people with disabilities, and so on. 

Diversity in worship needs to consider both culture and gospel contexts. Exploring four cultural groups, African-American, Korean, Latina/Latino, White), Duck brings out characteristics of each for the benefit of readers. This cross-cultural approach is most enlightening. The chapter on preparing and leading worship provides practical tips on liturgical readings, order of worship, music, environment, silence, integration of the sacraments, coordination, and especially the heart of the worship leader. She remarks that the chief requirement of a worship leader is "hospitality." This hospitality is focused on worshiping God, and helping the congregations to do the same. Particularly enlightening is the description of the order of worship from Jewish synagogue, Early Church, the Roman religious order, as well as modern Western styles.

The arts of worship also provide readers great insights into the different ways in which the creative arts and the choosing of songs can aid worship. In choosing songs, one critical role is to help the Church find her own "song" that best expresses her worship of God. Hymns, choruses, traditional, or contemporary are secondary. Choosing appropriate songs with theological integrity, that help nurture the congregation's understanding of God, and for aiding all to sing well are primary. Other things include architecture, symbols, and the visual arts.

The chapters on words, prayers and preaching are beautifully written. It reminds me that worship can be enriched with all the creativity that God has endowed upon us. We can learn to weave all of the different elements of worship into one whole. More importantly, through the liturgical calendar and pulpit plans, the congregation can be led toward a journey of worship with each week a stepping stone to the next. Having special events throughout the year helps solidify the highlights of the Christian calendar. Other sacraments are individually dealt with, such as baptism, marriage, the Eucharist, and the liturgies of healing and reconciliation.

Duck ends with a challenging topic of "Vital Worship for the Twenty-First Century." Beginning with an observation of how the contemporary worship service came into play, Duck makes a case for "multisensory participation" where a diversity of worship devices are used to enhance the overall participation. She also recognizes that the new technologies are not going away. Instead, worshipers are urged to maximize the benefits of their use, albeit with caution. After listing Diana Butler Bass's "Worship for the Rest of Us" which contains ten best practices, she adds her own four "theological norms" for Christian worship today.
  1. Through worship, congregations are transformed through communion with God.
  2. Worship helps to locate us in the whole story of God in Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
  3. Worship invites all to participate in life with God in the world
  4. Worship draws together the culture and contexts of our environment and enable heartfelt engagement and participation, to glorify God. 
So What?

There are many reasons to like this book. Firstly, it is ecumenical and brings together a wealth of knowledge about the different kinds of worship styles, liturgies, and traditions. This allows for greater understanding and interactions for people to share unity in diversity. Even if one may not agree with the manner in which the individual liturgies are conducted, the understanding provided will help one reflect and even improve one's own worship formats. For example, the chapter on "Diverse worship" reminds us about worship being both all about God as well as all about how people worship. There are some people who will insist dogmatically that worship must only be about God. Such a group may very well be so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly good. The other extreme may treat worship as being all about how to spur people to worship. It may lead people to be so earthly minded that they lack heavenly emphasis. With unity in diversity, one will be more equipped to do both. Secondly, the creative ideas are brought together respectfully and often without a judgmental spirit. This is important as Duck shows restraint in any disagreement, choosing instead to highlight the uniqueness of each traditions and liturgical differences. This is what learning is about. It is not telling people what is right or wrong, but guiding people to adopt practices that have theological integrity, care, and pastoral sensitivity. At the same time, the different styles, methods, and visual arts are shared in a way that encourages readers to use only where appropriate. Like a supermarket of worship ideas and suggestions, Duck invites worshipers to pick and choose in a manner that most faithfully reflect their calling and culture as a people of God wanting to worship as a people of God. Thirdly, Duck reminds us of the importance of words used in worship. In our culture, words are sometimes frivolously used. Some people on social media for example will abbreviate words or hijack their original meanings. As a result words are cheapened. Through careful choosing of words, whether it is through the worship leading, the sacraments, the pulpit ministry, the order of worship, we are reminded once again that words wisely chosen will honour God. In fact, silence can be a way to help worshipers let the words spoken resonate quietly in the hearts of people. Fourthly, the part about designing the worship service will be a valuable tool for all worship teams. We need more than nice music or beautiful ambience. What we need is a set of simple, sensible, and spiritually vibrant order of worship to aid worshipers into a deeper worship each week and every week. One of my favourite chapters is "Planning and Leading Worship" which I feel ought to be the primer for every worship leader. Not only does it cover the aptitudes needed, it reminds us about the attitudes worship leaders need to adopt. With her wide exposure to the different ethnic groups styles of worship, it helps worship leaders design their order of service in a way that will be diverse enough for an increasingly multicultural and diverse population. After all, Christ died for all right?  Finally, I deeply appreciate Duck's chapter on "Healing and Reconciliation" as part of the liturgical consideration. Healing is a needed ministry. It is powerfully used by Jesus and the early Church. It can be as simple as praying for the sick, and as intense as exorcism. Reconciliation is also a critical exercise as the lack of reconciled hearts will inhibit true worship. How can anyone worship in Spirit and in Truth, when one is not right with one another? In fact, we have been instructed to leave any of our gifts at the altar so that we can reconcile with our fellow believers prior to offering our gifts!

Worship leaders, this is one book you will not want to miss.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Westminster John Knox Press and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

No comments:

Post a Comment