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Details, Details: Why a Worship Service's In-between Words Matter

A worship leader, says Heidi De Jonge, pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario, is like a tour guide. A good tour guide leads and instructs, makes connections, and points things out that a participant might not otherwise notice. Often it's the little things said or done, like "look over there" or silently pointing out a vista while hiking a trail, that help participants notice gems or fill in the spaces between major stops on the tour, or help transition from one kind of experience to another, making sure everyone participates as fully as possible in the experience. Using that analogy, how do we promote the full inclusion of every person who has arrived for worship? For a worship leader, Heidi says, inclusion is achieved through the "little in-between words" that introduce a hymn, or smooth the transition between key structural elements of a worship service. She says little words can make a big difference, because the words we use can inspire hope or add doubt, proclaim theology or introduce heresy (hopefully accidentally). Words can clarify or confuse, which is why it is important to think about the words you are going to use to initiate a transition or introduce a worship element. You want to clearly and theologically articulate what is taking place and what a participant could notice, without cluttering the service or causing confusion. In a 1-hour audio recording of a workshop she led at the 2014 Calvin Institute Symposium on Worship, Heidi warns that "sometimes the in-between words can be hurtful or mocking or blaming," which is perhaps the most important reason to think them through ahead of time rather than naively trust oneself to find the right words in the middle of speaking them - because the truth is that when we are under pressure, it is all too easy for us to say something clumsily, which can undermine the entire service or unknowingly cause someone to feel judged or excluded. For more about how to create inclusive worship services, read our feature article, "From Accessibility to Inclusion." For more on effective preaching, see "Best Resources for Sermons."

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