Renowned tennis pro Boris Becker is quoted as having said, “The eyes of some of the fans at Davis Cup matches scare me. There’s no light in them. Fixed emotions. Blind worship. Horror.” That same sentiment might describe worship services you’ve attended or even planned, implemented, and led.
What’s the cure for passive, “blind” worship? The Holy Spirit is certainly in charge of taking our good intentions and turning them toward life-changing actions in the people we serve. But what can we do to facilitate the “space” into which the Spirit might breathe? Can we help make worship more than a mindless spectator sport?
The Frog in the Kettle
Worship services too often become passive experiences because too often we have over time become passive worship planners. This is a very dangerous and insidious part of the weekly responsibility we have of getting ready for “church.” It’s like the infamous “frog in the kettle.” Before you know it, we’ve been boiled in our own pot.
When it comes to preparing our services each week, we can fill in the blanks from last week with similar events, or we can make something stand out and become pivotal in the hearts and minds of congregants. The latter requires some important steps.
Consider the bullet points below before you do anything else this week.
- Ask the pastor for his/her behavioral objective–ask for the “take away”
Every worship service is designed to honor and glorify God, but there is another goal that every pastor would like to achieve. Pastors want people to remember what was said and experienced as part of worship. No pastor wants a sermon to be forgotten on Monday–and musicians, except when things go wrong, suffer from the same obsession.
Plan for the behavioral objective, which Dr. Bob Kizlik, in the context of education, defines this way, “Descriptions of observable student behavior or performance that are used to make judgments about learning–the ultimate aim of all teaching.”
If the pastor gives you a strange telltale “upper tooth look” suggesting that he doesn’t understand a word you just said, start the answer for him:
“The congregation will understand–or will be motivated to–or will be persuaded that–or will be challenged to–or will be comforted by–or will discover that…”
Once you’ve established where you want to go, you have a better chance of arriving
at the appropriate destination. Always have a destination!
- Spend significant time finding the right musical content to make an impression on people’s hearts–don’t try to impress them with your skill or showmanship
Too often those of us in music ministry try to create hugely climactic moments in worship–you know, louder, faster, and in D major or higher. It may engender applause (horrors), but the reality is that this is generally only the congregation’s release of adrenaline caused by the decibel level of the piece. Of course the congregation might be reacting to the message of the text, but many times we have simply manipulated the moment to our advantage by “pumping the room” full of sound. Good content is rarely about volume. Instead it is almost always about meaning and placement.
- Relate the moment to the most appropriate part of the service
Declamatory moments usually belong to thanksgiving and praise and quiet moments usually belong to prayer and reflection. Give space for the moment–don’t rush it–let it sink in by the pacing of your presentation, showing that you believe it’s important.
- Care about the result
Don’t let 48 hours pass without completely debriefing the ultimate impact of the moment you offered as a sacrifice. You may find that you blew it. You may find that is was meaningful beyond your wildest dreams. Either way, you will learn and get better at intentional planning. If you widen your base of input you will find it even more helpful. Go beyond the comments of your pastor, loved ones, and trusted friends to test reaction to the experience. Remember, you’re not looking for compliments, you’re looking for the truth.
The Plan in Action
O.K., you know sort of what you’re supposed to do—let’s create a moment.
The pastor says, I want the congregation to understand that God is the healer of addictive behaviors.
This is actually a pretty good behavioral objective. Were it written more formally it might read, “The congregation will understand and accept God’s grace and forgiveness for destructive behaviors.”
Your first thought is Amazing Grace because you know people know it well. You have
a multi-generational congregation, so you choose to use Chris Tomlin’s Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) with the very haunting chorus:
My chains are gone, I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace
You’re already half way to your moment.
Focus your prayer time in the service on aspects of confession. Leave spaces for people to silently fill in the blanks where they sense God needs to heal them from the slavery of negative behaviors. Lead this toward the Lord’s Prayer.
During the Lord’s Prayer begin the intro for Amazing Grace very quietly. If you have a worship leader with a Chris Tomlin voice (how blessed you are!) let him begin the song with the first verse. Let everyone else in on the second and add parts as you continue through the song, but not all at once. There’s a double chorus in the middle of the arrangement–let your bass player and drummer “express” themselves a little. People should feel a little ripped open. But, whatever you do, let the piece finish down–way down.
The pastor could preach right after this moment or a testimony from someone in your congregation could punctuate the meaning of God’s grace in their life. Whatever you do right after the song, be sure you leave at least a couple of beats before anyone speaks. The piano going on for a few bars will actually help people regain composure.
This may not seem like a very momentous piece of planning (see below for a different worship plan solution in the context of a service), but sometimes it just takes a little nudge to make people consider the gravity of the hour they have spent in God’s presence. If you try to recall past services you’ve attended, you rarely can recall more than one thing about them. God put a digital jpeg in your memory bank on purpose—He knows what you need to save.
(To read a transcript of follow up Q&A from when I presented this subject as a webinar, click here.)
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