Worship Teams, Committees, and Staff Positions

  • Our church has a part-time worship coordinator and rotating worship teams, but everyone is feeling burned out. What advice do you have for restructuring our work?
  • Our music director is retiring, and we want to revise the job description. We want to involve more people in worship. Is it really wise to hire a musical “performer” for a job like this?
  • Our church has always had a volunteer choir, choir director, and organist, but now our people are demanding more excellence, and church growth experts say that growing churches put resources into excellence. Won’t we lose something in the process?
  • We have three praise teams that rotate among services. But each is so different that there is no coherence in our weekly worship. The lack of a consistent worship identity is hurting us. How can we restructure?

A These questions are a sign of the many structural changes churches are making around worship preparation and leadership. Here are few sample arrangements in congregations:

  • Model 1: The pastor preaches, plays the piano, prepares the bulletin, and cleans up afterward.
  • Model 2: A pastor-musician team plans and leads each service.
  • Model 3: A pair or trio of worship teams plan services on a rotating schedule.
  • Model 4: A group of planners work ahead to focus on a given season of the year.
  • Model 5: A standing planning committee meets weekly.
  • Model 6: There is no team at all; a worship planning template guides the pastor, musicians, media specialists, and artists to each contribute their piece with little consultation.
  • Model 7: Many teams are involved in each service: a sermon preparation
    group discusses the sermon text with the preacher; an arts group works on music, drama, dance, and visuals to complement the sermon; and a media team develops videos and slides to lead the congregation through the service.

Some churches have replaced their full time music director (hired for his or her musical gifts) with a worship coordinator (hired for pastoral and administrative gifts). Other churches have done just the opposite.

Some churches in which the pastor was involved very little in the planning process have now shifted back to making sure the pastor is integrally involved in the process. Others have done the opposite.

Some churches connect worship and education, hiring staff to coordinate and integrate both areas. Others connect worship and pastoral care, or worship and evangelism. Each combination can lead to very productive synergies.

With all this in mind, realize that there is no one right way to answer each of these questions. But some common themes and wisdom do emerge from all of this ferment.

Mutual learning. How can those involved in worship planning get ready answers to the question “What have you learned about faithful worship over the past year?” (Hint: do you have a group of people discussing Reformed Worship together?).

Accountability. Is there a clear structure for expressing gratitude and addressing problems that respects the church council as the center of authority? At minimum, consider annual constructive reviews of your process and the people involved so that gifts can be affirmed and weaknesses addressed.

Scripture and prayer. Do planners engage in their work prayerfully, with time to contemplate the central scriptural themes of a service? Is there evidence of this in the way that worship avoids cliché and gently challenges incomplete understandings of God’s beauty and character?

Giftedness. Does your structure give opportunities for people to use their gifts and to grow in them?

Proportional use of resources. On the one hand, worship is our beautiful offering to God, as precious as expensive oil. It is worth dedicating precious time and resources so that our worship is edifying and God-glorifying. On the other hand, some worship budgets have grown so large as to imply that it takes lots of money to worship God well. One gift of a well-conceived template for worship planning is that thoughtful and creative approaches can be introduced much more easily than in congregations who reinvent their approach to worship each week.

These themes do not answer all the questions above. But they do suggest how to approach them. Satisfactory approaches are not likely to arise simply by adopting the practice of a church across town or one you read about in Reformed Worship. Rather, they need to be locally generated by people who are aware of the wide array of options and who pause to ask deeper questions about a congregation’s unique mission, giftedness, accountability structures, and learning capacity.

For some churches, reading through this column may be sufficient to prompt a creative approach that no one else has yet developed. Other churches may need to search for a wise leader in another local congregation to help identify the unique strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to their worship ministries.

Rev. Dr. John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin University and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin University.

Reformed Worship 95 © March 2010, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.