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Worship Words

Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry

series: Engaging Worship

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"Deeply personal, wise, and practical, this book provides trustworthy guidance to all who seek to employ faithful and energized language in worship."--Thomas G. Long, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

Words have great significance. They both form and inform us. They convey meaning and shape understanding. They express our highest thoughts and our deepest emotions. But because of their ubiquity, words are easily taken for granted. In Worship Words, part of the Engaging Worship series, English professor Debra Rienstra and pastor/worship leader Ron Rienstra make a careful examination of the role and use of language in the worship practices of the church. Their goal is to help students, pastors, and worship leaders come to a renewed appreciation and understanding of words in worship and to inspire them to use words more intentionally--to the greater glory of God and the greater blessing of God's people.

The book is scholarly--the result of much field research and theological reflection--but also highly practical. Its topics include dimensions of language, repetition, authenticity, metaphor, tradition, lament, and worship planning. It is ecumenical in scope, demonstrating understanding and appreciation for various branches of the church while addressing important questions that cut across worship styles and theological and ecclesial traditions. Each chapter includes group discussion questions and exercises for evaluating and creating worship service elements.

About the series: The Engaging Worship series from Fuller Theological Seminary's Brehm Center for Worship, Theology, and the Arts brings scholars, students, artists, and church leaders into conversation around vital issues of theology and worship. Each volume addresses a particular worship issue from one or multiple academic disciplines and explores ways in which worship practice and leadership can be renewed.


"Deeply personal, wise, and practical, this book by Debra and Ron Rienstra provides trustworthy guidance to all who seek to employ faithful and energized language in worship. Their insights on the words of prayers, hymns, and sermons move us from the chatty excesses of much worship today to language that is lively, crisp, inviting, profound, and full of wonder."--Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching, Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA

"I keep only classic worship books on my shelves. Worship Words will be there, assuming I ever get it back from my worship musician friends. Who knew! Music isn't everything!"--Sally Morgenthaler, author, Worship Evangelism

"In an age when well-chosen words can be misinterpreted as inauthentic, Worship Words makes a dramatic case for the opposite. Followers of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, need to be attentive to the words used in worship. Theological and practical insights work hand in hand in this volume as it shatters the myth about the powerlessness of our words. See and hear the possibilities for well-chosen worship words in a text that is itself a fine example of verbal craftsmanship."--Lester Ruth, Lily May Jarvis Professor of Christian Worship, Asbury Theological Seminary

"This book is an extraordinarily rich treasure chest of new insights, the best of research, and time-tested wisdom. Because of the unusual combination of their brilliant literary, musical, and theological gifts, the Rienstras offer phenomenal contributions to all of us who care about the church's worship. I most heartily recommend this book to everyone who seeks to glorify God fittingly."--Marva Dawn, author of Reaching Out without Dumbing Down, A Royal "Waste" of Time, and Talking the Walk

"What a stretching book full of rich ideas and thoughtful challenges to all of us who design worship experiences! I will put Worship Words in a spot on my bookshelf where it can be reached easily and used often as a resource for my own thinking and planning and to remind me of the profound significance of the language we use to call people to worship, to sing praise and lament, and to offer prayers to a holy and sovereign God. I am deeply grateful for the wisdom, experience, and research shared with us by the Rienstras."--Nancy Beach, executive vice president for the arts, Willow Creek Association teaching pastor, Willow Creek Community Church

"In Worship Words, the Rienstras present an elegantly written and masterful study of words that will assist the 21st century Christian worship leader. Learning how to use words meaningfully in worship is vitally important, and the Rienstras bring fresh, clarifying, practical insight to that endeavor."--Charles E. Fromm, publisher, Worship Leader magazine, Song Discovery, and Worshiper

The Authors

  1. Debra Rienstra

    Debra Rienstra

    Debra Rienstra (PhD, Rutgers University) is assistant professor of English at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She has taught on worship in both workshops and seminary settings. Debra is the author of Great with Child: On Becoming a Mother...

    Continue reading about Debra Rienstra

  2. Ron Rienstra

    Ron Rienstra

    Ron Rienstra is assistant professor of preaching and worship at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and an ordained pastor in the Reformed Church in America. He is currently completing the PhD program in worship and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary....

    Continue reading about Ron Rienstra


"Debra and Ron Rienstra carefully articulate the importance of words used in a worship setting, and the effects our preaching and song language have on our congregations and our faith. . . . After the first page or two, you will be pulled in by a deep conviction to watch what you say, or sing. . . . Designed for teams, complete with exercises for both worship leaders and pastors, as well as exercises to be done in worship, this book gives what many of us lack in our daily life: space and time for discussion and wrestling with the text. Discussions on metaphors, descriptive language, naming God, gender language, Trinitarian worship, and tradition are a few of the topics in this rich resource. There is no way that it can be read, or should be read in one sitting. With love and care, [the authors] challenge the leadership in the Church to be accountable for the words they choose, their biblical faithfulness, and to think deeply about the historical and societal implications of these words. By drawing upon theology, history and modern worship trends, the Rienstras present a thorough dissection of the words used in worship and their unending importance to the body of believers."--Worship Leader

"Designed as a workbook for pastors and worship leaders, Worship Words offers a wide variety of techniques for analyzing, exploring, and developing liturgical language. . . . [It] covers a rich and expansive set of topics. . . . Each chapter concludes with a set of exercises designed to allow worship leaders to put theory into practice through observation, discussion, and the creation of liturgy. I found myself marking pages for later use with our worship committee and copying word lists to enrich my own liturgical vocabulary. . . . Worship Words is a highly readable and useful guide to enriching, expanding, and sharpening the language of worship for the benefit of the Christian community."--Shawnthea Monroe, Christian Century

"[The authors] carefully examine the role and use of language for praying, singing, and preaching in the worship practices of the church. . . . A genuinely blessed book hopefully to become a classic. This is beautiful reading, important matters, and we recommend it heartily."--Byron Borger,

"One of the very best books for worship leaders to come out this year. . . . It is an eloquent and lovely book, very nicely written. . . . It is really insightful and quite interesting how [the authors] honor [the] various sort[s] of human experiences we need from worship, and [the] various tones and styles that are appropriate in different settings. And, of course, different cadences, rhetoric, verve, and mood to accomplish the appropriate feel for each context. . . . A truly great book! . . . I cannot think of a pastor or worship director or church leader of any denomination who wouldn't appreciate this balanced and thoughtful guide."--Byron Borger,

"Nearly anyone interested in richer, more faithful, and more fruitful worship ought to study this remarkable text. The authors carefully examine the role and use of language in our praying, singing, preaching, and in the other worship practices in the church. Worship Words is very personal (with lots of stories) and practical, even though it is rooted in very serious scholarship and research. . . . Wishing to explore, learn, or re-learn the grammar of worship? This is the most useful resource we've seen, truly an award winning effort!"--Byron Borger,

"An excellent book about the language of worship. It is a pleasure for me to praise this remarkable publication. Rooted in the Reformed tradition, the authors have wide ecumenical experience, and the mastery of this work lies in the broad applicability of their knowledge and counsel far beyond their primary audience--those worship leaders who craft much of the text of each week's Sunday service. . . . The style of the book [is] learned and accessible [and] the prose text, accompanied with insightful inset boxes, consistently honors the intent of both sides of an issue. The authors' proposals are presented with humility and humor. Each chapter offers exercises appropriate to group discussion, 'participant-observers' of worship, those developing worship resources, and preachers. Three practical appendices present helpful outlines for sustained analysis of one's worship language. . . . In a time when denominational crisis has lessened Christian attention to ecumenical wisdom, Rienstras' book is sheer gift. . . . I hope that Worship Words will find its place as a textbook in both liturgy and homiletics courses throughout English-speaking Christianity."--Gail Ramshaw, Doxology

"The authors approach [the role of language in worship] through a stereoscopic lens, blending perspectives from their two intersecting fields. . . . We appreciate the Rienstras' gift for presenting their shared views as well as their individual perspectives. As the authors had hoped, Worship Words reads in many places like a rich conversation. . . . Worship Words is a book with academic leanings. Yet it is also an accessible book. The authors avoid the temptation to overload the text with citations, endnotes, and jargon; where new terms are introduced, they are explained in straightforward language. The 12-chapter structure and the accompanying exercises and questions are helpful aids to those interested in a semester or season of collaborative study--whether inside or outside of a classroom setting. We can envision studying this text together with lay worship leaders and engaging in thoughtful conversations that lead to new understandings and practices. Rienstra and Rienstra equip readers to move from being passive recipients sitting in the crowd on Sunday mornings to being active worshippers within the communion of saints."--Leah A. Zuidema and Todd M. Zuidema, Pro Rege

"Worship Words offers food for thought both theoretical . . . and practical . . . plus a number of studies in between. . . . Numerous interesting sidebars chase tangential rabbits, so the main text can remain tightly focused, allowing this to be the kind of book that can be read either like a novel or an encyclopedia."--Warren Anderson, Worship Leader