Rhythms of Worship: The Planning and Purpose of Liturgy

Rhythms of Worship: The Planning and Purpose of Liturgy, by Michael Waschevski and John G. Stevens. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014. 92 pp. $15.00.

Michael Waschevski is currently an associate pastor of programming and pastoral care at First Presbyterian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, and has served Presbyterian churches in Michigan and Texas since 1999. Co-author John Stevens is Waschevski’s stepfather, also pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, California. Because Christian churches have many different worship styles, ranging from traditional to contemporary, Christians may ask themselves what constitutes proper worship and which elements are essential for a worship service. Waschevski and Stevens depict the shared perspective of Christian worship of Presbyterian churches (largely all major Protestant denominations) with liturgical orders, elements, and seasons in the book Rhythms of Worship: The Planning and Purpose of Liturgy. Recognizing the correlation of every liturgical order, significance of the worship element, and proper interpretation of the liturgical church calendar, the authors emphasize the importance of “excellence” on the matters that humans can control and plan in worship.

This book has fourteen chapters, which address the order of worship, music and the arts in worship, and the liturgical calendar. In chapter one, the authors introduce a four-fold pattern that most major denominations follow: 1) gathering in response to the love and invitation of God; 2) hearing and responding to God’s Word; 3) sharing the meal and giving thanks; and 4) departing to serve God in the world (2). The next four chapters discuss each section of the four-fold pattern including the orders of transition. Chapter six focuses on how music and the arts are used in worship and what they signify. The authors define worship as a multisensory event and argue that the elements of music and arts in worship deeply engage the heart, mind, and soul. Throughout chapters seven through thirteen, the authors investigate the origins, the implications, and the ways of appropriate celebration of the liturgical seasons, such as Christmas, Epiphany, Advent, Easter, Lent, Holy Week, Pentecost, and other minor seasons during ordinary time. Finally, the last chapter concludes with the question, “Is worship important?”

Waschevski and Stevens argue that successful worship should be a work of the Holy Spirit, and man cannot control it (xi). However, the authors underscore that there are certain elements that man can control and plan so that the Holy Spirit freely works during the worship service. The goal of this book is “to describe in clear everyday language why we worship as we do and to help equip worship planners and leaders for excellence in their ministry” (xii–xiii). Regarding the goal, the authors focus on two significant elements.

First, the authors emphasize excellence in preparation and planning. In chapter one, they describe the aforementioned historic four-fold order, its sequence, and the significant characteristics of worship, which are interactive, responsive, and participatory (3). In order to vitalize those characteristics of worship, the leaders need to understand “a sense of the feel and function of each segment of the worship service, and how it prepares for and flows into the next segment” (4). For example, the liturgy of gathering is important because it is a transition into worship from everyday life. The worship leader may welcome people and briefly share information, but the leaders should plan on the liturgy of gathering being “short and joyous,” since it is an invitation of God and is followed by other liturgical orders (7). The authors also ensure that the preachers or worship leaders should let church staff know the Scripture passages as early as possible so that other elements of worship (such as hymns and anthems) can be integrated with each other (11). The Lord’s Table should be coordinated as simple, communal, and joyful. It is joyful because the Table signifies not only Jesus’ crucifixion but also His resurrection, and it should be prepared in detail so that the time of worship may not be delayed for any unexpected reasons (19–20). Through the chapters about the church calendar, the authors still emphasize the importance of intentional preparation; they argue that the true meaning and messages of each season can be conveyed purely and fully only through the well-prepared and organized worship services.

Second, the authors highlight the excellence of the quality of music and the arts in worship in chapter six. They do not focus on choosing the genre or style of music in worship, but music that is “excellent and eclectic in style and genre (for vital and faithful congregations)” (26). Liturgical dance and visual arts also should be excellent as they represent worship itself (30). For example, there are certain colors and symbols that should be used in worship following the church calendar, and this form of art makes worship richer and more vital (30–31). Music and other artistic elements encourage the congregation’s participation whether they are professional or non-professional. These elements of worship “have the ability to engage the hearts, minds, and spirits of those who worship” (32).

The most important contribution of this book is the well-addressed and well-organized discussion of liturgical orders and seasons throughout the entire volume. First, the authors investigate each liturgical element in a worship service from the beginning of the order (gathering) to the end of the order (sending out). Then, they examine special church calendar seasons, including Christmas (and Epiphany), Advent (preparation of Christmas), Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, and other minor seasons. These well-organized sequences help the readers understand the meaning of church liturgy and to think upon appropriate practices that Christians should do. Furthermore, the readers can discern how each worship service fits in a broader liturgical context. However, the relatively weak part is that the authors give little attention to churches that do not have a large membership or vast financial resources. It seems that many elements that the authors emphasize require certain amounts of human and financial support. Although one can apply the topics like “well-prepared” or “excellence” to any circumstance, no matter the size of the congregation, some small churches cannot help but spend their resources and energy to maintain the church or worship itself. It would be worthwhile to discuss the appropriate way to apply the authors’ ideas and insights to small or developing churches.

Rhythms of Worship: The Planning and Purpose of Liturgy is readable and not too intense as compared with other books about liturgy; not only the pastors or worship leaders but also congregations can read it and understand liturgical worship forms with historical and theological perspectives. Also, the questions for reflection after each chapter can be used in a small group setting for discussion, and they help readers to practically apply what they have learned.

Eun Byeol Lee
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Posted in Book Reviews

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