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Best Resources for Teaching Worship

Seven college and seminary professors list their top short reads for teaching worship and say which resources would be most helpful for church worship and liturgy committees.


Emily Snider Andrews Barbara Day Miller Ruth Duck
Jeremy Perigo Ron Rienstra Jane Rogers Vann
Tom Schwanda

You can find most of these resources at online bookstores or in a library. All are useful for teaching worship at the college or seminary level. Many also work well for worship planning teams in congregations.

Emily Snider AndrewsEmily Andrews: music and worship instructor; ordained minister in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship 

Samford University: Birmingham, Alabama

Worship courses: Intro to Music and Worship, Intro to Worship Leadership, Colloquium in Church Music, Supervised Ministry, Music and Worship Seminar, Keyboard Harmony

Top short reads for worship:

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Recommendations from friends, colleagues, worship conferences and professional gatherings. Amazon’s new and popular worship-related book rankings. Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s “user-friendly search engine, copious resources and expert articles.”

In brief: Four books above are especially helpful for church committees. Christopher Ellis’s Approaching God will help congregants study worship in greater depth. It includes an introductory theology of worship, worship planning guide, pastoral guidance and hands-on exercises in each chapter. Two edited collections, Johnson’s Convictions of Things Not Seen and Kroeker’s Music in Christian Worship, provide diverse content that can be easily read and applied a chapter at a time. Mark Labberton’s work is an accessible and clear call to connect the vertical and horizontal dynamics of public worship. With biblical depth and pastoral wisdom, Labberton firmly relates worship and ethics.

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Barbara Day MillerBarbara Day Miller: associate dean of worship and music; ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church

Candler School of Theology: Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia

Worship courses: Candler Singers (select seminary choir), Christian Year Celebrations, Writing Liturgical Texts

Top short reads for worship:

Top websites for worship planning:

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Conversations with other professors in the field, conferences, reviews of new books, acquaintance with authors, evaluations by students.

In brief: Candler Singers, a select choir of 20 voices, leads worship in all styles every week. As we rehearse the repertoire, we study hymnody from all periods, do psalm versions from chant to contemporary praise, use service music and sung prayer from a wide range of traditions and denominations, and learn to lead congregational song.

My classes primarily engage the practices of ministry, so denominational hymnals and books of worship are important. Worship planning teams in congregations need to know their own denominational resources. Exploring Corinne Ware’s Spirituality Type Indicator is a fun way for teams to discover why certain worship elements or practices appeal to various spiritual types. Committees can use Jim White’s Documents book to teach congregations—seeing and hearing the “original” prayers and writings is enlightening. Confirmation classes love White’s sections on Christian Initiation and the Eucharist.

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Ruth Duck atCTSRuth Duck: professor of worship; hymnist

Garrett Evangelical Seminary: Chicago, Illinois

Worship courses: Christian Public Worship, Finding Words for Worship, Baptism and Reaffirmation, Liturgies of Anointing and Reconciliation, Congregational Song, Preaching, Worship and the Arts

Top short reads for worship:

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Catalogues from Westminster John Knox and others, book tables at meetings such as North American Academy of Liturgy and Hymn Society, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship.

In brief: Long’s The Worshiping Body, an excellent guide to worship leadership and how we communicate with our bodies, might be good for lay readers and leaders. Schmit’s Too Deep for Words would be good for worship committees because of its Spirit-filled exploration of vivid and meaningful word choices for preaching and worship.

My own book, Worship for the Whole People of God, discusses the breadth of worship cross-culturally, theologically and practically. Worship committees eager to celebrate diversity and lament violence can read Ramshaw’s thoughtful God Beyond Gender, Costen’s clear and comprehensive African American Christian Worship, Watkins’ The Gospel Remix and Gunning’s Ferguson and Faith, which give good examples of how our religious rituals need not be confined to church buildings.

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Jeremy PerigoJeremy Perigo: director of music & worship programs; lecturer in worship

London School of Theology: London, United Kingdom

Worship courses: For BA students, Theology of Worship 1 & 2, Worship and Music Ministry, Corporate Worship Lab, Worship Clinic and Language and Worship; for MA students, the Christian Worship module; for MTh and PhD students, supervises those who focus on theology, worship studies and worship practice. 

Top short reads for undergraduate worship students:

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Amazon for new worship-related books. The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies’ “superb annotated bibliography,” updated every six months by Mark Torgerson. Facebook posts and Twitter feeds from scholars such as Monique Ingalls, Lester Ruth and John D. Witvliet.

In brief: Martin’s Worship in the Early Church is an accessible text on worship that would engage congregations that want to better understand worship in the New Testament. The Rienstras’ Worship Words and Cherry’s The Worship Architect are both extremely helpful for worship leaders. 

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Ron RienstraRon Rienstra: associate professor of preaching and worship arts; ordained minister in Reformed Church in America

Western Theological Seminary: Holland, Michigan

Worship courses: Foundations of Worship, Practice of Preaching & Worship, Worship Words, Contemporary and Emerging Worship, The Church’s Common Chord, Liturgical Shenanigans: Ritual Theory and Christian Formation

Top short reads for worship:

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Colleagues’ recommendations, “footnotes in books and articles I find worthwhile and trustworthy.”

In brief: Any resource that I use in class would be good for church worship or liturgy committees to use.

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Jane Rogers VannJane Rogers Vann: professor emerita of Christian education

Union Presbyterian Seminary: Richmond, Virginia

Worship courses: Worship, Sacraments, and Education (seminary); Worship and Sacraments (for PCUSA Christian Educator Certification program)

Top short reads for worship:

  • Daniel T. Benedict Jr, Patterned by Grace: How Liturgy Shapes Us, 11-20, 121-126.
  • Ronald P. Byars, “Body Language,” Call to Worship, Vol 35.2, 2001.
  • Paul Galbreath, Leading From the Table, 1-17.
  • John F. Jansen, “Baptism in the New Testament—Some Perspectives,” Reformed Liturgy and Music, Fall 1981, 164-171.
  • Aidan Kavanagh, “A Rite of Passage,” Call to Worship, Vol. 36.2, 2002-2003.
  • “Order for the Service for the Lord’s Day,” Service for the Lord’s Day, SLR#1, PCUSA, 1984—OR Book of Common Worship, PCUSA, 34-45.
  • Jane Rogers Vann, Worship Matters: A Study for Congregations
  • Lawrence Hull Stookey, Let the Whole Church Say “Amen!” especially 11-34.
  • Howard Vanderwell, ed., Church for All Ages: Generations Worshiping Together, chapters 4 and 5.
  • Wasserman, “The Shape of the Eucharistic Thanksgiving,” Reformed Liturgy and Music, vol. 29, n 3, 1995, 139-145.
  • John H. Westerhoff, “Evangelism, Evangelization, and Catechesis,” Call to Worship, 2002-03, 5-14.

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Journals, book reviews and publishers’ catalogs, talking to colleagues about what they are reading.

In brief: My PCUSA Christian Educator Certification students seem excited about course content and eager to integrate what they have learned into their ministries. PCUSA church worship committees will benefit from reading our denomination’s “Order for the Service for the Lord’s Day” or Book of Common Worship, pp. 34-45. Jansen’s “Baptism in the New Testament” article might inspire a Bible study of passages that describe baptism. Wasserman’s “The Shape of the Eucharistic Thanksgiving” unpacks the Trinitarian structure of the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving and shows it’s far more than a long prayer. Stookey’s book will help people lead prayer in public worship.

My favorite quote from Benedict’s Patterned by Grace is: “The three-in-one God is a community of love dancing with such mutual reverence for each other that this love spills over and reaches out to indwell us and to sweep us up into the life of God creating, redeeming, and sustaining the beloved….Here we have come to the heart of liturgical prayer: we find ourselves dancing with God!”

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Tom Schwanda: associate professor of Christian formation and worship; minister ordained in Reformed Church in America

Tom Schwanda

Wheaton College: Wheaton, Illinois

Worship courses: Worship and Spirituality, Origins of Christian Worship, History of Christian Spirituality, Spiritual Theology (with sessions on sacraments and on using Psalms for lament)

Top short reads for worship:

Top short reads for church worship committees:

Where to find resources for assigned readings: Discussion with other worship professors, following the release of new books, Amazon.

In brief: I use at least one hymn or song every class period in Spiritual Theology to illustrate or reinforce some theological doctrine or perspective. In my History of Christian Spirituality course, I also examine the appropriate worship themes of scripture reading, preaching, singing, sacraments and prayer for each of the various persons studied.

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