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Pick Up Your Instrument: Practices for Worship Leaders

Joyce and Katie join us again to talk about what shaping worship justly has looked like in their contexts as well as practical suggestions for ways worship leaders can shape justice and worship in their own congregations.

The following is a transcript of Season 5 Episode 6 of the Do Justice podcast.  It has been lightly edited for clarity.  Listen and subscribe on your favourite listening app.  

Chris: Well, hey, friends, and welcome to—I guess this is our last episode of this season of the Do Justice podcast. I’m Chris Orme, your host, happy to be joined again by my new friends, Katie Roeloffs, Joyce Borger from Worship Ministries! Hey, welcome back. How's everybody? 

Joyce: Great. Glad to be here.

Chris: yeah, it's been a great season. There's been a lot of great conversations. And I've been thankful for the partnership between you know the podcast the Office of Social Justice, World Renew, and Worship Ministries in the CRC. I want to remind people, refresh people, give you guys some space to talk a little bit about the work of worship Ministries in the Christian Reformed Church. Yeah, give us. Give us the however high view you want. The 30,000 foot view, the 25,000 foot view. I’m in Canada, the 15,000 meter view. Wherever.

Joyce: yeah, love it. So Worship Ministries is about seven years old. So if you haven't heard of it, that's probably why. And we are here to support worship leaders, pastors, audio people, visual artists, whoever happens to be involved with worship. And we pretty much do it through two ways: networking because Katie and I are it. There's no way that we can support every single church out there with every single unique need that they have. So we like to connect worship leaders with worship leaders, get to know each other, create places for them to support each other, learn from each other.

And also we do a lot of equipping of our people through webinars and different resources, as well as utilizing endorsed coaches, so worship leaders who are gifted throughout our denomination that are also available to support churches. And then the other big thing we do is we publish Reformed Worship, which is a quarterly journal. And that is more ecumenical and global. So yes, it goes to the CRC, but it goes well beyond that, and you can get a subscription, a digital subscription or a print one. And there's tons of justice stuff I think people on this podcast would be in particularly interested to check that out— whole theme issues dedicated to climate, and other justice issues ,creation care things like that.

Chris: very cool. Katie anything to add to that?

Katie: nothing in particular to add other than Joyce, did you want to say something about Reformed Worship in 2023?

Joyce: Yeah. So I mean, it sounds like a long way off. But starting in spring of 2023 our issues are gonna be spending a year focused on justice. So subscribe now, so you can take advantage of all of that. And that's 

Chris: I'm thinking, “Wait. Wait. Oh, yeah. 2023  is coming.” Oh, wow! Okay, I'm not even—like it's August and I can't get my mind around September.

But what a season this has been. I think, boy boy, we had some challenging conversations.

We always have challenging conversations here, and we don't shy away from them. I think that's part of the work. I think that's part of the space that we've tried to create. But I think one of the things that I'd like just to give a little bit of a nod toward is you know what's a way that folks can engage with these conversations?  What's a tangible way? And we've kind of been batting some ideas around. But, Katie, what we had talked a little bit about, you know, before the show about what kind of a resource is going to be created out of some of these conversations. And then I am going to put you both on the spot because I do want to ask you: is there something that jumped out at you that was like, “Wow, that just hit me?” But yeah, let's, Let's talk about ways we can engage with the conversations that we've had over the last six episodes.

Katie: A great question, Chris. One of the things that struck me over listening to some of these awesome episodes. Is that the work of justice—a lot of it begins within yourself. We can talk about how it pertains to the church or to your worship team, your pastoral staff to the congregation. But a lot of work starts within yourself. And each of the presenters that you had on the show came at it from a slightly different angle. And if you can't find yourself in a little piece of everything that was said, listen again. Go ahead and go back and listen again. And listen with ears that are open to what the Holy Spirit is saying to you in that moment through these speakers. 

Actually, now that I said that, I'm gonna go back into that again. I'm gonna listen again with a new set of ears. But what is God saying to you? And what is God saying to your heart? And a heart that beats for justice?

Joyce: If I could piggyback on that—I mean, what struck me is there were moments where I was uncomfortable. And those were also some of the moments where I had to learn. And that helped me re-look at my own context. So don't be afraid of the uncomfortable. In fact, pay attention to that. And then be like, “why am I feeling uncomfortable?” And maybe even asking “what is behind what the person is saying?” Because it might be what's behind it that we were like “yeah. that I agree with. And that is a good critique and something I need to learn from.”

Chris: Yeah, yeah. You know, the same happened to me. There were things—oh boy, oh boy—like the headline white man old guy yells at cloud, you know? Like sometimes I feel like that guy. Like I need something to be mad at. And “Wait, wait. I'm not mad. I'm just being challenged here.  I'm being pulled out of my comfort zone.” And that's—I'm always the one who says, “yeah, good theology agitates the comfortable and comforts the agitated. And I’m like, “yeah, but I don't like it when it does it to me! That's not cool.” 

Katie: That's one of the beauties about justice—that there's a diversity element within justice that the more voices you hear speaking from their own experience, the more opportunities it gives for those moments, Chris, that that kind of turn you upside down and disturb you just enough and agitate you just enough to really allow you to engage on a deeper level.

Chris: Yeah, it's like the words of Jesus or the teachings of Jesus are still flipping the script right upside down today. Right now in this space. We also talked a little bit before we started recording this episode about a resource or creating something for folks to track along with. And tell us a bit about that idea Joyce.

Joyce: Katie and I are pulling together some questions and discussion guides to help us to a little bit deeper on each episode. So if you haven't found those yet they're going to be available, or are available by now on the Network or on the Do Justice Blog. Or else email one of us if you can't find them.

Chris:  For sure. Yeah. And we'll link all that stuff in the description of this episode, too.

Let's move into it—because it's been a journey. It has been—yeah, like I said—it's been beautiful and challenging and stretching, and all of that. And we talked throughout this season of do justice about—we talked about worship, and how it shapes our hearts, how it shapes our imagination. What are some practical tips that you have for worship leaders engaging worship and justice? Embodiment: what does this look like?

Joyce: So this is what I was thinking about as I was listening to these podcasts. It's so easy to become overwhelmed right? So you're hearing this great podcast about creation care and climate change. And you're hearing you know their passion and you're like “Oh, I gotta do more about that.” And then you hear from Jonathan and Kenny about  Indigenous persons and multi ethnic or multi cultural worship. And you're just like “Oh, man, I gotta do more about that.” And it's so easy, because then you're just like “oh, butI can't do everything.” And so you shut down, and you don't do anything. And so I guess I'm always like figure out what it is specifically that God is calling you to do. I mean—not that we can ignore climate and all of that—but maybe in my context, the thing that I need to work on is the housing shortage in Grand Rapids, Michigan. And yeah, the creation care thing—I can't know everything about it. But what I can do is, you know, pay more attention to how much gas I use, or plant more trees or do some composting. There's some simple things that I can do. I can't embrace the whole thing, because I'm called to address this issue of justice. And I think, instead of us all shutting down—what is it that you're personally called to—not that you can ignore everything else—but to dig deeply in? And into what is your Church called to do? What is the unique call of your church? And to be okay with that. That that's the thing that I'm going to dig deep into. And these other things are equally important. I'm going to be aware of them but I'm not going to be able to wade as deeply into.

Katie: What Joyce just said reminds me of a quote that I heard this week at a conference. The presenter said, “pick up your instrument and tune it to the key of justice.” And there was something that I loved about that image. And like what Joyce was saying, you're not going to be able to do everything and tackle every single justice issue. But what instrument can you pick up and tune to the key of justice?

I loved that each of the presenters had a kind of undercurrent of embodiment, of what it means that there's no disconnect in justice between your body and your soul. So did that embodiment, pick up your instrument and tune it with justice.

Chris: Yeah, I like the idea of finding what is your thing. You're not gonna do everything. Imagine in a worship service trying to tackle every aspect of justice work. You know it'd be a seven month long endeavor of just lament and calling, and all of that. But yeah, the particularity of someone's gifting in context. 

And as worship leaders, I think what a unique opportunity worship leaders have, practitioners have! I wanna push into that a little bit. How can a worship leader in a local church context, like super practical, begin to create that space? I mean, we've established, you know you got to be courageous. You need to take some courage. And you need to find something. But, you know, for the worship leaders who's like “I don't know if my community is ready,” what do you say?

Joyce: I mean there's so many things that you can do. And if you're just talking about the worship service in and of itself, what are we praying for, right? Like we are all one body, so your concern should be my concern. So even if you just take it to your very local community, what is happening in your local community that we need to be praying about? And include that in our prayers. And then ask “what is going on in our country?” And then more broadly, the world, creation, I mean—those things. What are the issues of justice that we need to be praying about?  I think that's the easiest, low hanging fruit to start with. 

But you know it can be our confessions. What are we confessing? If we use prayers of confession regularly, what are we confessing? It can be part of our sermons and the application of our sermons. It can be in our sending, as we send people out, we're sending them out to join the Spirit, and what the Holy Spirit is doing in the world around us. And what is the Holy Spirit doing? I mean it's building that kingdom which is the kingdom of Shalom, where there is no injustice. So that's our calling. So are we going to say it at the end of our worship service?

Or do we just say goodbye? Do we say “hey, you're going out now and joining in this important work that all of us are called to do.” 

Katie: Another super practical thing: consider spending a certain amount of time using liturgies and prayers, sermons preps, commentaries by authors of color, and authors of different voices.

It's one thing to pray for and it's another thing to pray with and be led by. So consider that. Voicing is very much a thing, right? Like if your pastor is the one who's offering the prayer that they have scripted in their voice every week, it's gonna be a very different thing to hear it from somebody else. So allow yourself to be led in worship and in sermon, preparation and preaching by authors of color and of different points of view.

Chris: Yeah. Oh, yeah, that's a good one. Because you know the idea of—we read Paul's teachings on “there is no male or female, nor no Jew nor Greek—or Jew or Gentile…” And we think like, “oh, yeah, because we're trying to create this Christian monoculture.” But it's not, right? Our worship can be expressive of the diversity and the beauty that is in the community.

I think that's great point Katie, to hear, even to ask the question “whose voices are we hearing here?” That's a fair question you know. And it could be jarring. It could be destabilizing a little bit, but it's an important question. And I think we really need to ask.

Joyce: And we can tie it into missions, too, right? So if you have a mission Sunday, and you know we have missionaries from Haiti coming. So what's going on in Haiti? Well, you know what is the impact of climate change in countries like Haiti? It is pretty startling. And so talking about that, singing a song from Haiti that connects to that, a prayer written by somebody from Haiti. So there's this tangible connection. It isn't just happening.

I think people have a stronger reaction when things are just dropped into your worship and don't make sense. Like “why are we singing this thing from Haiti?” But if you introduce it in terms of “hey, we support these missionaries from Haiti. We're going to hear their report later today. Let's join in prayer with our Haitian siblings in Christ.  So things like that. 

Katie: I totally agree with what Joyce said and there's something to be said for careful preparation with that, too. I think oftentimes people kind of do the big shock value things that, like what Joy said, get dropped into the middle of a service, whether it be photos or videos or something that's kind of there for the shock value. But if we're going to make injustice a reality, we need to not have it be an “out there” moment, but an “in here” moment, too. And careful preparation, and even careful explanation as to why we're doing what we're doing, not just for the sake of shock value, but for the sake of when one part of the body suffers all parts suffer, too. 

Chris: Oh, yeah, I love that. 

Joyce: Can I offer one word of caution to what I just said?

Chris: I love it. We're gonna edit ourselves as we go but that's ok.

Joyce:  It is: when we do this we often like, “Oh, all the injustices out there.” And so it's really easy to point out a country like Haiti. When we're using their prayers, when we're singing their songs, receive that as a gift that they're giving us. And that there's also riches and wonderful things there. So let's not look at just injustice's quote unquote “out there'' but also the ones that are equally happening in our own context. So there needs to be a balance there. And when we're ever talking about other countries to balance the beautiful also with injustices.

Chris: Right. Yeah, yeah, I had an experience—well, we just had it where we were talking a little bit about one of the statements that Claudio had made in that interview: “no baptism until the water is clean.” And I had mentioned. Yeah, well, you know like we all know about the water situation in Flint, Michigan. I'm in Canada. We also all know about the water situation anywhere north of Thunder Bay in First Nations communities.

So I think that's a really powerful encouragement from you Joyce, to be open and to not always be looking outward, but to also just see what's happening contextually in our own settings as well.

I’m interested to know—because I'm really grateful for both of you. And I think one of the really cool things about our partnership is that I've become more acquainted and attuned to what WorshipMinistries does, what the two of you do, some of the some of the work that you two have put together. And I I trust you both. And I'm just really thankful for your wisdom and your willingness to serve in this capacity. 

But, you know, I've been a worship leader. I've been in pastoral ministry and I think one of the things that always and planning a worship service can be the best and also just the hardest, worstest experience. Sometimes because you don't know what to do. But we're talking about incorporating justice into our worship service or or structuring our worship services around a justice practice. Tell us about a time where you've done that. You’ve put a practice of justice or a concern of justice into a worship service. What did that look like? 

Katie: A great question, Chris. Before jumping into an actual story, I also want to say that incorporating justice into worship is always going to be contextual. What works in my context or in your context, Chris, or in yours, Joyce, is always going to look a little bit different. So as we talk about ideas and about stories they're not going to necessarily translate from one congregation to another, because every congregation has its own context, and it's coming from a different place. 

But in my particular context. I live out in Washington, D.C. And planning worship services around justice has just kind of always been a thing by nature of where we live. Almost 70% of my congregation are Federal employees of the government. So imagine planning worship for16 election cycles in a row. That’s how long I've been at that church. Planning worship before election day, and then planning worship after election day, it's always going to be very contextual. 

One thing that comes to mind, a story specifically, was after the events of January sixth, the attack on the national capital. Regardless of what you think of those days or your opinion on those days, for those of us who live and work in Washington, DC as a part of the government, or even just as citizens here, that moment hit very close to home for this congregation. Because it was literally in their backyard. And so after that happened, we took a little while to figure out how to faithfully worship. How do we begin  a worship service that Sunday for a congregation that was in many ways reeling? And ultimately what we came down to was: Bible, song, contemporary testimony.

So we started our service that week with the declaration from Our World Belongs to God that says, “as followers of Jesus Christ living in this world, which some seek to control, and others view with despair, we declare with joy and with trust, that our world belongs to God,” followed up by singing This is My Father's World. There is nothing political or necessarily justice-oriented in those words. But for us, in that moment, that heartbeat of justice underneath, that carried us through some really difficult days. It was something that we sent out to the denomination as well, with somebody recorded inside the national capital, and hoping and praying that that was a gift to them as well, a way to think about an event like that through justice and through the contextual lens.

Chris: Yeah, Joyce, what about you? Has there been a time where—and thanks Katie for that. Like as a Canadian, I mean, I see these things, but I can only imagine what stuff like that is like to go through when this is happening in your own backyard. You need to make sense of it. 

What about you, Joyce? Has there been a time or a moment where, “hey this is happening, or this is something that we care about, we want to incorporate that in our worship service”? What did it look like when you did the same?

Joyce: The times I've done it, I’ve done it through prayer. So what frustrates me is when something big has happened. There's been an earthquake. We finally admit to numerous bodies buried, you know, behind residential schools. I don't wanna say it was discovered because folks knew they were there, but we're finally admitting it. We're finally giving numbers to it. And then we come to church on Sunday, and it's not mentioned. And that frustrates me.

Because these are important things. And our world is so small that there's people connected to those events sitting in the pew. I mean, we might say here, let's say at my church in the States,“well, nope, we don't need to pray about what just happened in Canada, because we're here.”

Well, I'm a Canadian. I heard and felt that news in a particular way. I am sure there are Indigenous persons who are hearing and feeling that news in another way. If we don't acknowledge that, if we don't acknowledge the pain if we don't pray that this injustice gets righted in the best way possible—understanding that it's never going to be righted completely— people don't feel like they belong. And we don't know what to do with our heart cry. Because if we can't cry out to God in worship out these things, then we don't know how to do it in our own personal lives. And it is so important to acknowledge these things in worship. And even to “you know what? I wrote this prayer ahead of time. I need to rewrite it.” You know, if you write it ahead of time. Or at least make sure you include it somehow. Write a note: I need to include this in my prayer. Normally, if I'm leading congregational prayer on Sunday morning, I make sure before I step into the church that I've checked the headlines and that those things are acknowledged. 

And then, as we're leading in prayer, that we use “our” language, not “their” language. “Those of us” who are grieving right now, the loss of so many lives in residential schools, Indigenous lives. Because “those of them” says there's no Indigenous people in my congregation. Or there's nobody connected to the situation. 

I mean we can use Ukraine as well. We pray for those of us as Christians throughout this world who are suffering, who are fearful, who are worried about family members. I mean, there are people, probably, in our congregations who have relatives in Ukraine or are somehow connected.

So just again enfolding that we are one. The body of Christ is big, and there are brothers and sisters, siblings in Christ who are suffering in Ukraine, who are suffering south of the border, and who are struggling with injustices in our own congregation. It's “those of us.” It's it's not outside, 

So, being attuned to that, and needing to make sure we say those things. And invariably, when I do in worship when I have the opportunity to lead, people come up and express great gratitude that their prayer, their heart prayer was mentioned.

Katie: Another interesting dynamic to piggyback on what Joyce just said. Worship Ministries is often approached after big events for prayers, or for a liturgy, or a litany of some sort that will fit well into the service for that Sunday. Churches are often looking for that. I'm also gonna challenge churches that these are words that you should be writing and thinking through and praying on your own.

In the event of a natural disaster, or some kind of catastrophe, instead of a prayer that someone else has written, do the hard work yourself of writing that prayer, of leading your people in prayer.

Chris: Yeah, I have a question then, from that space. Because like I said, I have been a worship leader. I had opportunity. So what do you say to the worship leader like me who says “but I don't think I have the right words for it. I'm not sure if I have the right words.”

Joyce: I think you admit it. I think you say “God, I don't know. I don't have the words for this situation. I can't imagine what people are thinking or feeling at this point.”

I'm white. If I'm leaving a prayer about injustices, racism, “God I know I don't fully understand this context. Please hear the prayers of the persons of color, our African American brothers and sisters. Our Asian community. And be especially present to them.”

So maybe I don't have those words. If I have the opportunity ahead of time, can I talk to one of my Asian brothers and sisters and say, “Hey, you know, what is it that you need prayer for?” Or invite them to lead the prayer. 

Yeah, so I think there's nothing wrong with saying “I don't know enough. And I don't have the words.” But you still acknowledge that there's pain, that there's injustice, that we need to bring it to God. Or else you know what? Turn to the Psalms. Great stuff there. You’d think it came from God or something.

Katie: Yeah. And alongside those Psalms I think that there is a space, a much needed space for silence that accompanies any service around justice issues. I remember a Sunday after a beloved congregation member died pretty unexpectedly, and we didn't have words for the first several minutes of that service, and we literally sat in silence. And whether that was the silence of just shared grief together, or whether those were prayers of lament and a groaning,

I'm not not so sure. But there is power in silence and I would like to believe that the Holy Spirit works in mighty ways in silence. It's also a major disruption from our normal routines, that draws us out of the hustle and bustle of the commute to work feeding children in the morning, or whatever else your day looks like and it draws you into a countercultural space and place to let the Holy Spirit do work. So maybe there don't always have to be words. Maybe silence will suffice. 

Chris: That's a good place I think, for us to land and pause. And Katie and Joyce, I'm really thankful that we've had the opportunity to to chat a bunch of times and to get to know each other a little better and to work together on this season. I'm thankful for the work that you do and I know our listeners are grateful for spaces that both of you courageously step into. Thank you for helping us find our voice. Thank you for helping us shape our worship. Thank you for helping us focus in. And I feel empowered to be able to step out in the space of worship and worship leadership to try. To try, and it will be okay. And you know we can always do better. But what we bring we bring with love, and we bring in humility, and we bring in anticipation, as an offering to God. So thankful for you both, thankful for the work that you both do. Thanks for joining us.

Joyce: Thank you, Chris.

Katie: Thanks Chris. 


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