Worship Renewal at Willow Creek Church, Winter Springs, FL
by Jeff Vogan, D.W.S. Candidate
Editor’s note: Jeff Vogan is the Director of Worship and Music at Willow Creek Church, PCA in Winter Springs, Florida. You can find out more about Jeff and his ministry at www.jeffvogan.com.
I’ve been a worship leader for over twenty years now, but the things I’ve learned in the last two years at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies have really been life changing. Not only that, but since beginning the doctorate of worship studies program, the Lord has allowed me to lead in some significant areas of worship renewal at Willow Creek Church.
One of the first major shifts in thinking about corporate worship has been to see it as a divine conversation between God and his covenant people. This seems so elementary, and yet, as I look back to my pre-IWS days, I’ve come to realize that so much of how I had planned and led worship was more like a program director or production manager. I viewed corporate worship more like a conversation about God than a conversation with God.
This shift in thinking from a program approach to a more dialogical understanding has led us to restructure our worship service to more closely follow the ancient fourfold pattern. We now view the opening segment of worship as the time when God initiates the divine conversation: gathering and uniting his covenant people, lifting us up into his presence, and preparing us to hear him speak to us through his Word. We’ve also added a time of confession and an assurance of pardon as a part of the gathering. We’ve moved the offering, as well as other elements such as baptisms and commissionings to a response time after the sermon, and we’ve been more intentional with a sending that includes a charge, a benediction, and sometimes what I like to refer to as “the element of worship formerly known as announcements.” We’ve renamed the announcements “connect and serve,” and have sought to reframe them as missional opportunities as we are sent out from worship to love and serve God and our neighbors.
A more dialogical approach to corporate worship has also led us to increase the amount of congregational participation. There is still progress to be made in this area, but we are gradually moving our people from passivity in the pews to more active involvement by introducing some spoken congregational responses, prayers, and Scripture readings. We’ve increased the overall amount of Scripture used throughout our services by seeking to saturate our prayers and other worship words with God’s Word. I’ve also started to model Scripture memorization by presenting memorized calls to worship, calls to confession, and assurances of pardon.
Our church has always observed the Advent season in preparation for Christmas, but over the past two years we’ve expanded our observance of the Christian year by adding an Ash Wednesday service, Lent (what we’ve called “Forty Days of Spiritual Devotion”), and a Maundy Thursday service. We are also in the process of expanding our understanding of Communion from what has typically been seen as a time of remembrance to a more well-rounded view incorporating the concepts of thanksgiving, fellowship and union with Christ and his church, and a celebration of the resurrection.
My Omega classmates and I have often joked about how much more time and effort it takes to plan and prepare for worship now that we have drunk the IWS Kool-Aid. With that said, I’m sure not one of us regrets the difficult, yet life-changing journey. Personally, IWS has given me a renewed passion, sense of mission, and calling to lead my church in worship renewal. There is lots of future work ahead. I still desire to see much greater congregational participation, and I hope for a day when our corporate worship is more intergenerationally focused. But having seen what God has accomplished in just two years, I’m joyfully confident that he will continue to reform and renew worship at Willow Creek Church for his glory.