On Supporting Worship Staff, Ponderous Planning Meetings, and Sloped Floors

Q Our congregation has almost no musical talent, and so we had to hire a music director from beyond our fellowship. The challenge is that both this director and the congregation are frustrated with things they see as both problematic and fixable, but have no good forum for dealing with them in ways that won’t cause all kinds of hurt. Do you have any advice for us?

—Illinois

A Many congregations have set up some kind of pastor support team, a group in which both the pastor and trusted members of the congregation can candidly discuss the pastor-congregation relationship. By communicating regularly, creating a trusting environment, and expressing mutual affirmation when appropriate, these teams create a context for dealing well with inevitable points of tension and conflict. Creating such a team for a church staff member is also appropriate, particularly when a staff member is not a member of the congregation. Ideally, a

support team for a worship-related position would include some people who participate regularly as lay leaders, musicians, and artists, as well as some who don’t, to ensure that the conversations engage a broad range of perspectives.

It is also very helpful for church councils to schedule regular worship review sessions with staff members present. Even three twenty-minute sessions can be valuable. Regular, intentional, honest, constructive communication is the key to a healthy church-staff relationship.

Q I love planning worship, but our planning meetings are dull and ponderous. Frankly, we all are tired, we are sick of dancing around delicate issues, and we often get stuck for hours on minor points. Any advice?

—Kansas

A In her thoughtful book Attentive to God: Spirituality in the Church Committee, Karen Marie Yust observes that the shape of many of our church discussions do not reflect the content of our belief. We often preach that everything depends on God, while we live as if everything depends on us! The inevitable result of working this way, even in churches, is fatigue. It’s a burden we simply can’t bear.

For roughly 1,600 years, the basic pattern of daily prayer in many Christian communities features three essential ingredients—Psalms of thanksgiving and longing, Scripture readings, and intercessory prayer. Why not have your meeting follow that agenda?

  • Start with one or two psalms. In light of those psalms, review worship services from the past few weeks, seeking to discern how God worked through those services. Express gratitude to God and to each other for signs of grace. Psalms 63, 65, and 66, for example, are filled with references to corporate worship. Their imagery and expressions provide a thought-provoking frame for reviewing past worship services. They won’t let you be content with simply rehearsing personal preferences.
  • Continue with a Scripture reading, perhaps the sermon text for the coming week. Start by exploring the spiritual significance of the text, and only then move on to settling on particular worship elements.
  • End with intercessory prayer, not only for the service you are planning, but also for the needs of your community and the world. Following the prayer, you might read a simple scriptural blessing, a source of encouragement grounded in God’s own promise to sustain us in ministry.

This approach weaves together prayer and practice. It promises to make the task of worship planning an encouraging spiritual discipline.

Q We’re designing a new worship space. What are the advantages or disadvantages of having a sloped floor?

—Ontario

A A slope may help with sightlines, especially in a large spaces. But it also can limit some uses of drama and dance. My own sense is that a lot depends on the grade of a slope. Just today I saw a photograph of a fairly steep slope that really did reinforce the “theater-like” feel of a passive, spectator congregation. I have also been in a church with a very slight slope that was almost imperceptible, but did help with sightlines from the back.

By far the most significant concern about it relates to accessibility for persons with physical disabilities. Worship spaces should be designed so that persons in wheelchairs and persons walking with crutches or walkers have access to the entire worship space.

 

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Any questions?

We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you’ll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids, MI 49560), fax (616-224-0803), or e-mail (info@reformedworship.org). You can also e-mail

John directly (jwitvlie@calvin.edu)

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.