A Case for Collaboration: Practical Advice for Planning Worship Together

Norma de Waal Malefyt (norma.malefyt@calvin.edu) and Howard Vanderwell (howard.vanderwell@calvin.edu) are Resource Development Specialists at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. This article is adapted from their new book (see box) based on many years of fruitful collaboration as senior pastor and music director at Hillcrest Christian Reformed Church, Hudsonville, Michigan.

Collaborators are co-laborers. The end product of their work is of higher quality because all have contributed their best in a team effort. Sadly, that’s not always the case with worship planners. You may know about that firsthand. Sometimes worship planners don’t work well together. Or they don’t meet together at all. In some cases, pastors and musicians simply don’t talk to each other. Eric Routley calls this “a wicked waste of an opportunity for glorifying God through fruitful partnership” (Church Music and Theology, Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p.110).

When leaders co-labor, people with different gifts and different training merge their hearts and create a whole that is greater than all the parts.

Qualifications

But simply telling folks to work together won’t necessarily accomplish the task. Putting pastors and musicians together in a room on Tuesday and expecting them to work compatibly may be whistling in the dark. Certain necessary ingredients must be present. Compatibility, trust, and respect are the non-negotiable ingredients of every effective planning team.

Qualifications of the Heart

Anyone can plan a patriotic rally or a company picnic, but only spiritually healthy people can be effective in planning worship of God. Such planners have a keen sense of God’s holiness and are conscious of the momentous act of stepping into God’s presence. They see themselves as priestly leaders, stepping into the space between God and people, sometimes speaking for God and other times speaking for the people. Their own spiritual life is growing and vibrant. They deeply love both Christ and his church locally and worldwide, even as they experience its warts and weaknesses. They are pastorally sensitive, aware of the needs, struggles, and hurts of those who come to worship. These planners bring “soul” to their planning efforts.

Qualifications of the Head

These planners have a theology of worship that is anchored in the Bible’s teaching. They continue to study the issues of worship and are not swayed by every new wind or fad that comes along. They know that worship is the primary work of the church that forms the congregation for all its other ministries. A willingness to submit their own personal preferences for the sake of the whole, a clear understanding of the role of a worship planner, and an ability to communicate clearly with others make these planners valuable members of the team. They can be honest and candid together, without endangering respect and trust.

Qualifications of the Hand

Worship planners also need to be available! These folks are willing to give themselves for the work. They schedule the necessary time for the tasks, carry out assignments, and find satisfaction in discovering and developing their own gifts and helping others do the same.

It’s Worthwhile!

Identifying people with these sets of qualifications to serve on a worship planning team will serve both them and the church well. Many worship planners will testify that being part of a collaborative team can bring a high degree of satisfaction. They find that team discussions increase their creati- vity, provide a wider range of insight and knowledge, and result in healthy variety in the worship life of their congregation. Sometimes a team of planners provide a healthy corrective for one another. So often each of us sees only a slice of reality; we need to rely on others to add their slices. We need others to talk with us, to question us, to challenge us, to add new insights and engage in careful evaluation.

Such collaboration proves to be better for the congregation too. Worship can have a healthier balance between structure and spontaneity, freshness and sameness, lay and clerical leadership, and local focus and global awareness when multiple minds and hearts are involved in the planning. Congregations can learn and benefit from the heritage of others when their planners research elements of worship from other traditions. They will discover how much the church of Christ has in common. Multiple planners can work towards the goal of integrating a service from beginning to end while reinforcing a worship theme in multiple ways. The pastor can explain it in the sermon, musicians can celebrate it in singing and playing, artists can reinforce it in their visual offerings.

Working together is not easy. But planners who set aside their personal agendas and convenience can join others in a collaborative effort to provide God-honoring worship. That’s what the apostle Paul was talking about in 1 Corinthians 12—one body, many gifts, all serving the common good!

 

Excerpt

Sample Agenda for a Worship Committee Meeting

The worship committee often meets monthly to supervise the worship life of the church but not to practice hands-on planning.

  1. Opening devotions.
  2. Review minutes of the previous meeting.
  3. Study session on some issue or principle of worship.
  4. Review of worship services during the past month.
  5. Brainstorm ideas for worship services during the coming month.
  6. Task force reports (such as greeters, ushers, sound operators, nursery, music, sanctuary visuals, and so on).
  7. Miscellaneous matters.
Sample Agenda for a Worship Planning Team

The worship planning team needs to meet at least weekly in order to adequately design the worship services for the congregation. Though it’s not possible for a planning team to take time to study each week, a team will greatly benefit from a study session together at least monthly.

  1. Opening devotions.
  2. Study session on some issue or principle of worship (once a month).
  3. Review worship services of the past week.
  4. Identify worship service(s) to be planned in this session.
  5. Receive information from the pastor concerning sermon, Scripture, and theme.
  6. Receive information from musicians concerning anthems being prepared.
  7. Agree on the overall theme of the service—expressed in a succinct statement!
  8. Contribute suggestions of hymns, songs, litanies, prayers, readings, and other events.
  9. Arrange all items to create a flow of worship and reinforce its theme.
Keep Your Team Fresh!

Teams that supervise and plan worship need to stay fresh. Here are two suggestions for cultivating planners’ continued freshness and energy for their task:

  1. Encourage personal reading and study by each member. The best team members are those who are vibrantly growing Christians. Provide articles and books on the life of the church, especially its worship life, and encourage planners to read them. They’ll come to the meeting better able to contribute positively.
  2. Incorporate group study by committees and planning teams. Spending a half-hour each month in group study and discussion of some issue or principle of worship is well worth the time and effort it requires. Consider using resources such as articles from Reformed Worship, Authentic Worship in a Changing Culture (CRC Publications) or Worship Words, a new resource from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship designed for small group study www.calvin.edu/worship/resources).

Models for Planning Teams

Here are five general models churches use to structure a worship planning team. Your congregation’s size, resources, culture, and history will influence which model is appropriate for you.

Staff-Driven Planning

In a larger church where there is a staff position devoted to music and worship, the pastor and another staff person lead in worship planning.

Pastor and Musician Teams

A pastor works closely in partnership with a musician who volunteers for worship-planning tasks. This model is most common in smaller congregations that have no staff positions for musicians.

Lay Planning Teams

Members of the congregation volunteer (or are appointed) to serve on a worship planning team for a set period ranging from one to three years. The team meets weekly for worship planning. Rotating membership balances continuity with freshness. The pastor also participates on the planning team.

Multiple Planning Teams

Members of the congregation share responsibility for worship planning for a specific number of weeks. Some teams may take one week a month, others a month at a time, and still others will be responsible for a season of the church year. Multiple teams rotate on the schedule; the pastor participates with each team.

Staff and Committee Partnership

The worship committee meets at least monthly and keeps an active hand in evaluating past worship and brainstorming for future services. The  weekly planning of worship is left in the hands of staff members.

Norma de Waal Malefyt (nld2@calvin.edu) is Resource Development Specialist in Congregational Song for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

 

Howard D. Vanderwell was the Resource Development Specialist of Pastoral Leadership for the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, the author and editor of The Church of All Ages and Caring Worship: Helping Worship Leaders Provide Pastoral Care through the Liturgy, and co-author of Designing Worship Together.