Worship Essentials by Mike Harland is a useful book for any church leader to consider. Worship is at the core of what Christians do together. Harland reminds his readers what
Mike Harland is the Director of Worship for LifeWay Christian Resources. In the forward, Thom Rainer hails him as a go-to worship “guru” for the Southern Baptists. He is a Dove Award-Winning songwriter, and his blog and podcast WorshipLife are followed by worship leaders internationally.
The book is arranged into four Values, spread across ten chapters.
- Value One: Tell the Story
- Value Two: Make True Disciples
- Value Three: Engage the Body
- Value Four: Aspire with Purpose
The style of the book is conversational. Though it is clear Harland has done extensive reading and study in the area of worship, the book does not have an especially academic feel and is likely intended for more of a general audience.
I applaud Harland for insisting that the main thing should be the main thing. Everything should begin with a deep appreciation and longing for Jesus Christ. The book contains many pithy expressions that demonstrate his “guru” qualities. For example, he reminds us that even though worship produces something visible (10). “Authentic worship is observable in the life change of a heart consistently moving toward
Likewise, he invites us to think more deeply about the words of the songs we sing. Knowing that the story of Jesus is what drives our story, how well do our songs actually teach the story of Jesus (48)? This is a great question! In this kind of thinking, Harland helps us rise above some of the squabbles that are typical of “worship wars” to reflect on the deeper power of how our songs shape our community. It is worth reflecting on our “Heart Songs” to see what they express (44). I loved his emphasis on the importance of the worship and preaching ministers being in solid alignment. His insistence on being worshippers of depth and intention is one of the great strengths of the book.
As a member of the a cappella churches of Christ, it was interesting for me to read through Harland’s list of what he believes has become problematic in his contexts. In fact, they are an almost verbatim list of the kinds of cautions I would raise about my hesitance to add instruments, or extensive lighting and aesthetic effects.
His metaphor for explaining the problem is a useful one: Is the church a filling station or an altar? At a filling station, a person goes to receive something (“It’s about you”), but at an altar, a person goes to give something (“It’s about the glory of God”)(92). Because of the elements of loud bands, visual enhancements, and high-dollar sound enforcements, Harland laments that in so many churches, the people have stopped singing almost entirely. As a way to greater congregational involvement, he proposes churches should turn down or cut back on the music, or even try some a cappella singing as a way to bolster Christians back into active participation (106).
Overall, the content in the book is theologically healthy and rooted in deep personal experience. The main reason I was interested in the book was regarding the implementation side of how to help our worship be more in tune with its purposes, specifically with the involvement of key volunteers who help lead worship. The section that covers this is mostly contained within six pages, from 144-149. He expresses some good tips for how to work with worship teams, urging that well-coordinated groups who are focussed on drawing the church into meaningful worship serve as “The Enemies of Distraction.”
While his tips here are on point, I was disappointed that the section on implementation did not receive anywhere near as much treatment as his sections on theology or on common problems, which are most of the book. There is lots of great material and quotes to help create a healthy theology of worship, rooted in many Scriptures I had not considered before–and will continue to ponder. But for the nuts and bolts of what solid implementation might look like, I feel that with all of Harland’s experience, he was capable of providing a lot more guidance, caveats, and best practices for what a well-functioning worship team would look like, and how teams successfully navigate problems. Undoubtedly he has myriads of stories of how this can be done well, or how it can be done poorly. I would have loved to read them.
Though I thoroughly enjoyed the book, because I felt the book was more about theology than implementation, while its title hinted at the reverse, I would give it 4/5.