Stories of Worship Renewal

IWS is passionate about change–in our personal lives and in our places of ministry. We may not learn about the worship renewal taking place through the all members of the IWS community around the world. But it is always encouraging and motivating when we hear accounts of vision applied and fruitfulness experienced in worship ministries. These stories are examples of the renewing work of the Spirit through our alumni. Read, be encouraged, then send your story to the Director of Alumni Activities. “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thes 5:11).

Vinnie Zarletti (M.W.S., Mem 2013, D.W.S. candidate)

This past thanksgiving, my pastor preached a wonderful message about Communion. Coming from the perspective of the Pentecostal free-church tradition, we rarely use words like “Eucharist,” but in this instance, it was the perfect choice! We were able to teach our people the celebratory nature of the VinnieZarlettiVideoTable by explaining the meaning of the word “Eucharist” (thanksgiving) and then giving them the opportunity to celebrate. We also placed Communion following the sermon on that Sunday, which was quite a departure from our usual placement following the opening three songs. In addition, we gave our people the chance to come forward to receive Communion, which was another significant change, as we have always had the ushers pass the elements down each row while the people remained seated. The response was overwhelming. No one seemed thrown off by the movement, and many worshipers lingered at the altar afterwards. We have since decided to make both changes permanent, recovering the responsive nature of the Table and allowing much more time for the celebration! [Click on the photo to view Vinnie’s video on his IWS experience.]

Khiet Lin, D.W.S., Sigma 2013

In June 2014, my husband Karl (D.W.S. candidate) and I were asked to help with a new church plant ministry in Markham, Ontario. This is a group of Chinese Christians who desire to worship God with their entire family together in the worship service. But they felt they lacked resources to carry out their intention. Karl and I believe that God has prepared us for these people and these people for us. Praise and thanks be to God!

KhietLinServiceIn six months, we taught God’s Story from Genesis to Revelation, and we implemented Advent services plus the Christmas Eve service. Different families read Scriptures, told the meaning of each week’s candle, lit the candles, and gave prayers. The children’s choir taught the song, “Come, Lord Jesus, We Are Waiting” by Dorothy Christopherson. Celebrating Advent was new to these people. We were amazed at the entire preparation, participation, and presentation of each service, and trust that the Lord was pleased and that hearts were made ready to receive the coming of our Lord. We are now planning to introduce Palm Sunday. [The photo shows Khiet’s pastor and family during the Christmas Eve Service.]

Robert Myers, D.W.S., Theta 2007

Bob MyersIn 2012, I made the transition from worship pastor to lead pastor.  I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the lead/senior pastor’s influence in worship renewal.  As lead pastor, I have had the freedom to introduce a meaningful Advent-Epiphany season.  While I experienced a little bit of push-back the first year because I slowly phased in carols through December, the congregation now embraces the rhythm of Advent through Epiphany.  When I arrived at the church, there was quite a bit of tension revolving around musical style. As lead pastor (and a church musician) I was able to teach on the subject and insist on intergenerational worship in a blended format.  The tension about musical styles is no longer a significant factor in the congregation.  There is peace and appreciation for our blended, but always fresh approach to corporate worship.

For nearly twenty years I taught the same concepts as a worship pastor but without the same result.  The lead pastor must be well-informed in worship/music issues and exert strong leadership (drawing clear lines of vision and purpose where necessary) in order to overcome the selfishness characteristic of our culture that leads to “worship wars.” [See Bob’s blog: Thots on Life and Worship.]

David C. Cook, D.W.S., Rho 2011

ChrisCookAs Director of Worship, Music and the Arts, I supervise a young staff of both traditional and contemporary musicians. Typically, their musical training is excellent, but their understanding of worship is limited. During early staff meetings, it became clear that we had no common understandings or vocabulary for conversation. As a result, I initiated a series of book studies, first using Robert Webber’s Ancient-Future Worship, then, Constance Cherry’s The Worship Architect. Over time, our conversations grew to become more professional and more insightful. Most important, we discovered what we have in common among the three worship styles that are constantly in motion here. As a result, my staff has become exactly the kind of working group that we all dream of: clear theological foundations, articulate, creative conversationalists, mutually supportive of our various projects and priorities, growing as ministers as well as musicians.

None of this would have been possible had it not been for my IWS training, where I encountered the people and ideas that shaped my vision for what is possible when people truly dwell with God. My deep satisfaction is now observing the growth of the staff members reflected in the quality of worship we present and seeing the changes such worship makes in the people of our congregation. Thank you, IWS, for sustaining and expanding the vision our founder, Robert Webber, left with us!

Robert Burns, D.W.S., Chi 2013

RobBurnsIn an effort to give greater worship ownership to the congregation, for the past six months I have scheduled elders to craft and pray the congregational prayer on a rotating basis. The cost of doing so is that as pastor I give up a primary opportunity to model prayer for the people and to provide stylistic and thematic variety from week to week.  But the gain far outweighs the cost as my elders, despite their hesitation, were discovered to craft beautiful prayers, using their own unique voices. Delegating this leadership role has also freed up some of my Sunday preparation time, and these elders invest considerably more energy in preparing their prayers than I typically did. The congregation has responded enthusiastically to the broader worship leadership in prayer as well as in Scripture reading.

During this same period I have been more diligent in recruiting lay Scripture readers.  I have included international members who are not always strong English speakers. Reading is one way they can participate, even if they read in their own language while we follow along in English.  Reading Scripture has allowed a variety of members to contribute to the life of the congregation in a meaningful way, and it has created a stronger relational bond among us as we serve each other in this way.

About the author

Alumni Director, Practicum Professor, and DWS graduate.