Join our mailing list

Planning and Leading Congregational Worship

This syllabus covers a study of resources, skills, and strategies for planning and leading public worship services. Particular attention will be given to the interpretative reading of Scripture, congregational prayer, training lay worship leaders, and celebrations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Course Syllabus

Course Description

A study of resources, skills, and strategies for planning and leading public worship services. Particular attention will be given to the interpretative reading of Scripture, congregational prayer, training lay worship leaders, and celebrations of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Instructional Objectives

1. To articulate and understand key biblical and theological perspectives on Christian corporate and public worship.

2. To develop an ability to think critically and discerningly about the issues associated with the congregational worship service.

3. To read excellent and informative recent publications on worship’s meaning, purpose and practice.

4. To develop pastoral sensitivities that will enable us to plan and lead worship services that will draw worshipers into the presence of God, enable them to engage in a conversation with God, and provide for healthy Christian nurture.

5. To develop skills in worship planning so that worship services implement a biblical concept of worship, create vital worship opportunities, and both reflect and meet the spiritual needs of those who worship.

6. To develop skills in worship leadership such as preparing prayers, selecting and presenting songs, preparing transitions and set-ups, reading Scripture, and training others to do the same.

7. To develop an appreciation for the collaborative style of worship planning that values the gifts of others, learns how to work together creatively, finds the joy of partnerships in offering our gifts to God and the Christian community, and will aim to both prevent and resolve conflict that may arise.

8. To grow in the joy of planning worship, offering it to God through Christ, and sense the privilege of leading congregations in worship.

9. To grow in personal spirituality so that we can lead others in the same growth.

Required Texts

 A More Profound Alleluia, Leanne Van Dyk, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004)

Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning, by Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell (Alban Institute, 2005)

Let the Whole Church Say Amen! A Guide for Those Who Pray in Public, by Laurence Hull Stookey (Nashville: Abingdon Press 2001)

Psalter Hymnal (Worship Edition) (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1987)

Sing! A New Creation: Leader’s Edition (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 2002)

Ten Service Plans for Contemporary Worship, by Ron Rienstra (Faith Alive Publications, 2002)

The Worship Sourcebook (Grand Rapids: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Faith Alive Resources, Baker Book House, 2004)

Supplementary Material for Your Planning Bookshelf

A Child Shall Lead: Children in Worship, by John Witvliet, ed. (Dallas: Choristers Guild; and Grand Rapids: Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, 1999)

A Royal “Waste” of Time: The Splendor of Worshiping God and Being Church for the World, by Marva Dawn (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999)

Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications, 1997)

Beyond Worship Wars: Building Vital and Faithful Worship, by Thomas Long (Alban Institute, 2001)

Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking about Christian Worship Today, by Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. and Sue A. Rozeboom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003)

Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship, by David Peterson (Downers Grover, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992)

From Postlude to Prelude: Music Ministry’s Other Six Days, by C. Randall Bradley (MorningStar Music Publishers, 2004)

In Life and In Death, by Leonard Vander Zee (Grand Rapids: Faith Alive Resources) A Resource for Funerals

Music Through the Eyes of Faith, by Harold Best (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993)

Psalter Hymnal Handbook (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications) A must-companion to thePsalter Hymnal.

  Reformed Worship (Grand Rapids: CRC Publications) A quarterly journal.

Signs of Wonder: The Phenomenon of Convergence in Modern Liturgical and Charismatic Churches, by Robert Webber (Nashville: Abbott-Martyn, 1992)

The Church Musician, by Paul Westermeyer (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988)

The Complete Library of Christian Worship, by Robert Webber (Nashville: Star Song Publishing Group, 1993-1994) A seven-volume work of countless resources.

Worship: Reformed According to the Scripture, by Hughes Oliphant Old (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2002)

Worship Seeking Understanding: Windows into Christian Practice, by John Witvliet (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003)

Other Suggested Materials

Liturgical Forms Disk (CRC Publications) Very useful for reprinting forms in the bulletin (also see CRC website).

A Wide Sampling of Hymn Books

Calvin Institute of Christian Worship website: Consult it regularly!

Ministry Resource Center in the Calvin Library – Stop in often!

The Revised Common Lectionary – Consult it on the web.

Course Requirements

1. Faithful attendance at all class sessions. (20%)

2. Active participation in all class discussions based on the readings. (20%)

3. Fulfillment of exercises and writing assignments. (60%)

General Assignments

1. Write a biographical essay, maximum two pages double spaced, in which you (1) cite the church(es) of which you are or have been a member, (2) describe the types of worship services that have been formative in your life, (3) comment on their strengths and weaknesses as you see them, and (4) describe any active role you currently have in worship planning and/or leadership.

Due on Session 2

2. Visit four churches of differing worship styles and write a one page (double-spaced) evaluative report on each that is a reflection on their theology of worship, how it is expressed in their worship service, and identifying what the issues of worship are in that church as you see them. It would be best if you try to arrange it so that two of these services include one of the sacraments.

Due (in series, not all at once) as you have them completed, but in conjunction with our schedule to discuss them in Session 3, Session 5 and Session 7.

3. Write a congregational worship statement for either your own congregation or a hypothetical one. In the introduction, write a couple of paragraphs explaining the personality and culture of the congregation for which you are writing the statement.

Due at Session 4

4. Work with one or two other classmates to collaboratively plan a complete worship service similar to the web services of CICW. (We will agree on collaboration teams at the first session of class.) Select an event in the Christian year as the focus for this service. Provide three sections of commentary for this service-sermon notes, music notes, and liturgy notes-to aid those who will use this service in part of in full. Accompany the service with a one-page double-spaced report that identifies a few of the theological issues you considered for this service and how you treated them.

This assignment should be done in steps throughout the quarter according to the designated deadlines, and put completely together at the end of the quarter.

-Session 3 – determine the event of the church year to be observed, and the theme of the service, with a one-paragraph expression of the theme.

-Session 5 – sketch out the entire service, noting each step of the service to be included, placing them in the order needed, and identifying the sermon theme, text, and Scripture reading(s).

-Session 7 – add the specifics of the service including songs, litanies, readings, etc. Write commentary notes (for sermon starters, music and liturgy) that will explain to others who might use this service the reason for your choices, and suggestions that will aid them in their use or leadership of the service.

-Session 9 – hand in the completed service in finished form, submitted both in hard copy and electronically.

5. Design a sample annual worship calendar for your congregation for morning worship. In this calendar identify (1) the seasons of the Christian year to be observed, (2) the dates of their observance, (3) a paragraph that will capture the theme/intent of the season, (4) other special events to be observed in worship, and (5) suggestions for four series of messages, indicating the theme of the series, its length, where it will be placed on the worship calendar [specific weekly titles and texts are not necessary].

Due at Session 6

 Course Schedule

 (Please note the reading assignments required for each class session, and the written assignments that are due for submission at each session.)






Session 1 

September 13


Introductory Material

1. Getting Acquainted 

2. Overview

3. Collaboration teams

4. Theology of worship

5. Worship Renewal

6. Planning as a Pastoral Task

Malefyt/Vanderwell, Chapters 1 and 3 

Stookey, pp. 11-33


Session 2 

September 20


Collaboration Issues

1. Collaboration 

2. Planning Issues

3. Worship Statement

4. Planning Tools

5. Prayer Discussion


Chapters 4 and 5

1. Personal biography 

2. Stookey Ex. 1

Session 3 

September 27


Planning Worship

1. Advance planning 

2. Annual calendar

3. Weekly planning

4. Integration and flow

5. Verbal transitions

Van Dyk, pp. 83-108 

Stookey, A,6,7,8,B,19,D

SNC Leaders Guide, pp. 408-437

1. First report on church visits. 

2. First installment of   service planning.

Session 4 

October 4


The Voice of the People

(In Seminary Chapel)

1. Worship prayers 

2. Congregational song


Van Dyk, pp. 1-54, 133-155 

Stookey, 9,10,11,12

1. Stookey Exercises 6,8 

2. Congregational Worship Statement


Session 5 

October 18


Gathering and Dismissal

1. Spiritual Preparation 

2. Vitalizing Set-ups

3. Gathering Time

4. Service of Baptism

5. Prof/Reaffirmation

6. Dismissal Time

Van Dyk, pp. 55-81 

Stookey, 13,14,15

1. Second report on church visits. 

2. Second installment of service planning.

Session 6 

October 25


The Word in Worship

1. Sermon Set-ups 

2. Prayer for Illumination

3. Reading Scripture

4. Children’s Message

Van Dyk, pp. 109-132 

Stookey, C,16,21

1. Stookey, Ex.14 

2. Annual Worship Calendar

Session 7 

November 1


Our Response in Worship

1. Prayers of the People 

2. Lord’s Supper

3. Leadership Issues

4. Professions and Litanies

Malefyt/Vanderwell, Chapters 2 and 6 1. Third report on church visits 

2. Third installment of service planning.

Session 8 

November 8


Worship Administration

1. Structure for Planning 

2. Planning Teams

3. Training Leaders

4. Evaluation of Worship

Stookey, 18 1. Submit Unanswered Questions
Session 9 

November 15


Beyond Sunday Services

1. Weddings 

2. Funerals/Memorial Services

3. Misc.

4. Q/A Wrap-up

1. Final (complete) worship planning project.