written by: Warren Wiersbe
Books on worship abound. Some of them are biblical and lay the right foundation, while some of them are experimental and pragmatic and have almost no biblical foundation at all. Worship is the most important ministry of the church collectively and of Christians individually, because all that we are and do flows out of worship. The minister who has no theology of worship (other than “Thou shalt imitate whatever comes down the road”) is going to be hindered in ministry, and that includes preaching; for preaching is an act of worship.
Here are some titles that have stood the test of time. A few of them may be hard to obtain, but they’re worth looking for.
Ralph P. Martin’s Worship in the Early Church (Eerdmans, 1974) is a basic text on worship. A recognized New Testament scholar, the author tells us what worship was like in the apostolic and post-apostolic church and why they did it that way. He doesn’t plead for the church today to imitate the past in a slavish manner but to team the theology and principles that governed the worshipers who lived closest to the time when Jesus was on earth. Did they adapt the temple worship, the synagogue services, or both? This is a basic book.
Donald P. Hustad is one of this generation’s leading experts on Christian music and worship, and he has written two fine books that we highly recommend. The first is Jubilate II: Church Music in Worship and Renewal (Hope Publishing, 1993). This is the second edition of his book Jubilate: Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition (Hope, 1981). The book is a basic text on what music is and the part it plays in Christian life and worship. It reviews the place of music in church history with a special emphasis on the evangelical churches in America. Understanding history gives us perspective and keeps us from following every popular fad that wants to capture our people. Reading this book is like taking a solid seminary course in both theology and ecclesiology.
Hustad’s second book is more “popular” but just as meaty: True Worship: Reclaiming the Wonder and Majesty (Harold Shaw/Hope Publishers, 1998). In these pages, the author uses the concepts and principles expounded in Jubilate II and examines worship in the contemporary church. He points out that the truth of Scripture is the basis for all worship, but that we must also consider cultural truth, artistic truth, liturgical truth and educational truth as we prepare worship services. Worship in context is the emphasis – the church we serve, the culture we live in, the needs we meet and the goals we seek to reach to glorify God. Read Jubilate II first and get grounded and then read True Worship and enjoy seeing how the principles apply to your particular ministry.
My own book Real Worship: Playground, Battle Ground or Holy Ground? (Baker, 2000) is now in its second edition with new chapters not found in the original edition. It traces my own worship experience from my Youth for Christ days to my years of ministry at Moody Church in Chicago and at the international Back to the Bible broadcast. I point out that effective biblical worship demands wonder, witness, warfare and wisdom. Some churches have used this book as a study course for the church leaders and staff as well as other people involved in planning worship.
Well-known Christian musician, songwriter, recording artist and music educator Ron Owens teamed up with Ian McMurray to give us Return to Worship (Broadman & Holman, 1999). It contains practical insight and instruction that has been shared in seminary courses and leadership conferences across America and in many parts of the world. The author’s training and breadth of ministry experience enable him to understand and evaluate many different aspects of church worship. I appreciate his emphasis on the Person of God and the importance of avoiding ignorantly worshiping the false gods we create in our own imagination. The chapters are addressed to various people in the church – pastors, worship leaders, the church congregation – and read like warm letters from the heart of a loving teacher. Each chapter should be read by everybody because they all contain rich biblical material that can change our lives and improve our worship.
Robert E. Webber is a recognized scholar in the area of worship and all of his books are helpful. But Worship Old & New (Zondervan, 1982) has always been a favorite of mine. The book traces the history of worship and the changes that have occurred over the centuries. It then focuses on the theological and practical elements involved in worship and how they must be understood and effectively used and balanced. His “Nine Proposals” in chapter 19 needs to be read and studied by everybody involved in worship, including the congregation.
Two books by Marva J. Dawn focus on the church of the new millennium and the problems we face in the area of worship as we deal with a consumer culture that wants to be entertained television style. Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down (Eerdmans, 1995) and A Royal “Waste of Time” (Eerdmans, 1999) are both excellent books for anybody caught in and confused by the so-called “worship wars.” If you want to understand the present while at the same time catching up on the past, these books are for you.
Tom Johnson is a gifted writer, broadcaster and communications consultant, a layman with great concern to experience excellence in worship. He shares his concerns and insights in The Great Occasion (1stBooks, 2001). Many books about worship are written by the “experts” who minister on the church platform, and we need such studies. But this book comes from a knowledgeable believer who worships sitting in the pew. The new perspective is refreshing! His first concern is to help the average worshiper prepare for worship and understand how worship “works.” However, the most gifted pastor, church musician or worship leader can profit by reading this book and looking at worship from the worshipers point of view. For information on securing this book, see www.1stbooks.com or contact MonoGram Media, 1201 “O” Street, Suite 311, Lincoln, NE 68508.
One final title: O Come Let Us Worship, by Robert G. Rayburn (Baker, 1980). Yes, it’s an older book and you’ll have to search for it, but reading the book will make all that effort worthwhile. The author deals with the basics and explains how they work in the local church situation. Here’s his thesis: “Anything which makes it easy for us to worship spiritually should be encouraged, while anything that draws attention to itself rather than to God should be eliminated from our corporate worship service” (p. 111). His exposition and application of Acts 2:42-47 is excellent. I wish an updated edition of this book were available.
©2002 WWW Used by permission. This article is copyrighted by the author and is for your individual use. Reproduction for any other purpose is governed by copyright laws and is strictly prohibited. This material originally appeared in a small booklet entitled “Meet Mr. Moody” and is no longer in print.
Dr. Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an internationally known Bible teacher, author, and conference speaker. He graduated in 1953 from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lombard, Illinois. While attending seminary, he was ordained as pastor of Central Baptist Church in 1951 and served until 1957. From September 1957 to 1961, Wiersbe served as Director of The Literature Division for Youth for Christ International. From 1961 to 1971 he pastored Calvary Baptist Church of Covington, Kentucky south of Cincinnati, Ohio. His sermons were broadcast as the “Calvary Hour” on a local Cincinnati radio station. From 1971 to 1978, He served as the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago 1971 to 1978. While at Moody Church he continued in radio ministry. Between August 1979 and March 1982, he wrote bi-weekly for Christianity Today as “Eutychus X”, taught practical theology classes at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and wrote the course material and taught a Doctor of Ministry course at Trinity and Dallas Seminary. In 1980 he transitioned to Back to the Bible radio broadcasting network where he worked until 1990. Dr. Wiersbe became Writer in Residence at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids and Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. In his lifetime, Dr. Wiersbe wrote over 170 books—including the popular Be series, which has sold over four million copies. Dr. Wiersbe was awarded the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement by the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA).