Maybe you’ve picked up this issue of Reformed Worship right away, and you’re ready to start planning for Advent and Christmas. Yet many of you are still busy planning the more “Ordinary” services in the months leading up to Advent. Planning ahead often takes a back seat to planning for next Sunday.
In fact, the church year always seems to begin twice, once in the fall, as many programs get a fresh start, and again in Advent, the traditional beginning of the Christian year. This year many churches will also be planning special services to mark the transition to a new century and new millennium. (Although the new millennium doesn’t officially begin until January 1, 2001, many churches will mark this transition at the beginning of the year 2000.)
We are busy people, and our meetings are often filled with lists of things to do. As a consequence, our prayer life, our “being with” rather than “doing for” God, is either private and alone or in the public context of the whole community at worship. But worship planners are busy “doing for” as well as “being with” God during worship. Sometimes it’s hard not to continue to make plans, analyze, and critique, even during a worship service.
Take Some Time Out
Perhaps you’ve gotten in a rut or are feeling burned out or need some fresh energy to work together as pastors and musicians, as worship committees and planning teams, as visual artists and drama groups, as those who minister to children and youth and . . . The list is longer than ever, and the challenge is greater than ever. (You might have noticed one little change in our masthead on the cover beginning in this issue: we changed our byline from “resources for music and liturgy” to “resources for planning and leading worship” to better reflect the broader emphasis of RW in recent years.)
Either this fall or perhaps around the beginning of the new year, why not take a bit of a retreat from all the planning? Perhaps it’s time to bridge the gap between individual private devotional life and public worship. Here are just a few suggestions—you may well want to add to the list.
- Pray for each other. In your personal devotions, decide to regularly pray for all those involved with you in worship planning and leadership.
- Pray with each other. Begin or end your regular planning sessions by praying for each other as well as for those people you are gathered to serve—the young and the old, the eager and the reluctant, the committed and the explorer, the secure and the anxious. It is too easy to consider yourselves the norm when making decisions. People come to worship with different personalities and backgrounds—educationally, musically, culturally, ethnically, economically, in age and gender. Those who plan need to hold in their hearts the entire community.
- Seriously ask some questions about the composition of your planning group. Is a solo approach too frequently used in planning? It may be easier but not wiser to plan alone, especially on a consistent basis. Too many pastors try to do it all. The “lone ranger” approach inevitably begins to reflect the personality and the preferences of one person, and those who learn and respond in different ways eventually are marginalized. Some churches are struggling with the opposite problem; so many people are involved that different approaches swing the congregation in different directions.
- Go to at least one worship conference together with at least two or three others from your planning team, including the pastor. More conferences are offered every year, and the purpose is not merely to learn more to take home, but to be together as worshipers rather than as planners. For starters, get some brochures from the conferences listed on page 48.
- Here’s a slightly rewritten tenth commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s choir or organ or preacher or worship team or art budget or architecture or anything else that “belongs” to another congregation.
- Finally, love each other. When all is said and done, remember not only the first but also the second basic commandment, again slightly rewritten here: You shall love your congregation as yourself. That goes for all the members, warts and all. Just as worship is a verb; so is love. One church organist said that his favorite sound in all the world was the sound of his congregation singing. He loved them. That’s the Spirit speaking in and through him! Let us be known by how much we love each other.