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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

"Essential Worship" (Greg Scheer)

TITLE: Essential Worship: A Handbook for Leaders
AUTHOR: Greg Scheer
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016, (304 pages).

Worship is essential for anyone who claims to believe in God. For if God is really God, He is to be worshiped not just with our best but with our all. All over the world, churches gather each week to worship together as a community of God. Regardless of instruments or not, music is a big part of it. What is the theology of worship? What are the do's and don'ts in the ministry of worship leading? What does the novice need to know? How do we lead from the Bible and let the Bible do the leading? Where does liturgy fits into all of these? This book contains many answers to the basic questions about all things worship. It has four emphases:

  1. It is first and foremost based on biblical principles
  2. It draws from the rich tradition of worship through history
  3. It is primarily for worship directors
  4. It is personal.

Interestingly, Scheer begins with a funeral as a way to remind us to begin our planning with the end in mind. With this imagery, readers are asked: "What kind of worship do I want to take to the grave with me?" While it sounds morbid, it forces us to consider what are the most important things we want in life. If we live for God, surely we would want to bring all things that honour God best. Written in five parts, this is the handbook for us to work toward helping one another grow in the ministry of worship. Scheer also quotes his own pastor, Jack Roeda who says: "worship is the essence of our faith in ritual form." Great stuff. We travel through biblical worship, looking at various approaches like the Bible's "direct revelation," Zwingli's and Calvin's "regulative principle," Luther's "normative principle," and the Roman Catholic Church's "three-legged stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Church Authority."

Part One asks the fundamental question of worship, which is defined according to William Temple's famous quote:
"Worship is . . .the quickening of conscience by His holiness;
the nourishment of mind with His truth;
the purifying of imagination by His beauty;
the opening of the heart to His love;
the surrender of will to His purpose—
and all of this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centeredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin."
Indeed, Temple's words have been frequently cited because it encompasses so many essentials. It is tuning ourselves to the Triune God. It is a profound experience of God and a worship that moves from the heart toward God; from the Church to the world; and from ritual to life. We ask about who is the audience of worship. Indeed., sometimes I ponder about the question of whether we sing because of us or is it more because of God. Scheer puts forth three models: Congregation; God; Trinity, before advocating the latter as the true expression of worship. For Trinitarian worship is about being led by Christ, with a focus on God the Father, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. We also learn about the various expressions of worship: Praise; lament; confession; illumination; petition; thanksgiving; service; blessing; commitment.

Part Two deals with the past and the author urges us to be the Church's "worship historian." Recognizing that there is nothing new under the sun should humble us to learn from the past. We survey the historical movements of the Early Church; the Reformation; the Great Awakenings; the Pentecostals; and modern worship formats like Webber's "Ancient-Future Worship." The chapter on liturgy goes deeper into style, format, repetition, cycles, and so on. The important thing to note is that liturgy shapes our worship. We learn about:

  • The Church Year and the Lectionary
  • Four-Fold Worship Order (Gathering; Word; Table; Sending)
  • Theology and different practices of Communion
  • Using the Psalms in worship
  • and many more.

The part which might interest musicians would be Part Three which deals directly with using music in worship. I appreciate the way the author describes the three schools of thought about worship. The first is the utilitarian way which see arts and actions as ways to deliver the word. This desire to stick to just the word as a legitimate expression of worship stems from the fear of letting the world distract us from the Word. The second is the aesthetic approach that basically allows worship to move beyond mere words toward experience. Scheer proposes a third way which is to see worship as metaphor. n doing so, he brings in the best of the earlier two thoughts and adds in a caution for those of us stuck in the paradigm of the best only in terms of the latest-and-the-greatest. We learn about the balanced song repertoire; number of songs; choices of songs; etc. Whether using a Taize or Twitter culture, the key lies in asking the following questions:

  • Are the words and music well crafted?
  • What one thing can the song do to fit the overall theme?
  • When is it appropriate to sing this?
  • Does the song meet a particular need?

Part Four focuses on the arts and creative practices on how to enact the gospel; embody the gospel in physical dance and movement; using visual arts and architecture; graphic designs and technology. Scheer even gives us a primer on sound level and decibel awareness. Part Five talks about people, the world, the culture we live in, the congregation, worship leaders, pastors, etc.

So What?
This book basically follows a three-pronged approach. It begins with principles about worship and sets the foundations of worship. It explores the past in which we learn from tradition, history, and the lessons learned. Finally, it looks at the practices that we often use and to consider other aspects that can enrich our worship. Gradually, we see that the four-fold pattern of Gathering-Word-Table-Sending forming in the tiny ritual we do weekly. This liturgy eventually moves us from the world to the gathering; the Church to the world; and the cycle continues. I like how Scheer is theologically sensitive to the Word and also technologically aware about the world we live in. He has given us a fantastic resource to help us think through or to refresh our thinking with regard to how we design, plan, and implement our worship services.

I deeply appreciate Scheer's take on the need to be sensible when choosing songs, not to be distracted by the contemporary/traditional divide; or the new vs old paradigm; but to keep our priorities straight. He writes: "First, we need to resist the tyranny of novelty. The worship industry, influential churches, and popular worship leaders all focus on things that are new: new songs, new musical equipment, and new worship movements. Creative new ideas are not bad in and of themselves, but they are also not good in and of themselves. If we are no careful, the pressure to keep up with every new trend can overwhelm us. We will be convinced that the latest technology will solve all our problems, the latest worship model will bring new people to our church, and the latest song will bring our people into God's throne room." (129-130)

 I recommend this book highly. As a primer for worship leaders, this book is godsend.

Author Greg Scheer is a composer, musician, worship minister, and music associate with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. He has also authored books like The Art of Worship, and contributed to other worship and hymn resources. His website is www.gregscheer.com

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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