What Happens when we worship | Book review

During the Q&A time at our recent conference, ‘Together’, one of our speakers recommended a book called ‘What happens when we worship’ by Jonathan Landry Cruse,, as a helpful follow up from some of the content of the talks .

Should you read it? 


  • It has 15 chapters, 196 pages. It isn’t an academic book, but it isn’t a book you are likely to read in one easy sitting. So I would recommend it to anyone who wants to think seriously about worship when we gather.
  • I’m sure musicians, pastors and people in leadership in a local church will be initially drawn to the title, but I think every member of your church will find it helpful and encouraging, especially as we get back to more ‘normal’ church gatherings.  

OUTLINE – The book is split into 3 parts

  1. A theology of worship 
  2. The anatomy of a worship service 
  3. Preparing our hearts 

The book is unashamedly reformed in its view of worship and the gathering of God’s people each Sunday, so there maybe elements of part 1 that you haven’t heard before and emphasises that you may not agree with. That is understandable because a reformed theological perspective, particularly on the doctrines of worship, is so rarely taught in the UK. However Cruse will gently challenge you and point you to Scripture and I would encourage anyone to read this with their discernment spectacles on and with a humble heart. Whether you agree with everything Cruse says or not, he undoubtedly loves Jesus and submits himself to the authority of Scripture, he has a desire to gather and enjoy God in the ways God has kindly ordained for his church and he has many helpful insights that I’m sure will encourage you.  

Part 2 then applies the bible and theological meat of part 1 to the elements of the Sunday gathering, or the worship service. Again, you may not agree with everything he writes, but I found myself being reminded of some of the joys and unique privileges of gathering each Sunday with my church family. If your church family are anything like mine, you like me, will need reminding that despite dreary routined Sunday attendance at church and despite our post-pandemic wearied souls; when we gather as God’s people, when we gather under the faithful teaching of God’s Word, when we pray, when we celebrate and share the Lord’s Supper and when we read the Word of God – God is working and his work is so far from the ordinary, wearied, humdrum of our existence. 

I read a chapter of this book every day after my morning swim for a few weeks, while sipping on a beautiful Cortado. The caffeine kept my heart pumping fast, but more stimulating were the truths of God’s Word that Cruse kept driving home. They were a sweet, beautiful and timely reminder of how blessed we are to gather to worship Sunday by Sunday as God’s people. Right now we are all peering over the precipice of a pandemic existence and looking onto the plains of normality; but if you like so many, are weighing up priorities and future diary commitments, first please prayerfully consider the ultimate privilege of gathering physically each Sunday at church, under the Word of God. This book helped me and I trust it will help you, to make those good, God-honouring, joy-giving decisions.      

The book gets more practical as it nears the end and chapters 13-15 were my personal highlight. In ch13 (‘We sing a new song’), Cruse outlines our responsibility and joy to sing when we gather; in praise, in prayer and to proclaim. It made me long all the more for the day when we can legally rip off our masks and sing together! Whether you are a musician or a pastor, whether you are a tuneless fog-horn or a euphonious singer; Cruse reminds us from the the bible, that in Christ we sing a new song of salvation because He is victorious. We have so much to sing about, we have so much to be thankful for and God in his kindness has given us song to express that in the most beautiful, memorable and heart penetrating ways. My prayer is that when I can sing, I will sing as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once described;

‘The heart sings because it is overflowing with Christ’ 

As we dip our toes back into normality lets look forward to the simple, yet extraordinary privilege of gathering as God’s people under his Word. This book will challenge you and it will at times melt you, but only because it points you to the one who has saved you. He has ordained the ordinary means of gathering each Sunday with a mixed bunch of people in your church. I finished this book with a greater desire and priority to meet with them, to love them and be loved by them, to serve them and be served by them, to learn with them, to grow with them, to weep with them, to enjoy God with them, for his glory alone. I pray this book will encourage you in the same way. 

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