Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review: "Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services "

Engage: A Guide to Creating…Engage: A Guide to Creating Life-Transforming Worship Services
Nelson Searcy (Author), Jennifer Dykes Henson (Author), Jason Hatley (Author)

Engage was created to address several things the authors saw as difficulties in modern worship. From the weekly cycle of worship planning, their summary from the back cover begins: "No matter how great Sunday's worship service was, there's always another Sunday lurking at the end of the next week that must be planned. Church leaders often fall into ruts, working on automatic pilot just trying to get things together, which does not allow for much creativity or focus on designing services that lead to transformation for those involved in them".

Built in to that objective are two significant assumptions: there should be creativity in worship and people are the primary designers of it. I suspect that the authors would highly agree with the first and strongly disagree with the second. The reason why I stated the second assumption is due to the structure of the book. Since there is no development of a biblical foundation of worship, the reader moves right to current practice evaluation and creativity.

Notice how this is going to be achieved, once again from the back cover: "Engage is a step-by-step, stress-free guide to planning worship services that allow for and foster true life change. Comprehensive in scope, Engage provides teaching pastors, worship leaders, and volunteers with the tools they need to work together to develop and implement a worship planning system that improves communication, enhances creativity, and honors Jesus every week".

Once again within these statements, there are important assumptions, one being that planning worship should be "stress-free". Without going into an extended exposition of worship here, should there not be some "stress" in approaching worship where one considers their sin, repents of it and desperately clings to Christ? Should not even the process of worship itself come from some blessed "stress" of joyful praise, to heart wrenching lament? Notice what is seen as the solution to the challenge of weekly worship planning: "The key to getting out of the tailspin and cooperating with God to do church at a higher level can be summed up in one word: planning" (p.11). Off and running, if the participant has not totally surrendered to God and is biblically rooted in engaging God, this can be a dangerous assumption.

All these important considerations aside, Engage tries to achieve their objectives in four parts. The first section deals with determining Your Philosophy of Worship. When the chapter begins with a quote from Cicero on philosophy, this did not strike me as a healthy place to start a discussion on worship. The authors suggest using the acronymn WORSHIP: W = 'Work as a Team', O = 'Outline Your Preaching Calendar', R = 'Repentance is the Goal of Worship', S = 'Sunday Matters', H = 'Honor God through Excellence', I = 'Invite People to Take the Next Steps', P = 'Planning Honors God'. The closest thing that the reader can hope for in terms of biblical exposition is a bracket noting "see Isaiah 6 for additional study on how repentance follows true worship"(p.35). Sure, repentance is needed for worship, but should the goal not be for people to genuinely ascribe Worth to God, ie "worth-ship"? To begin with the end in mind is a good tool in planning worship, and asking questions like what do we want people to know/feel/and do when they leave (p.39), are helpful to consider but perhaps our first questions should not what do the people want, but what does God expect and want from us?

Introductory concerns aside, the authors indeed put many helpful planning ideas and examples in their work. Frequently, in each section of the book, the reader is encouraged to visit the ministry site www, to examine and discuss the concepts further. I found this approach quite helpful over the standard foot/endnote method to delve further into topics of the readers interest.

The second section deals with the preaching calendar. The authors begin their section with a warning: "...people forget the majority of the information they hear from a communicator within twenty-four hours" (p.51) Without having a citation of these "numerous studies", I would charge that there is a difference between having a listener quote points in a message and have an internal conceptual change. Isa 55:10-11 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, [11] so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (ESV).

Furthermore, I believe the authors misunderstand the primary objective of preaching: "You stand in front of your people on Sunday mornings for one reason and one reason only; to connect God's truth to real life in a way that leads to radical transformation" (p.53) But God's truth already connects to real life (2 Tim.3:16-17). Our job as preachers is to accurately expound and explain the word of God to help people see how this is so (2 Tim.4:2). My heart was relieved in the direction on page 59 to preach the whole counsel of God (Acts20:27) and how a preaching calendar can help ensure this by focusing too much on our "favorite" topics. Although generalized, the authors note particular times of the year with the frequent patterns of attendance and types of topics that could correspond to such times. They suggest a balance of attraction, growth and balance.

The third section deals with planning and conducting worship services. The planning of a message series over particular time horizons is deal with followed by three general types of worship formats. The "simple worship order" structures singing, video, teaching, testimony and offering. The "split worship order" structures video, music, drama, message followed by the same. Finally, the "salsa worship order" has video, music, video, message followed by the same. Some helpful requirements close the formats, including: high accountability, punctuality, excellence and conversation. I would have loved a whole chapter on excellence itself. The following chapter includes an inverted triangle of each potential creative element in order of potential impact. This is highly debateable with a scary suggestion to "think outside the box (p. 122). If that box is scripture, I would not suggest it. Chapter eight shows how all this can work together with a trial run. As idealized as this is, you would need some committed worship team to spend quite a few hours each week and a lot of work ahead of time to accomplish this. Finally, chapter nine concludes with an interesting quadrant of four options to diagnose your current engagement level in the process with suggestions to improve communication and role clarification.

Finally, the fourth section deals with evaluating and improving worship services. It certainly made sense to work on roles and communication before undertaking this. The warning of not playing the "blame game" from the previous chapter really comes in to play. Although I think a biblical context for evaluation and correction would have been helpful, the general tone is gracious. Simple questions like: "what went right/wrong, what was missing or confusing" can be insightful. I would take caution in many of the overally planned elements that the authors suggestion that might restrict Spirit lead diversions. The direction to "keeps things upbeat" (p.180) is certainly shallow. There are times of joy, conviction, direction, lament etc. It can't all be upbeat.

The appendices give a sample preaching, planning calendar, sample order of services, communication template for Pastor to Creative Team, meeting notes, message research schedule and example.

In conclusion, this is a very focused book. There are a lot of other elements of worship, like music selection, instrumentation, worship team building and homiletics, seem to be deliberately not address. This book can be a helpful tool to consider some new aspects of worship, but I fear without a framework that is grounded in scripture with a clear God-glorifying objective always front and center, the planning of preaching or worship may be more personally driven than Spirit led.

Rating: 3 stars of 5.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group".

Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Baker Books (Oct 1 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0801072174
ISBN-13: 978-0801072178
Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14 x 1.8 cm
Shipping Weight: 272 g ( )

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