Monday, November 5, 2007

How reading shaped my ministry

Evangelicals began writing about worship at about the time I was in graduate school. That’s a rough generalization and a reckless simplification. Of course it ignores generations of theological and practical reflection on the nature and content of public worship.

So, to re-phrase that: Around 1980 books began to appear encouraging a fresh appraisal of the evangelical indifference to matters of public worship. This was just as I had left graduate school and begun to work as assistant to my church’s music director. Very timely for me. All of a sudden – or so it seemed – evangelicals were taking Sunday morning seriously. We were directed to o the Bible itself to define worship (radical!). We had permission to dip into the history of the Church for forms, materials, and approaches to services. (Being a “free church” came to mean that we were free to pick and choose from anyone anytime anywhere.) Whether historical, creative, or alternative (there was not yet “contemporary”), our services gained from this influx of reflection on divine worship. (Most of us free church evangelicals did not know that phrase in 1980.)

I enjoyed several years of this reading, not knowing that I was being prepared for a vocation in church music. Naturally, I thought I knew what I was in for when I took my first full-time church music gig. Imagine my surprise. Reading prepared me, and then it rescued me. And still it inspires and sustains me. Here then the top of my ministry life reading list, annotated:

Getting started before I knew it:

Worship: Rediscovering the missing jewel, Ronald Allen and Gordon Borror (Multnomah, 1982). Bona fide conservative Baptists, the authors opened the window to my life. “The missing jewel” refers to my next selection. So much has been written on the subject in the past 25 years, but this book holds a special place on my shelf. And just this past week I again found myself looking up something in it – that provided clarity for an issue I was working out.

Worship: The missing jewel of the evangelical church, A. W. Tozer (Christian Publications, n.d.) Sermons preached in 1961. Tozer was a fundamentalist prophet and mystic, if such a thing is possible. He took the Bible seriously and pointed out the myriad ways conservative Christians of his generation did not. He is especially good on the glory of God and the pathetic ways entertainment-oriented “worship” is a travesty. (Yes, ours is not the first generation to suffer from that distraction.) He reads as potently in 2007 as he must have in 1955.

Whatever Happened to Christian Worship? A. W. Tozer, compiled and edited Gerald B. Smith (Christian Publications, 1985) Though I did not get this book until much later, it belongs here for obvious reasons. It needs to be read. I need to re-read it. Again.

Worship is a Verb, Robert Webber (Word, 1985) Yes, without a doubt Robert Webber must be included, in the big story of evangelicals and worship, and in my own story. Though not his first book on the subject, it is probably the first Webber widely read by my generation. This was a fireworks book for me – practical, insightful, inspiring. It began to shape my theology of public worship. I suppose there are many who have read more of Webber’s work, who have not read this. It is one of his oeuvre that I can and do go back to.

Worship: Old and New Robert Webber (Zondervan, 1982) obviously preceded Verb, but I don’t think I’m alone in having come across it much later. Worship was Webber’s primary academic, ecclesiastical, and practical life. You see all his later focus here in his first work. If you have read Webber, but neither of these books from the early 1980’s, well – you’ve read these books. Especially Old and New.

Thank you, Bruce Leafblad!

Dr. Leafblad left Bethel Seminary for Southwestern Seminary at about the time I came to Minnesota for my immersion into full-time church music. So it was a special treat to take a summer intensive with him one summer at Bethel. It is not too much to say that these two books in particular set me on a theological course that eventually brought me to College Church.

The Worship of God Ralph P. Martin (Eerdmans, 1982) The subtitle serves as my annotation: Some theological, pastoral, and practical reflections. Wow.

The Bible: A sustaining presence in worship William H. Willimon (Judson Press, 1981) The Bible is not only the source book of our worship, it is the guide and judge of our worship. I believe worship is a ministry of the Word of God from beginning to end. William Willimon taught me that.

More reading on my own:

Music & Ministry: A biblical counterpoint Calvin M. Johansson (Hendricksen, 1984) Not to mention that the first “piece” I ever had published was a review of this book, Johansson’s work here absolutely crystallized a theology of music rooted in classic biblical themes – creation, imago dei, incarnation, stewardship. I rounded a corner and never looked back. See also his Discipling music ministry (1992).

Jubilate II Donald P. Hustad (Hope, 1993) Dr. Hustad is the dean of evangelical church music. If this work is neither magisterial nor encyclopedic, it is nevertheless a work that must be read and kept close to hand if one is going to be serious about music and worship in this context. Oh, and to be fair – this may have been on Bruce Leafblad’s reading list.

The Church Musician Paul Westermeyer (Augsburg Fortress, 1997). I mentioned this book in an earlier blog. In which Westermeyer argues for the term “Cantor” and champions “the peoples’ song.” These concepts alone would rescue many a church music morass.

And what shall I say? I have hardly begun, and I haven’t mentioned work on hymns proper, or pastoral practice specifically. Oh well, these are all foundational and each has shaped one or more aspects of my music ministry. More on others as they come to mind.

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