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On the Twelfth Year of Planning

Lessons from Advent and Christmas Planning

Let’s be honest: those of us who plan and lead worshipare often exhausted by January 1. Too oftenwe pour our imagination, energy, and time into theworship services and programs of the season andthen crash afterward. After a few decades of thiscycle, a few lessons have emerged for me. Try them on forsize, and just for fun use the lyrics at the end to sing themto the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”

1. Don’t try to do it alone.

This is a great idea for any time of worship planning,but especially for the many full services of Advent andChristmas. Invite others to plan and take leadership inthese services. More hands make lighter work, and havinga team of worship planners and leaders is a powerful statementof unity to your congregation.

This lesson comes with a great bonus: after a few years ofmentoring other worship planners and leaders and sharingthe responsibilities, you’ll have a strong team to carry the loadwith you. Maybe you won’t burn out this coming season!

2. Honor tradition.

Do you feel the pressure to come up with something innovativeevery year? Maybe you’re overestimating people’s wish fornovelty. While there’s some value in not letting worship getstale, it’s also important to consider the value of repetition.Honoring some traditions of Advent and Christmas worshipin your congregation offers a sense of stability and rootedness.Never repeat a tradition for its own sake, but for the ways inwhich it points to a faithful God.

3. Try something new.

This is, of course, the balance to the second lesson. Whyadd something new? Hopefully there are new worshipersin your congregation each year. Encourage them to bringtheir ideas and gifts into the family of God. New generations,new cultures, and new ethnicities help us renew theAdvent season each year.

4. Pray without ceasing.

Perhaps you are more disciplined than I am. My temptationduring the busy seasons of worship planning is to count thetime I spend working on worship services as my devotions.How many other jobs allow us the luxury of having worshipand work so tightly knit? But our worship planning shouldn’tsubstitute for daily conversations with our Lord.

5. Start in May.

The season of Advent seems to creep up and surprise useach year. We know it’s coming, but we figure we’ve gottime. The truth is we don’t have twelve months betweeneach Advent season. January through March doesn’t countbecause it’s too early, April through June focuses on Easterand the end of the church season. Then it’s summer, theadventstart of a new season, Thanksgiving, and all of the suddenit’s Advent again.

So start in May—before the summer break. Pull out youridea files in May and invite key leaders to a brainstormingparty in June or July to choose text, music, themes, and visuals.Pray and dream about the coming season. Good ideas—like fine wines—need time to age, so let the ideas from yourbrainstorming session percolate over the summer.

6. Be flexible.

Don’t write lesson 5 in stone, so that all creative decisionsare made by August with no wiggle room left. Be ready toadjust your plans to the realities of your church’s congregationallife.

7. Learn how to brainstorm.

Brainstorming is a powerful tool for worship planning,especially for segments of the church year such as Adventor Lent. Brainstorming requires a willingness to separatecreative and critical modes and imagine endless possibilitieswithout analyzing them for possible faults.

8. File good ideas.

Experience has taught me that if you don’t write down goodideas and put them somewhere you can retrieve them, you endup having to re-think and re-brainstorm the same topics everyyear. You don’t need to be in this line of work for a decade toknow that good files are your best friend. It’s true that worshipplanners should be creative people, but we honor our creativitybest when we match it with good administration.

9. Communicate completely.

The more we involve others in the planning and leading(see lesson 1) the more we need to communicate. Nothingdestroys the camaraderie of a worship-leading communitymore than assumptions and misunderstandings based onpoor communication. Put the details in writing and distributeschedules.

10. Spend time with children.

Christmas is about the Child, and somehow children seemto accept and celebrate the mystery of the incarnationwithout the skepticism common to adults. Enter the storywith them. Then commit to working with kids in worship.Don’t just put them on display as performers in their ownprograms. Integrate them into worship and allow them tobe a part of your church family.

11. Visit other churches.

Get away from the familiar sounds and smells and sights ofyour own church for a while. Worship or enjoy a musical programat another church. Revel in the reminder that you are partof the worldwide community of faith anticipating the arrivalof Emmanuel—both the ceremonial remembrance of his firstcoming and the longing for his coming again. Worship withoutanalyzing the music or liturgy and without taking notes tobring back to your worship committee. Take this time to listento what God is saying to you during this busy season.

12. Accept an invitation.

The art of worship planning is similar to that of hospitality.A good host thinks of all the details that bring peopletogether, creating an event that renews relationships.Doesn’t that sound like what we do in worship planning?The dangerous temptation is that we get good at controllingall the details but lose the skill of receiving the hospitalityof others. Sit down at someone else’s table, and receive thegift of grace and hospitality from another so that you maybe more open to receiving the gift of Christ himself.

Excerpt

(to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”)
From the first year of planning the lesson that I learned
was don’t try to do it alone.

From the second year of planning the lesson that I learned
was honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the third year of planning the lesson that I learned
was try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the fourth year of planning the lesson that I learned
was pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the fifth year of planning the lesson that I learned
was start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the sixth year of planning the lesson that I learned
was be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the seventh year of planning the lesson that I learned
was learn how to brainstorm,
be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the eighth year of planning the lesson I learned was
file good ideas,
learn how to brainstorm,
be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the ninth year of planning the lesson that I learned
was communicate completely,
file good ideas,
learn how to brainstorm,
be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the tenth year of planning the lesson that I learned
was spend time with children,
communicate completely,
file good ideas,
learn how to brainstorm.
be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the eleventh year of planning the lesson that I learned
was visit other churches,
spend time with children,
communicate completely,
file good ideas,
learn how to brainstorm,
be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition,
and don’t try to do it alone.

From the twelfth year of planning the lesson that I learned
was accept an invitation,
visit other churches,
spend time with children,
communicate completely,
file good ideas,
learn how to brainstorm,
be flexible,
start in May,
pray without ceasing,
try something new,
honor tradition. . .
and don’t try to do it alone.

Hear this sungby the staff of RW.