How do we Design Worship Together?
Recently, I was speaking with some church leaders about two critical worship concerns. As is commonly the case, they had experienced some tension in their church around worship and how staff members worked together, and how lay leaders felt a need for more support in their roles as worship committee members. Here's what I heard from these church leaders:
- How to plan vital worship for a healthy congregation?
- What does vital, healthy worship look like? What are some marks of healthy, dynamic worship that are easily grasped?
One marvelous resource I suggest for those two questions and many others is the recent book
Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning by Norma deWaal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell, who are affiliated with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I attended the Calvin Symposium on Worship, a yearly event, a couple of years ago and found it to be an outstanding event. It's held in January of each year.
In their book, Malefyt and Vanderwell make a strong case for collaboration in worship planning, a practice often missing in many churches and sometimes not handled all that effectively. They also note some common obstacles to collaboration:
- Incompatible views of worship. Some have a particular view of what traditional worship looks and feels like, while others have a certain notion of what contemporary worship means. Often, either assumption can be narrow or idiosyncratic.
- Insufficient available time. When key worship leaders, musicians and pastor, don't make the needed time to work together, along with lay leaders, worship planning suffers.
- Failure of partnerships
- Unwillingness of some to carry their weight
- Political poll taking. Those with different points of view, or with anxieties about fresh approaches, defensively start taking the pulse of the congregtion.
- Failure to plan ahead.
Malefyt and Vanderwell believe that a congregation's worship life will be richer when more people are involved in planning. At the same time, they recognize that bringing in more people presents challenges. Teams must communicate clearly and fully with one another. An important question they raise is, "Will all of the participants have adequate training in matters of worship?"
I find the suggestion to work on a Worship Purpose Statement to be quite valuable. It offers the opportunity to test our assumptions about worship in light of biblical, theological, and local customs. In my own Presbyterian (PCUSA church) we have an excellent "Directory for Worship" in our Consitution that offers much help in dealing with these theological and practical concerns.
In the course of reading Designing Worship Together, I came across a summary of vital and faithful worship offered by the well respected Presbyterian worship theologian, Tom Long, who teaches at Emory University. Long says that vital and faithful congregations:
- Make room, somewhere in worship, for the experience of mystery.
- Make planned and concerted efforts to show hospitality to the stranger
- Have recovered and made visible the sense of drama inherent in Christian worship
- Emphasize congregational music that is both excellent and eclectic in style and genre
- Creatively adapt the space and environment of worship
- Forge a strong connection between worship and local mission- expressed in how God's word calls us to service and discipleship
- Maintain a relatively stable order of service and a significant repertoire of worship elements and responses that the congregation knows by heart
- Moves to a joyous, festival experience toward the end of worship
- Have strong, appealing pastors as worship leaders
This is just a taste of the rich abundance of materials to be found in Designing Worship Together. It's one of the best resouces I know of for learning how to collaborate in worship planning, and it shows a real understanding of some of the common obstacles.