Monday, January 21, 2008

Worship Planning--Solo or Team Sport?

At the end of my annual week with my lectionary study group, I'm always dashing back home as quickly as possible to the family that has been fending for themselves during my absence. Some of my buds, though, extend their stay at whatever retreat center or seminary we are at that year in order to spend a few days working on worship plans for the coming year. This year one of them said he was hoping to go home with liturgies for the Sundays through Easter fairly fully formed and the rest of the year sketched out as to text, theme and hymn ideas.

I always feel a mixture of admiration and suspicion when I hear from pastors who work this way. Admiration for their dedication, organization and far-sightedness; suspicion of a worship planning process that seems totally pastor-centered.

Two experiences early in my ministry years contributed to this suspicion, I think. The first Senior Pastor I worked with expected that if it was my Sunday to preach, I was also responsible for the rest of the liturgy. That was a one-year gig. At my next church, my first time to preach I handed in all my bulletin info to the secretary on Wednesday morning and she looked confused. "But Pastor has already given me everything but the sermon text and title!" Ooops. I talked to the Senior Pastor right away. He was very clear that planning worship was his job. I was welcome to give him suggestions for responses, prayers, hymns, etc., but ultimately he would plan each week's liturgy. That was hard to get used to.

Another time, I overheard a pastor I already did not have a very high opinion of telling another pastor how productive he had been on his study leave. He had chosen all the scripture texts and written all the liturgies for the next six months. He would now give that info to the rest of his staff so they could carry these themes forward in terms of church music, Christian Ed, etc. When the other pastor asked him if the staff would get a chance to give feedback on those plans, Pastor "I'm the Decider" said, no they prefered and expected him to make those plans and would resent wasting their time trying to plan by committee. Now, I happened to know the Associate Pastor at that church and she couldn't stand his "top-down" worship planning system. So I vowed I would never plan that way.

And yet--I have to admit that, absent me going to the mountaintop and returning with stone worship plans, my colleagues and I do get caught short sometimes and end up flying by the seat of our collaborative, collective pants.

What about you all?


Songbird said...

LOL at The Decider!
I would love to work on a team for worship planning, but I haven't been in a setting where that has been possible. In my previous church, the only other person planning anything was a young and inexperienced musician. I tried to include her in planning by giving her themes and supplying her with lectionary based materials. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.
At my current setting, I give themes based on the lectionary to the Director of Music (or let him know if I'm going off-lectionary), and he pretty much does what he wants, some weeks hewing to the theme, others seemingly ignoring them all together. But we are way ahead of where they used to be, which was no coordination of effort at all.
When I hear others talk about developing worship as a team, I feel a little envious, but I wonder if I would love it as much in reality now that I'm so used to doing my own thing?

cheesehead said...

Well, if you go to my place, you will see what I did all day long today. Like Songbird, worship planning by team is not something that has been possible for me, at least not since internship.

Someday I hope to be in a more collaborative system, but with the rotating musicians we have at St Stoic right now, I know that will have to wait.

Teri said...

I am part of a collaborative staff...we (senior pastor, me, and church musician) study the lectionary text with three, sometimes more, people over lunch 8 weeks ahead of its use in worship. 7 weeks out we brainstorm worship ideas for that text and the general direction we've come up with, usually with 2-6 other people (different from the first set). Then 6 weeks out the three of us sit down and put the service together. The week of, on Tuesday, we finalize (and/or make changes!). It's a process that is actually really working for us, and it allows laypeople to feel like they have a part in worship planning (though ultimately it's down to the three of us, and even more ultimately it's down to whichever of us is preaching for final say/veto power).

zorra said...

Hi Pastor Rebel,
Please tell Elizabeth I've tagged her for a meme!

Crimson Rambler said...

More and more as I read the other RevGal blogs, I am grateful for the structure imposed on us by our tradition. Ya got yer Book of Common Prayer, ya got yer Book of Alternative Services; between them, ya got seven Eucharistic Prayers...and the "propers" for the Sunday (ie collect for the day, prayer over the gifts, prayer after communion) are set...
I realize I'd be lost if I had to "make it up" for Sunday.
Now it's not altogether uncollaborative even at that. We encourage our lay people to lead the intercessory prayer, where they can use a litany framework or a series of collects, or just focus on the "biddings" (= intentions).
Normally I pick the hymns to echo the lections. When I am pressed for time, the Music Director is happy to do so, and he's good at it.
And for the early service (ALWAYS the Book of Common Prayer)...our thirty-years-on-the-job volunteer organist picks, without consultation, two hymns appropriate to the season. I can't begin to count how many Sundays his offertory-hymn choice wraps up what I've just preached in a lovely neat package...better than I could. I'm blessed.