Worship is one of the primary places where we enact our relationship with God and others. And more than a form or formula for worship, liturgy is the holy, meaningful work that God’s people do when they gather. Worship isn’t thinking about or talking about God, but is speaking to and listening for Divine. Worship joins breath, voice and body in words and action, embodying deep wisdom about the Holy One and our selves. In worship we become the Body of Christ, a mysterious manifestation of Jesus’ spirit in time and space.
If we “live ourselves into new ways of thinking” as Fr. Richard Rohr asserts, then worship is one of the most formative and integrative things that we can do in Christian community. What we say and sing shapes us; we become what we create together.
Those who serve the church know that planning and leading worship week after week can be a challenge. Sometimes it can even feel like an unrelenting duty: a utilitarian organizing of scripture, prayer and music into some semblance of a whole. As soon as one choral anthem is learned, the choir begins work begins on the next. Pastors are burdened by the expectation that they will deliver scintillating and profound spiritual insights each Sunday. Faith communities require pastoral care and organizing, and essential time for planning and thinking about worship can be given to equally important hospital visits or meetings. All too often, teams or committees charged with oversight of worship become a battleground of competing opinions and preferences. A church’s financial and creative resources may be restricted or a small pool of musicians or lay leaders feels limiting.
In the midst of these realities and challenges, pastors and church musicians still have a powerful and often unclaimed role in shaping the communities they serve. There is no question that our leadership is felt in the thoughtfulness and care we give to the words and music within a service. That should never be undervalued.
But even more important is how we lead God’s people: the intention from which our actions arise, the subtle but powerful visual and non-verbal cues we give, the quality of energy and engagement that we bring to each moment in worship. And beyond Sunday morning, the community is profoundly influenced by the way we provide correction and feedback in a choir rehearsal or meeting, the way we share authority with colleagues and congregants, the way we deal with conflict and anxiety that are inevitable in any human institution.
Though many of us would like to believe that the road to congregational transformation, worship renewal and growth is through a convincing sermon, a robust congregational survey or a consultant – through more words and thinking about change – perhaps the most powerful way that leaders shift the culture of a church is through our behavior – through intentioned doing and (even imperfect) modeling of a new way.
Over the coming months, I’m going to focus my blog on two aspects of worship planning and leadership. First, I’ll share practical ideas and approaches to worship and music, drawing on my experiences and current work as a transitional/interim musician. I’ll also reflect on the less-discussed qualities of leadership that can help congregations “live into new ways of thinking.” Beyond words and tunes, I’m interested in exploring how leaders can be more fully present in worship, inviting others to be more fully present, too. I hope to share ways that pastors and musicians can facilitate and enable, encourage freedom, improvisation, and self-expression. I also want to reflect on the skills and tools that invite new ways of seeing, hearing and sensing where the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst.
Join me as we ‘live ourselves into new ways of thinking’ and begin to reframe some of the conversations about worship and music that we have in our faith communities.