In an earlier Weekly, Barbara Day Miller outlined the POWR model for worship planning . Here, she addresses how pastors can help implement—and benefit from—this new process.
Susan and Richard were engaged in conversation at the local ministers’ meeting. They both served midsize congregations, “good appointments” in the parlance of their denomination. Both churches were thriving; they were involved in community outreach, had ministries involving multiple generations, and were known for vibrant worship. In their conversation, Richard mentioned his desire to put a worship planning team in place. He had been carrying most of the weight of planning along with the music director, and they were running out of substantive ideas. “I’ve been doing it all,” he said. “I need to expand my own vision for worship at Covenant Church.”
Susan told him about putting the POWR model in place at her church. She was realistic: establishing the model had required a good deal of time at the outset—organizing, recruiting, and training members of the planning teams. But through the process, she had gained confidence in her own authority and had learned to trust the work of the people. She said, “I am energized by the process. Each planning session brings new insights into the preaching texts, new ideas for expressing the themes of the day, and new knowledge of the people I am called to lead.”
If you are a pastor, you may see some of your desires and concerns expressed in this dialogue. Whatever your denomination or faith community, you are called, set aside, and ordained in ministry to teach and preach the Word, bring others to Christ, administer the sacraments, and order the life of the congregation. Within that sacred trust, the conversational model is a call to a more collaborative style of worship planning and leadership, a new way of ordering the worship life of the assembly.
This model of planning does not eliminate the pastor’s voice, wisdom, or responsibility. The pastor’s leadership is essential. The model does challenge both pastor and people to communicate more clearly, to question more profoundly, and to listen more intently as the Spirit of God speaks to and through the people. This method assists the pastor in the tasks of Word, sacrament, and order for which the pastor is ordained.
If you have been used to “doing it all,” and if the people have started expecting you to do so, it is essential that you bring the laypeople, musicians, and other leaders into the conversation as partners. Introducing a new worship planning practice carries some risk. One pastor wrote, “At first the members did not seem very interested in participating. They said, ‘worship is fine the way it is’ or, ‘planning is your job, Pastor.’” If you encounter some resistance, follow the lead of another pastor, who says, “If someone asked my advice, I would start by telling that person to know the congregation. In most churches, I suspect the model would have to be introduced slowly, say a few services or a season at a time. Find four to seven people and structure a planning conversation in which they can participate.” The success of an initial conversation, a taste of this “new thing,” can go a long way in building the confidence of pastor and the people.
The conversational model of worship planning is based on the belief that the Spirit works in and through our speaking and attentive listening. Our conversation in planning and preparing to worship can be a deep and revealing encounter with the Holy. The pastoral musician is a partner in this holy work. Often musicians and pastors are not at odds, but are simply on parallel tracks. By the very nature of their ministries, they use different media and language to draw meaning from word and speech, text and music. But both are passionate about their callings and are committed to excellence in the worship of God.
Working together, you, the pastoral musician, and the members of the planning team will discover a common joy in exploring the Scripture texts. You will be surprised by new ideas generated in conversation with those who think differently than you do. You will gain insights into the spirit (and the spiritual life) of the congregation. You will feed your own hungers as you engage in meaningful conversation about the central things of our life and faith. You will hear people’s life stories told in relation to the biblical stories. You will listen to stories from the “edges” of the congregation—stories from the world outside the church walls where people are in ministry in their daily work.
Introducing a new worship planning process requires significant time and energy. But doing so can have multiple benefits for the pastor and the pastor’s ministry.
1. Your preaching will be enriched. If you are already in a lectionary study group, you know the value of discussing the lectionary texts with colleagues. Likewise, the planning team conversations will uncover questions about the central things of your own life and faith as well as the people’s. You will see new details in the Scripture readings; you will learn new hymns; you will gain new insights into the minds and hearts of your parishioners. The sermons you preach will draw on and perhaps elaborate all these discoveries.
2. You will be more accountable for the work of preaching and leading worship. Scott, the senior pastor of a large church, says, “This practice makes me better prepared. It keeps me disciplined. I cannot wait until Saturday to put a sermon together, hoping the music director has either chosen some songs that will connect with the message or can be flexible on the spot. I know that when our planning team meets, members depend on me to be prepared and to lead them in the study of the scriptural texts.”
3. You will have more time to prepare. That sounds contradictory, since we just mentioned the amount of time required to initiate and organize the process. But once the teams are in place, you will learn to trust those who complete the planning and ordering, the training and rehearsing. You can let go of the details and focus on preparation for the work to which you are called.
4. You will be supported in your work of preparing for worship. Because you have shared the preaching texts with the planners, have used the texts in Bible study, or have published the lectionary listings on the church’s website, members of the congregation can be reading and praying those same texts during the week. As you are prayerfully writing the sermon or outlining the prayers of intercession, you will realize that you are upheld by members of the congregation who are themselves students of the Word.
5. You will be more effective in teaching . Many pastors use Bible study classes or other teaching opportunities to discuss the upcoming preaching texts. The planning conversations will generate interest in additional study about worship: the themes of the Christian year, the sacraments, or your liturgical heritage; and, in turn, your teaching on these subjects will relate directly to the worship planning. Jan, the pastor of a small congregation, says, “It’s the one thing we don’t talk about enough: Why do we . . . stand for the Gospel, exchange the peace? I want them to do more than participate in the tradition. I want them to know the tradition.”
6. You will be a better worshiper. Others are in leadership with you; you can trust their preparation as you trust your own. You are gathered with the people in the presence of God.
Comments welcome on the Alban Roundtable Blog
Adapted from Encounters with the Holy: A Conversational Model for Worship Planning by Barbara Day Miller . Copyright © 2011 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
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Encounters with the Holy: A Conversational Model for Worship Planning
by Barbara Day Miller
Many churches have active worship committees or planning teams, and an abundance of books and resources guide pastors and laity. Encounters with the Holy offers a conversational model of worship planning that was developed to train practitioners to be more reflective in their planning of worship experiences.
In God’s Presence: Encountering, Embracing, and Experiencing the Holy in Worship
by N. Graham Standish
Too many worship services, suggests Graham Standish, are perfunctory, suggesting that most churches don’t think much about how to connect people with God. In God’s Presence makes the case that congregations must restore intentionality and authenticity to worship in a way that will open people to the Holy. Intentionality, he says, reflects a deep understanding of what tradition has attempted to do, what contemporary people are hungry for, what is going on in our culture, and how to connect the three.
From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Music and Worship in the Small Church
by Bruce G. Epperly and Daryl Hollinger
Small congregations can have beautiful worship! In From a Mustard Seed, an experienced pastor-professor and an experienced church musician provide a model for faithful and excellent worship in congregations that average 75 or fewer people in weekly worship. While the limitations of small congregations are obvious to their members and leaders, the possibilities for creative music and worship are often greater than we can imagine.
The Work of the People: What We Do in Worship and Why
by Marlea Gilbert, Christopher Grundy, Eric T. Myers, and Stephanie Perdew
Despite its centrality to church life, worship is too often taken for granted as something a congregation experiences rather than collectively creates. This book simply and clearly explains the structure of worship, the actions and words we use in liturgy, the environment in which it all happens—in other words, what we are doing and why. It will guide congregations in worshiping in a way that encourages participants’ spiritual growth, welcomes new participants into faith, and sends people out as the body of Christ to transform the world.
A long and fruitful pastorate with a congregation is not automatic. It is the result of careful, sustained attention to the elements that lead to healthy congregational life and healthy relationships. Do you want this for yourself and your congregation? Then this seminar is for you!
A New Vision for the Long Pastorate
October 23-25, 2012, Roslyn Retreat Center
Leader: Ed White, Alban Consultant
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