Art of Worship

I recall a pleasant conversation or two several years ago with a very thoughtful young man, with very smart, edgy musical tastes (do you know the Violent Femmes? Talking Heads? Bruce Cockburn?) who was involved in music ministries at a leading evangelically-minded Presbyterian Church. He wondered if there needed to be a book that was both solid theologically and creative musically that would help address what some were just beginning to call “the worship wars.” When my wife and I lived in Pittsburgh in the late 70’s we worked for a small, urban Presby church, but Bellefield Presbyterian was renowned. They are still one of the great churches near a college campus (University of Pittsburgh) that bring together young and old, professors, students, city folk and seekers in a vibrant Christian outreach. Greg Scheer spent years there, as choir guy, church musician and composer while doing graduate work and I would like to think our friends there helped him formulate his vision of worship and music, church and the arts. He went on to (among other things) teach at Northwestern College and now is minister of music at the nationally-renowned, very exceptional, artistically-rich and liturgically deep CRC Church of the Servant, in Grand Rapids, MI. Interestingly, there are other old Bellefield church and Pittsburgh friends at Church of the Servant now, too.
Scheer not only has these relational and ecclesiastical connections, his new book, The Art of Worship: A Musician’s Guide to Leading Modern Worship (Baker; $15.99) is all about connections: he brings together various strains within worship theology, connecting charismatic, liturgical, traditional and contemporary stylings; he brings considerable passion for serious theology and very practical, specific planning expertise. This book unites more formal musical tastes with more rockin’ sensibilities. As a music associate with the prestigious Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, he interacts with academic scholars and working church musicians. This book is all about bringing stuff together. You can see his useful website, here.

And bring it all home, he does. My, my, Greg does bring together the best thinking in recent years and very practical advise about sound systems and composition, instrumentation and making the bulletin. He ruminates on theology (“Repertoire is theology!”) and church renewal (“Repeat after me: Contemporary worship music will not revitalize my church.”) He helps anyone involved in crafting contemporary worship to do it better, with greater doctrinal integrity and attention to liturgical aesthetics. And yet, it is one of the more “nuts and bolts” books done, with very nice descriptions of different kinds of vocals and harmonies and tons of good recommendations. He makes suggestions about different kinds of instruments and percussion. He lists oodles of resources (which compilation albums and “fake books” are useful for worship teams, etc.)
With endorsements from the likes of Robert Webber and John Witvliet, this will be a book that is talked about for years. It is rooted in a thoughtful, Biblical worldview and emerges from his work in very respected congregations. While the theological underpinnings are discussed in greater depth elsewhere, this book is a reliable and user-friendly guide.
I don’t remember what I advised Greg about his manuscript in those nearly-forgotten phone calls from years ago. I think I might have said that if we are going to have yet another book on church music and contemporary worship, it will have to be exceptional— not just a rant against how cheesy so much CCM is, or how unsound so much CW music is, and not just a reactionary screed for traditionalism, and not just a mushy middle. Not scholarly but not unconnected to serious thinking. Something as quality and radical and interesting as he himself was. I’m happy to report that that book is now here, written by that very exceptional now not-so-young man. Thanks be to God.

The Art of Worship: A Musician’s Guide to Leading Modern Worship Greg Scheer (Baker) $15.99