Reviewed by Kirk Wellum
Gather God’s People is part of the excellent Practical Shepherding series either written or co-written by Brian Croft. This time Croft teams up with Jason Adkins, who, according to the introduction was the primary author of the book. Both men work together in the same church, Croft as the senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Adkins as an associate pastor. They have cooperated on this book because each has had a role to play in the formulation, articulation, and working out of the concepts set forth in this small but very helpful volume.
In one way, the fact that a book on understanding, planning, and leading worship in the local church is needed is a sign of the times in which we live and an indicator of how what was once taken for granted has slipped from view. This is not a criticism, just an observation. As someone who has had the privilege of growing up in solid evangelical churches, there is little here that is new or that I have not heard before in some form or other. For me, the book largely reaffirmed what I have been taught down through the years and what I have seen practiced when it came to the gathering of God’s people.
But, although that is true for me personally, as someone who teaches pastoral theology in a seminary context, and is involved in the life of more than one congregation, I know that these things need to be written down and faithfully passed on to another generation in our day. Churches and their leaders are naïve if they assume that everyone who attends church understands why we do the things we do when we come together as God’s new covenant community. And so, to this end Croft and Adkins have done us a real service and have given us a very necessary, and yet simple, straight-forward explanation of Christian worship in the context of the gathered church.
The book begins where it should, and must, if it is going to serve the church today and in the future. It begins with a biblical theology of worship that immediately locates worship in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and the unfolding drama of redemption that finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Building on the work of authors like Mark Dever, Paul Alexander, and Ligon Duncan, the authors of this book adhere to the regulative principle which attempts regulates worship in light of the scriptures and that subsequently results in worship characterized by preaching the Bible, reading the Bible, praying the Bible, singing the Bible, and seeing the Bible. This leads to a discussion of the spirituality of worship which is needed today because of common tendency to drive a wedge between spirituality and what goes on when the church gathers in the name of Jesus.
The second part of the book deals with planning worship – planning the reading of the word, the praying of the word, and the singing of the word. One is immediately aware that worship that is glorifying to God and edifying for his people does not just happen. There is much to take into consideration when it comes to using the scriptures in a service of Christian worship. This is also true when it comes to praying and singing. In my experience there is often not enough consideration given to these vital matters and as a result churches fall into predicable patterns and opportunities are lost to explore the richness of the scriptures, wonder of prayer, and the privilege of speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and songs of the Spirit. In this area, as in life in general, to fail to plan, is to plan to fail! Croft and Adkins will make the reader think through what they are doing or not doing, and why.
The next part of the book is about leading worship – leading readings and prayers, singing, and the celebration of the ordinances. Here the emphasis is on down-to-earth, practical instruction. How many times have people been subjected to someone reading the scriptures too slow or too fast, stumbling over the words, with no sense of the flow of the passage? There is no excuse for this kind of thing. The same is true of common mistakes when it comes to prayer. There are many things that church leaders can do to make the reading of God’s word and speaking to him in prayer times of great blessing and encouragement. This also applies to music and singing, and the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The so-called “worship wars” are unnecessary if leaders would think about what they are doing and why. And while not everyone will agree with the conclusions reached by Croft and Adkins, there is tremendous value in working through what they have to say in this regard.
The concluding chapter, though brief, is wise. They remind us of the need to exercise patience, to bear with one another, and to remember what is at stake. In my experience these 3 things can make all the difference in the world when it comes to our attitude, demeanor, and interaction with one another.
The book also contains 4 appendixes which largely deal with musical matters. In them the authors expand on their contention that Christian congregations need to incorporate more of the psalms into their singing and they give a number of helpful suggestions to reintroduce psalm singing and to make psalm singing enjoyable. They also offer help when it comes to increasing a congregation’s repertoire of hymns by singing unfamiliar hymns to old familiar tunes. Finally they share their church covenant that has been set to music as a memorable way of expressing their commitment to Christ and one another.
As with the other books that I have reviewed in this Practical Shepherding series, Gather God’s People, is easy to read and consult, in this particular case, when it comes to understanding, planning, and leading worship in the local church. It should be read by pastors and church leaders, seminary professors and students, and Christians everywhere, and the biblical truths it documents need to be passed on to the next generation.
Kirk M. Wellum is Principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary and book review editor for Pastoral Theology here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
Gathering God’s People: Understand, Plan, and Lead Worship in Your Local Church