The Barnabas Ministry
Book Review

The Worship Maze: Finding a Style to Fit Your Church
Paul Basden (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. 1999).

In The Worship Maze, Paul Basden discusses the various styles of worship from a practical and Scriptural point of view. Though the Scriptures provide a wide freedom in the components, style and order in worship services, this freedom presents opportunities and challenges that needs to be carefully managed.

I once served as a worship coordinator, spending a significant amount of time considering and planning services. After studying the Scriptures, I came to the conclusion that "Sunday morning church" is both "worship" and "fellowship." Very little is specified in the Scriptures as mandatory, similarly very little is forbidden. There are some general examples and guidelines in the Scriptures; the basic maxim seems to be that if the heart is right, if people are truly drawn near to God in accordance with his word, God seems to be fine with it. The worship coordinator starts with a fairly blank canvas, with the need for a work of art on a weekly basis that draws people near to God.

I found The Worship Maze interesting on a number of levels. First, it was refreshing to see someone giving some real thought and discussion to the "nuts and bolts" of worship services, both in a Scriptural and practical sense. Second, he sensitively addresses the personal impact of various service types upon different members of the congregation with respect to personal preferences and the like. Besides the limited Scriptural requirements, this factor is the most important part of service planning for a congregation.

Basden identifies five basic service styles: Liturgical, Traditional, Revivalist, Praise and Worship, and Seeker (though he recognizes there is a continuum between all of these particularly defined styles). He discusses these styles, their strengths and limitations. His discussion confirms what most experienced worship planners who have also spent time studying the Scriptures already know: there are plenty of ways to worship God on Sunday mornings and there is no one "right" or "best" way.

As the sub-title suggests ("Finding a Style to Fit Your Church"), designing worship services isn't about what's right and wrong, but what's best for the situation and circumstances. So many factors ought to be considered in planning services-- not the least of which are "what works" for people. The book will get assembly planners thinking about what is going on on Sunday mornings, and what it is they are trying to accomplish.

One thing Basden touches on but doesn't go into fully is the idea of recognizing the diversity of a congregation and bringing this diversity into the worship for the enrichment of all. His book seems to be addressing monolithic congregations (or portions of congregations) who have decided to utilize certain worship styles. This seems to be a recognition that (like it or not) much of Basden's target audience is segregated into various monolithic groups (hence the old but sad adage "Sunday morning is the most segregated time in America").

Again, seeker-oriented churches have their "Saddleback Sam" target, but yet not everybody walking in the door at worship fits that profile.

But if there is one heaven for all the saints, then God's church is for all, and worship services should be for all.  Working towards a "target group" has its pluses, but I'm not sure God wants us quite so rigid. The target audience is whoever is there! Worship planners must aim to facilitate worship and an upbuilding experience for all of the congregation. Combining genuine love for God with love and respect between various demographic groups of the congregation leads to an enriching worship experience that indeed can be glimpse of heaven itself:

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; [10] and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, "Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb." (Revelation 7:9-10, NASB).
In conclusion, I recommend Basden's book as a way to get a feel for what type of worship experiences are Scriptural and work with various demographic groups, and for an increased appreciation of various styles.

Copyright © 2002 John Engler. All rights reserved.

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