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Worshiping with United Methodists
A Guide for Pastors and Church Leaders
By Hoyt L. Hickman
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2007 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
You, the Reader
This is a book for pastors and others who plan and lead worship in United Methodist congregations. You may be facing your first appointment as pastor without previous experience in planning and leading congregational worship. You may have little past experience of congregational worship. Or you may have worshiped in United Methodist congregations many times, but without thinking much about how services are planned, let alone why they are as they are or how they could be improved.
Or you may be coming into a United Methodist pastorate from another denomination, either as a student or as an experienced pastor. You may wonder about United Methodist worship customs that seem strange to you.
Or you may be an experienced pastor who learned a certain way of planning and leading worship but are no longer content to do things the way you've always done them. You may have been appointed to a congregation whose worship traditions are different from those you are used to, or where you sense that the kind of worship you are used to planning and leading is not appropriate. You may have been in your present pastorate for some time but have a growing sense that the worship you have been planning and leading is not working very well. Even if your services seem to satisfy those who now attend, you may sense that something else is needed to meet the needs of others you ought to be reaching.
Or you may have been invited to work with your pastor in planning and leading services, occasionally or regularly. You may be an associate pastor, a deacon or diaconal minister, a church musician, a lay speaker, or a lay worship leader. You may be on the worship committee or belong to the altar guild. You may sense that you would be a more effective member of the worship team if you knew more about worship.
Or you may simply be a layperson who feels that something needs to change if your congregation's worship is to come alive, or who wants to understand the changes you see taking place.
Whatever your role, somewhere you may have experienced worship that was alive, that moved you deeply to experience the presence of God and empower you for your daily life. You wish that services in your congregation each week could be like that. You want to know why some worship comes alive while other worship is boring, if not dead. And you want to know how to bring life to your worship.
There are four basic resources for planning and leading worship in United Methodist congregations.
1) The Bible is both our primary authority and our primary worship resource. Reading the Bible and faithfully interpreting it are primary in our worship. The prayer and praise with which we invoke God and respond to God's Word gain added power when they use words of scripture. In Holy Communion the actions of Jesus as recorded in scripture are reenacted. Of prime importance in all congregational worship are its biblical basis and any biblical guidelines that apply.
2) The United Methodist Hymnal, officially adopted by the 1988 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, is, together with the Bible, the people's book of worship. It contains acts of worship for United Methodist congregations to read or sing in their worship. In the rest of this book it is referred to simply as the hymnal. The abbreviation UMH, followed by a number, indicates an act of worship or a quotation in the hymnal.
3) The United Methodist Book of Worship, officially adopted by the 1992 General Conference of The United Methodist Church, contains additional resources for planners and leaders of congregational worship, with thousands of cross-references to the Bible and the United Methodist Hymnal. In the rest of this book it is called simply the Book of Worship. BOW, followed by a number, indicates an act of worship or a quotation in the Book of Worship.
4) The Faith We Sing is a supplement to the hymnal, containing hymns and songs published since 1988 and old favorites not in the hymnal.
Since there are many references to these four basic resources in this book, you will find it helpful to have them handy.
This book is focused on the acts and structures of the Sunday service that are constant from week to week, but you will also need resources to help you and your congregation understand and observe the Christian Year. The Christian Year index in the hymnal (937-38) and the Christian Year section of the Book of Worship are basic for this purpose. Numerous collections of worship resources keyed to the days and seasons of the Christian Year are published each year. Given the diverse worship styles that they reflect, only you and your congregation can determine which will be helpful to you.
One book, however, is especially recommended for this purpose. The New Handbook of the Christian Year is a survey of the history, meaning, and practice of the Christian Year, including acts and services of worship for each of the days and seasons of the year. It does for the Christian Year what this book does for the constant elements of the Sunday service.
You will need other resources. Some are suggested at the back of this book. Preaching resources, musical resources, and resources for other worship-related arts are also essential.
Baptism, confirmation, and other services of the Baptismal Covenant (UMH 32-54; BOW 81-114) usually take place in the Sunday service and are of the highest importance, but are only touched upon in this book. This is because an adequate discussion of how one becomes a Christian and is initiated into Christ's holy church requires a book in itself. Several such books are listed under Additional Resources in the back of this book.
Not all public worship is dealt with in this book. It deals with the congregation's principal weekly service(s), called the Sunday service because it is usually held on Sunday, though sometimes held at other times such as Saturday evening. Praise and prayer services of various kinds (prayer and praise, praise and worship, prayer meetings, love feasts, hymn sings) are also important but are outside the scope of this book (see UMH 876-79; BOW 568-84). So are evangelistic or seeker services that are targeted primarily to persons outside the congregation, although we shall stress that congregational worship also needs to be evangelistic and sensitive to the needs of seekers. So are sacred concerts, weddings (UMH 864-69; BOW 115-38), funerals and memorial services (UMH 870-75; BOW 139-71), healing services (BOW 613-29), and the many varieties of services for special occasions (BOW 581-612, 630-743).
Finally, the scope of this book is limited to United Methodist congregations in the United States. Much worship of great vitality is taking place in United Methodist congregations in other countries, but that needs to be the focus of other books.
With this in mind, let us turn to the focus of this book: the Sunday service in United Methodist congregations.
The Challenge of Freedom
The hymnal and Book of Worship are resources containing a variety of options that give basic structure and guidance but leave you with great freedom.
The Book of Discipline is our book of church law. It is revised every four years and in the rest of this book will be called simply the Discipline, followed by the year, paragraph, and page number. It sets very few limits on United Methodist worship.
How to use this freedom when planning weekly worship is up to you and your congregation.
Most pastors and congregations use too little, not too much, freedom in their worship. It is tempting to take the easy way out and stick with what you or the congregation is accustomed to doing. If you are an experienced pastor or musician, it is easy just to follow your accustomed order of worship and to use the hymns and other acts of worship that you already know. If you are new at planning and leading worship, it is easy to recall the worship you have experienced in the past—in your present congregation or in some other congregation—and try to duplicate it. You may assume that what you are comfortable with will suit everyone else.
But, as you soon discover, this is not necessarily so. What is familiar and comfortable for you is often strange and uncomfortable to other people. The congregation's needs must also be met, as must the needs of those you hope to attract to your congregation. What the pastor wants, what the musical leadership wants, what most of the congregation want, what significant minorities in the congregation want, and what would appeal to the unchurched people who live within range of your congregation's ministries may be many different and contradictory things. How do you take them all into account as you plan and lead congregational worship?
Many in your congregation may assume that its worship pattern and style are the United Methodist way, but in our diverse denomination this simply is not true. A United Methodist who moves into your community may find your worship quite strange. When you go to another community you may find unfamiliar worship practices in the United Methodist congregation(s) there. Some of the varieties of United Methodist worship practice, and some of the reasons for our diversity, will be discussed in this book. Knowing what other United Methodists do can give you and your congregation a wealth of new ideas, some of which you may want to adopt.
If your congregation is more than a few years old, you may be sure its worship has not always been the way it is today. It is not really true that "we've always done it this way." Every worship tradition was once new, and many traditions are not nearly so old as some people think. Traditions were often started for reasons that would astonish the people who follow them today.
That is why the history of worship is important. This book will help you understand the background of many of the worship practices you are likely to find in your congregation.
There are many voices calling for change in our worship practices. They differ widely in what they advocate, and they often contradict one another. This book will discuss some of these proposals and help you understand them, so that you can decide for yourself which you should adopt.
As United Methodists we are free to adapt worship to changing times and differing situations and needs. Each congregation and its worship leaders must decide how its worship could be better, and what steps it should take in that direction.
First, however, they should deal with some fundamental questions. What is worship? What is supposed to be happening when we worship? What does "better" mean in worship? How are the structure and content of our worship related to our basic Christian beliefs? To what extent can we freely adapt our worship of God to give people what they want, and what are the nonnegotiable basics that we dare not compromise?
This book is designed to help you and your congregation find your own answers to these questions and move from there to bring new life to your congregation's worship.
Getting from Here to There
It can be extremely frustrating to compare worship as we wish it to be and worship as we now experience it week after week. This frustration may grow as you learn more about worship, get new ideas, and start setting goals. How can we get from here to there?
Throughout this book there will be suggestions to help you do this, but they will be based on the assumption that there are four essentials if your congregation's worship is to be transformed.
1) Renewal of worship—and the renewal of your congregation and its members— must come from God. Neither you nor your congregation can force renewal by following a well-packaged program, or by remodeling your sanctuary, or by adopting some supposedly "correct" order or style of worship, or by imitating what some extraordinarily successful congregation has done. To be sure, inappropriate forms and styles of worship may be barriers to the workings of the Holy Spirit. New forms and styles of worship at their best can remove barriers—can unclog channels—for the Spirit. But no matter how your congregation may re-form or restyle its worship, there is no substitute for constant and prayerful openness to the unpredictable and often astonishing leadings of the Spirit.
2) Effective leadership that includes the pastor's leadership is essential. If you are the pastor, you must take leadership and do it effectively if major changes are to be made in your congregation's worship. If you have any other role in your congregation, you should take the leadership that is possible in your role and help the pastor take the leadership that only the pastor can take.
3) Effective leadership requires planning and teamwork. Congregations with vital worship carefully plan their services. This is just as true when the service itself seems informal and spontaneous as when it is more formal. It is essential that the pastor work in close cooperation with those who have musical responsibilities and with any others who have worship leadership roles. This cooperative planning must begin well in advance, be done in a way that earns the trust of all participants, and lead to effective teamwork during worship.
4) The people must feel at home with their worship and feel ownership of it. Effective worship must be in the heart language of the worshipers. Their heart language can grow, but this takes time. Any changes should be interpreted to the people, and they must gain ownership of these changes. Consultation with the church council and gaining of their support often helps in this process, particularly if major changes are contemplated. A worship and/or music committee can also be helpful if brought into consultation. When the people and their leaders gain ownership of these changes and the present pastor or musical leaders are eventually replaced by others, the people will not say, "That was soand-so's idea." They will say, "This is the way we like it."
With these guidelines in mind, we now turn to the basic question: What is Christian worship?CHAPTER 2
What Is Christian Worship?
Worship Is Encounter
Our worship in both its diversity and its unity is an encounter with the living God through the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit" (BOW 13). This statement on the opening page of our Book of Worship expresses our basic understanding of Christian worship. It is a celebration of the gospel, in which God calls anew to us through the risen Christ and the Holy Spirit within us enables us to hear and respond. The rhythms of call and response bring us to a communion that unites us with God and with one another, renewing us as the Body of Christ for the world.
The gospel that we celebrate is God's good news to us. It includes the whole sweep of God's mighty acts from the beginnings of creation to Christ's coming in final victory and the heavenly banquet. This is sometimes called salvation history. It is also creation history and sanctification history. This is our story.
1) Basic to our story is creation—not only what happened in the beginning, but also God's continuing creativity in us and in all the universe.
2) Central to our story is what God has done for us in Christ's suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension—what is sometimes called the saving work of Christ or the paschal (passover) mystery. "Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate" (1 Cor. 5:7b-8a).
3) Our story also looks forward. When the Holy Spirit enables us to encounter the living Christ and say with Thomas, "My Lord and my
God!" (John 20:28), we anticipate the ultimate vision of God. We pray at Holy Communion that the Holy Spirit will make us
one with Christ,
one with each other,
and one in ministry to all the world,
until Christ comes in final victory
and we feast at his heavenly banquet. (UMH 10; BOW 38)
The communion that follows is a foretaste of that heavenly banquet.
Since we are made one, not only with Christ but also with one another, Christian congregational worship is far more than the worship of a number of solitary individuals. The Holy Spirit enables it to be an encounter of the assembled congregation both with God and with one another in the name and through the presence of Jesus Christ. We are renewed as the Body of Christ.
Excerpted from Worshiping with United Methodists by Hoyt L. Hickman. Copyright © 2007 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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