The summer breeze was sending ripples cascading across the surface of the lake in front of me. Shafts of sunlight pierced the canopy of tall cedars above my head. And while my fingers were plucking simple chords on a guitar, my body resonated with the hum of an emerging tune, and my heart meditated on these words: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness” (Psalm 29, NRSV).
This was a special moment of personal worship I was blessed to experience while on sabbatical in 2013, standing lakeside at Calvin Crest, a Presbyterian conference center in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Yosemite. As a worship leader and songwriter, one of my chosen disciplines for my sabbatical journey was the practice of spiritual journaling through songwriting—processing my experiences of God’s grace along the way by putting them into words and setting those words to music. It was a way of letting the places, people, and lessons of my pilgrimage sink deeper into my soul. We are embodied beings, and almost no human act more fully involves the whole person than singing. By using song to meditate on the words of Scripture, to tell the stories of sacred encounters, and to express my deepest hopes, laments, prayers, and praises to the God who sings over me (Zeph. 3:17), I find I am shaped and formed by them all the more.
Do you consider yourself a singer? A musician? A creative person? Even if you do not, whether you like to sing out with full voice or prefer to keep it to a whisper, we all have a joyful noise to lend to God’s glorious choir as we “sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. . . making melody to the Lord in [our] hearts” (Ephesians 5:19, NRSV). And all of us can benefit from the practice of giving voice to that which our hearts long to express and need to learn.
Our gathered worship as the people of God has the same mysterious effect. In worship we offer expressions of our praise and adoration, gratitude and love. But we are also formed by the prayers we pray, the songs we sing, and the silence we keep—as God uses everything we do and say in worship to mold us more and more into the image of Christ. In all our worship preparation, and especially whenever we are venturing into new methods and practices, it serves us well as worship planners, pastors, and educators to prepare our gathered worship thoughtfully and theologically, making intentional choices of song, ritual, and liturgy, to appropriately and meaningfully give voice to our community’s worship. This intentionality also listens closely to the Spirit, seeking to discern wise choices that both challenge and encourage the church as we grow in Christian maturity and reach out with Christ’s love.
There are many helpful guidelines and matrices that can aid us in our intentional planning. Denominational resources such as the Directory for Worship, the Book of Common Worship, and the new Glory to God hymnal provide valuable guidance and many meaningful elements. Another resource that has had a meaningful impact on my practice of ministry comes from a relatively recent book by my good friends Debra and Ron Rienstra, Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry (Baker Academic, 2009). Through several chapters of their insightful book, they lay out a simple, suggested rubric that has become an important part of balanced planning for me, inspired by the familiar wedding adage: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” The way I’ve applied it, for each worship gathering I seek to curate a complementary combination of elements that include “something old” (from our historic Christian tradition), “something new” (fresh, contextual expressions), “something borrowed” (in solidarity with the global church), and “something blue” (making room for lament). Keeping advice like this in mind while planning makes our worship gatherings more meaningful—as well as formational in a holistic, Christ-centered way—because what we say and what we sing when are together as the people of God matters.
For your upcoming 2016 APCE Annual Event, I am honored to have been invited to be the pastoral musician tasked with curating and guiding our shared worship in song, and I will do my best to lead our singing together in a way that enables the song of everyone gathered. I also will be offering a workshop on the practice of spiritual journaling through songwriting, sharing some of the songs that I have written along the way, as well as discussing and trying out methods for giving voice to your own expressions. And I am excited to hear what new things might spring forth among us! In these ways I also hope the songs we sing together this coming January will inspire your worship when you return to your homes, and wherever your pilgrimage of life takes you.
Luke Hyder Luke Hyder is Associate Pastor for Worship & Evangelism at First Presbyterian Church, Libertyville, Illinois, as well as a husband, father, singer-songwriter, worship curator, mocha addict, indie music appreciator, and pop culture junkie.