Posted 3 years 273 days ago ago by Doug Lawrence 0 Comments
This month's questions address the issue of finding appropriate ways for improving and expanding upon our understanding of what constitutes good and healthy worship. A few remarks from the "comments" sections might be perceived as negative. That is not my intent, nor should these remarks be construed as critical of the missional church. The questions and statements raised in these comments are reflective of comments I receive on an almost daily basis from colleagues in churches around the country...You!
What are your perceived beliefs about your church's strengths and weaknesses in worship?
I have never met a worship leader who didn't have an opinion about ways in which their services of worship were totally unique and wonderful. Occasionally, WLs will also reveal ways in which they think they can improve. When you work as hard as the average church musician does, it takes great courage to admit that there may be weaknesses in planning or execution. It's always very impressive, therefore, when a dedicated leader can confess a need for growth. The purpose of this question is to examine, objectively, what's really going on in your worship environment. It does absolutely no good to continue to believe that everything is "fine" when, in truth, there are areas that need to be addressed. I've always found it best to ask three groups of people to give me input—the leadership staff, my co-creators, and the congregation. Don't be afraid of what you'll hear. Rather, look forward to the learning process and how it might help you achieve greater and more meaningful connection between God and your congregation in worship.
Is there one particular area of worship that you never discuss because, "you just don't want to get into it?"
After visiting countless churches as a sort of "secret shopper," I have discovered that there are always areas where church leaders are "visually impaired." Take for example, the church pianist or organist. Back in the day, when most churches had an organist (not usually the case these days) I often heard these exact words from church musicians— "Our organist is the wife of the pastor, and I have no recourse but to use her." Sometimes the excuse for poor performance was blamed on the fact that the organist had been there for 30 years and had somehow lost touch with what was going on in the church music world. He/she was, never-the-less, "well loved." The "sacred cow" syndrome is very common in churches. There are simply things we don't want to talk about, and maybe shouldn't talk about. That's not to say, however, that these problems can't be mitigated by good leadership. For example, with organists, I often recommended simplified scores available from various publishers that would provide the organist with a "win" option. I understand that this example is a little out of date at the moment, but I feel strongly that every deficit has the potential for creating new solutions. The "elephants on the table" can usually be addressed and resolved by simply admitting that they are there.
In what ways can we poll our congregation about worship without actually taking a poll?
I often read and hear about horror stories from congregations where an opinion poll has been generated to find out more about the congregation's tastes and perceptions about, "how things are going." Perhaps you have lived through some of these experiences and realized too late in the process that you were simply going to stir up old issues that may or may not have any relevance to the information you were seeking. A congregation in New England I was coaching nearly split over a single poll they had implemented to discuss the choosing of the the color of new carpeting they hoped to install. This might seem kind of silly, but the difficult stories that resemble this one are legion. Polls occasionally work, but more often than not, the desired information can be gathered by simply asking questions privately and without drama. One pastor I know has a cadre of previous leaders in the church who functioned as information gatherers helping him to think through the "little" stuff and free him to lead through larger issues with his current leadership. Figure out ways to enlist people's help in the decision-making process without opening old wounds.
How can we stimulate our congregation to think about new and innovative changes in our worship?
Every preacher knows that a good story is worth its weight in gold when placed strategically in the sermon. The same is true for great comments and observations that come directly from your congregation with regard to worship. For example, a young student once asked me following a service if I knew where he could get a copy of Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
. I told him he could take a hymnal home and copy all of the words that had so impressed him. "Is that legal," he asked? "Yes," I told him— "the poem is in public domain, and you're free to write or print the words anywhere you please." "How old is it," he asked. "Very old," I said. He was somewhat surprised and said he had never heard the tune before. The point? We make too many assumptions about what people know and/or like about worship. We need to get over that and start talking more about why we sing something or say something or observe something or love to experience something in our worship services. Talk about worship as something the community "does," not "likes!" Think about ways to change things without using the word "change." Think about ways to "experience" worship rather than just talking about it. If we usually say we want to attract new people to the church (particularly young people), what message are we sending to the people who are sitting in our worship services? Isn't what they are experiencing week in and week out also an important consideration?
How can we get our congregation to "engage" with God in their worship experiences?
There have been thousands of spokesmen on this subject for many years. I still find it strange, however, that churches evaluate their worship on the basis of how many people attended. This should never be the benchmark of what constitutes "good" when it comes to worship. Rather, we should always be thinking more about people's response and dedication to the "work" of worship. Engaging people's attention and eagerness in worship is a far greater goal than simply filling the room with bodies. Keep asking yourself how you can engage your congregations in this singular endeavor. When asked to define worship several years ago I gave this simple and, undoubtedly, inadequate response. "As God meets with us, we delight in His company." I've always felt that being delighted with God was more important than simply being... well, delighted!
Are we building strong worshiping habits in our congregation?
Look, I'm an evangelical Christian, and I believe that we ought to be in the habit and practice of telling more and more people about the Good News. I believe every church in America (in the world, for that matter) needs to be in the business of seeking converts. The problem is, many times we are so concerned about drawing in those potential believers that we fail to actually worship the One who offers us the Good News. I'm not bashing evangelism, but if we fail to give people an opportunity to come into the presence of God and worship him fully we are not leaders of the church—we are captains of growth and overseers of bottom lines. There, I feel better. :-)
Can we find a correlation between being a "healthy worshiping congregation" and a growing church?
Without question the answer to this should, of course, be "Yes!" Why would we ever believe that healthy worshipers are unattractive to the world at large? People who are dedicated, devout, and "healthy" in their personal beliefs will always be attractive to those around them. Christians, and churches for that matter, are viewed with skepticism only when they refuse to attempt to live up to their own proclamations of faith. The more we focus on the trappings of growth and marketing, the less we will be able to genuinely bring people to Christ through our churches.
So, we might conclude that...
If we are truly honored to to say that we have been called to lead worship, is worship the net result of what we're actually doing? It is not "over the top" to suggest that many of us have been focused on everything but worship for a long time. These questions should function as a reality check for those of us involved in helping other people to have an encounter with a living God. This is not a theological discussion, but it's still a discussion worth having. Encourage your leadership to ask these questions...
Doug Lawrence, internationally recognized speaker, author, and advisor, helps churches assess and improve their skillfulness in creating engaging worship experiences by utilizing his more than 35 years of "deep trench" worship leadership in prominent mainline churches. has been a consultant to church leaders for 35 years and is anxious to be helpful to you in leadership, musical, and staffing considerations. Or, if you wish, call 650.207.8240 for assessment information and scheduling.
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