We go to seminary, study Greek, learn about computers, eat casseroles, visit hospitals, and do 10,000 other things as leaders. But isn’t it amazing that simple, practical truths can make or break our ministry? Standards and principles are things that must start out intentionally, and then, after a while, they become instinctive. Here are a few of those values I learned from pastors, deacons, worship leaders, my dad (lots from my dad!), and, yes, my wife and kids.
These aren’t new concepts to creative planning, but they are surefire truths that will keep you and your team growing over the long haul of team planning and worship development.
1. STUDY YOUR PEOPLE
This is a simple concept that is rarely done. So often our calendars, agendas, to-do lists, and book studies overshadow the people we try to bring into the presence of God. Strategies and action plans are all great things, but we can get so focused on our plans that we forget who our people are. So, it’s important to study your people. What do your peo- ple do? What inspires them? What makes them laugh? Who makes them laugh? When do you see them falling into never-never land on Sunday morning? Study them. Ask them. Get feedback. I’m waiting for the helmet cam for children so we can see worship through their eyes. People have issues! I know, that’s turned into a major catchphrase of the new century, but it is so true. Find out what their issues are and help them discover, or rediscover, God in the midst of it all.
2. READY, FIRE, AIM
I learned this from an old country pastor before it became a popular business strategy. Simply spoken, take a shot at new stuff in a small way. See if you hit the target and then aim accordingly. Many churches
spend half their time, resources, and emotional energy aiming. They aim, and aim, and aim some more. They go to Chicago or Los Angeles and aim. They read a book, take a nap, get up, and aim some more. Then when they finally fire, they fire at the point of no return. A ton of money has been spent, subcommittees have slaved over the issues, then $20,000 and 13 business meetings later the strategy is unveiled. If it backfires after so many hours and meetings, then the entire leadership feels demoral- ized. So, start small. Fire experimental peashooters before you pull out the thermonuclear version.
3. CREATE A VISION FOR YOUR WORSHIP
Know where you are going and how to get there. Very basic. Just remember: “No Vision, No Life.” That’s as old as Proverbs 28:19. Make your vision work through teamwork. Create ownership and multiply the buy-in through vision casting.
4. REIGNITE YOUR PASSION FOR GOD
If you don’t have a passion for God and a passion to lead people into worship, then sell life insurance or market cereal. This is God-stuff. Passion isn’t just a strong emotion. It is a commitment to a dream in which you’re willing to lay everything on the table and say, “Lord, I don’t care what the cost is. I want to see You in all Your power and glory. I want to experience worship and ministry that is truly transformational. I’m tired of the regu- lar song and dance. I want to see You high and lifted up. I want the holy smoke and fire that accompanies Your presence.” As the church of Laodicea reminds us, if we have no fire, no passion, we leave a bad taste in God’s mouth.
5. NEVER KILL AN IDEA BEFORE YOU WRITE IT DOWN
During brainstorming worship ideas, as well as church growth ideas, we need to be careful about trashing other people’s ideas before they have been fully communicated and considered. Lay down a ground rule: there are no bad ideas at first glance. Why? Because we all have bad ideas from time to time. If you are facilitating a brainstorming meeting and immediately give a thumbs-down to every new idea, you will cultivate timidity and self-consciousness in your team. No one likes to have their ideas body-slammed three seconds after they speak. After this brainstorming period, you can begin the process of appraising what ideas work and what ideas are simply…well…ideas.
6. DON’T COUNT ON SUCCESS, BUT NEVER EXPECT FAILURE
Yes, this seems very ironic. But if your team is counting on home runs every time they try to lead people into worship, then frustration will soon follow. In the same breath, we must do everything we can to achieve our goals. It’s true: God doesn’t ask us to be successful; He asks us to be faithful. Results are a God thing, not an us thing.
7. DO SOMETHING EACH MONTH IN WORSHIP THAT FRIGHTENS YOU
If you want to grow, you should be prepared to risk. As a rule of thumb, do something every month that scares you. If you grow in your faith and tenacity, do something every week that scares you. It might be asking a 7th grader to pray the benediction. It may be singing in the middle of the sermon. It may be asking a visitor about his rela- tionship with Christ after a service is over. If you’re shaking in your boots sometime during your ministry, you might feel uncomfortable, but at least you know you have a pulse.
8. THINK ABOUT ONE PERSON IN THE CONGREGATION AND PLAN A WORSHIP SERVICE THAT ALLOWS THAT PERSON TO TRULY WORSHIP
Like the culture around us, we have become a politically correct body. So many churches fail to reach anyone because they are afraid they might exclude someone. Don’t sweat speaking directly to youth in adult worship. We are a family, and sometimes transformation happens through overheard proclamation of truth. Sometimes we truly can’t see the tree because all we can see is the forest. Minister distinctively to one person in the body, and, chances are, the ripple effect will transform the entire church.
9. DON’T TRY TO TURN SMALLVILLE INTO WILLOW CREEK IN ONE MONTH
It’s the old Sunday after youth camp effect. We got go to conferences, great conferences. Great ideas! We have the passion! It’s all good. We are ready to hurdle every obstacle to make the cover of GC, then reality sets in. We changed, but the people are the same peo- ple from whom you flew away the week before. I love the ancient Chinese proverb: “Oh snail, climb Mount Kilimanjaro, but slowly.” In other words, shoot for the stars, but realize that the warp-drive technology is not quite there yet. Be intentional and smart with your changes. And, of course, choose the hill on which you are willing to die. Jesus is patient with you; be patient with your people. Lead them through the process and help them understand the reasons for change. Baffle them with your grasp of common sense.
10. DON’T BE AFRAID OF EMOTIONS, BUT DON’T TRY TO MANUFACTURE OR MANIPULATE THE WORSHIPERS EMOTIONS, EITHER
Our obsession should not be: “How can I really tear ’em up this Sunday? What could I do to give those people a really misty eyed, three-tissue sniffer moment?” Your focus should be to bring people into an encounter with God. On the other hand, how can a person who understands this incredible grace mes- sage avoid getting emotional? Some people in your congregation grew up in a paradigm that said emotions are weakness. Don’t cry. You aren’t a man if you cry. Don’t shout, or dance, or laugh. It just isn’t spiritual. Worship leaders need to realize this is not a biblical precept. In truth, it’s a very errant stance. I suppose it’s fine to offer your community unemotional, cerebral, fact-only worship, but I don’t think you’d want to classify it as biblical. You’ll end up painting yourself into a corner.
11. DON’T TAKE THE NAME OF THE LORD IN VAIN
As we all know, I didn’t come up with this on my own. Basically, the tip here is that when we lead in worship and plan worship in a team, perhaps the quickest way to sabotage the work is to give vague vetoes and blame it on God. Example: Pastor Dave walks into the sanctuary where the ensemble is practicing their part in worship. Dave, after a long sigh, says, “Folks, I don’t think God wants us to use that song.” That might work once or twice, but, after a while, people catch on to the fact that God is your fire escape rather than your Shepherd. I know there are times when we do get a specific word from the Lord, but God more often works when we meet Him in our planning meetings.
12. MOST GREAT LEADERS AND CREATIVE THINKERS ARE UNTAMED MONOMANIACS, WITH A STREAK OF OBSESSION, WHO BELIEVE STRONGLY IN THEIR MINISTRY
Want to have an impact? Discover the obsession for ministry. Everyone should have a standard for which they are willing to bleed in this mission. What’s yours? If it didn’t pop into your brain the moment you finished reading the question, then it might be time to grab your Bible and your toothbrush and head to the wilderness until you do.
13. READ YOUR PLAN OUT LOUD
This is very practical and very simple. Most people will not read your plan; they will hear your plan. Close the door and read your plan out loud. How does it sound?
14. EXILE THE LEFT BRAIN WHEN BEGINNING YOUR WORK
Whenever you are working alone on a sermon, a project, a poem, a dramatic sketch, or an idea, your creative side (the right brain or the artist) needs to be able to work without the detailed side (the left brain, or the editor) looking over his shoulder. The important thing when you begin to work is to keep creating without assessing what you are doing while you are doing it. So many times the right brain is stifled because the left brain is asking: “Did I spell that right? Do I really think this will work? I don’t know if this is good enough. I wonder what Roger, the chairman of the church council, will think?” The left brain needs to leave the right brain alone; otherwise, the right brain will never get anything done. After your artistic work is complete, begin the tough, painful left-brain work. It’s important late and fatal early.
15. KEEP TOYS CLOSE TO YOU
You are at your best when you are like a child. Jesus reminded us of that. Give yourself space, and don’t take yourself too seriously, or you will miss the joy of walking in grace. One way I keep fresh, alive, and responsive is to keep a toy within arm’s length. It’s a fact that you need short intervals of time where you can disengage. When you have the opportunity, play! Also have some fun as a team. It will increase the esprit de corps of your team.
16. DON’T JUST SIT THERE, WRITE SOMETHING
Make it a goal to write something every day. A great way to do this is to take a calendar and try to fill up each day’s space. Write about everything. Try writing a story. Write about things you love. Write about things that annoy you. Write about your passions. Write about your day. Write your prayers. It will be a priceless reminder in years to come of God’s grace. Write anything. Just keep the pen moving!
17. SET SMALL GOALS AND REWARD YOURSELF WHEN YOU ACHIEVE THEM
If you finish a task, reach a goal, or see transformation take place in worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, or discipleship, celebrate it. Let everyone on the team in on small victories and achievements. As in the story of the 10 lepers, don’t be like the 9 who received transformation and forgot to thank God. Have few secret victo- ries. Rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). Set visible, reachable goals and let the benediction be party hats and confetti.
18. AVOID LIP WORSHIP
Lip worship is worship that is totally auditory. A person who totally relies on lip worship will fail to powerfully communicate to 95.86 percent of the crowd. (Sounds scientific, right? Did I just make up that stat? Uh…well…yep.) But seriously, we have a plethora of learning styles in the congrega- tion. Some people are auditory learners, but many are kinetic learners, natural learners, verbal learners, logical learners, physical learners, concrete learners, emotional learners, visual learners, olfactory learners, musical learners, gustatory learners, interactive learners, analytical learners, and so forth.
19. AVOID TIP WORSHIP
Tip worship is worship in which the sole driving force of worship is life application and very little Bible. This is currently a very popular strategy, which works effectively if it is biblically based. The Bible is very practical. When the application fits, by all means, communicate it. But may we never turn worship into the Oprah Winfrey show.
20. AVOID RIP WORSHIP
Rip worship is when we load the congregation down with guilt and shame. Our duty in worship is not to rip the congregation or to use worship as our personal bully pulpit. Who wants to be part of that? I don’t believe families spring from their beds on Sunday morning saying, “Hey! This is the day the Lord has made! Let’s get ready and go to church for our weekly flogging! This is our chance to feel totally inadequate. Let’s go!”
21. AVOID FLIP WORSHIP
Flip worship is worship that is done without acknowledging what a vast and important responsibility worship leadership really is. Flip worship is a kind of worship that says, “Let’s get this thing over with so we can get home in time for the Colts’ game.” Flip worship doesn’t ever get nervous. It never sheds a tear. It reeks of sarcasm and apathy. God, protect Your people from the poison of flip worship and flip worship leaders.
22. AVOID HIP WORSHIP
Hip worship is worship that is totally (as the old saying goes) from the hip. Things unexpectedly happen, not because God came, but because there was not a plan or even a thought. Granted, there will be times when God will call on you to shoot from the hip, but usually shooting from the hip will do little toward developing trust in the ensemble.
23. IF YOU’RE IN IT FOR THE MONEY, GO HOME
Capitalism has no place in the church. If you base your ministry on the financial litmus tests, you will miss out on every spiritual victory. Jesus didn’t knock over the tables in the temple by accident. He made a whip to defend God’s people from charlatans who were trying to turn the temple into a corporation. The “pastor as CEO” paradigm is about as old school as Ahab.
24. BE PREPARED TO RECORD IDEAS WHILE DRIVING
If you are like me, you get lots of ideas when you are driving from your personal Jerusalem to Jericho. Take a micro-cassette player with you. I am convinced that great ideas invariably occur between lane changes.
25. ONCE YOU’RE THROUGH READING, THEN YOU’RE THROUGH GROWING
What book is next in line after you finish the one you’re on right now? If you don’t know the answer to that question, beware. Books are a lifelong source of inspiration and mental enhancement. The right books build strong leaders and will help you avoid spiritual osteoporosis.
26. PREVENT RIGHT BRAIN FREEZE
If you are stumped on how to communicate a concept, if you are running out of ideas and strategies, or if you are running out of options in creating that aha moment in worship, you may want to take a time-out and disengage. Try listening to music, walking, reading aloud, dialoguing with a friend or associate, lying down in the church lawn for a minute, changing pens, or any approach that might pull you out of the ordinary, so you can jump-start your creative synapses.
27. EARLY PLANNING AND CREATING GIVES YOU MORE ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
One of my mentors once told me there’s no such thing as an overnight success in ministry. In other words, God’s work is planned long beforehand, if not by us, certainly by Him. Do a quick character study of Bible heroes. Was Moses an overnight success? Try telling him that in the wilderness of Midian! Or would Joseph consider himself an overnight success as he reflected on his exciting days in a jail with a baker and a cupbearer? Or what about card-carrying, AARP members like Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, or a 67-year-old Daniel in the lions’ den? In the same way, we need to have slow, persistent, diligent, day-by-day, tenacious, mustard-seed planning. In ministry, you’ll usually lose when you use a no-huddle approach in worship.
28. WRITE IDEAS WITHOUT THINKING OF WHAT VEHICLE YOU’LL USE IN THE FINAL PROCESS
Don’t immediately think of a vehicle before you think of a concept. Great team planners will see the message first. We shouldn’t say, “Golly, we haven’t had a monologue in a while. Let’s try to do one this Sunday.” That’s a backward approach, which caters to form rather than content.
29. WEAVE YOUR WORSHIP AND PLAN YOUR PAUSES
Your worship should be seamless. Work on transitions. For instance:
- The pianist begins playing during the last four lines of the script.
- The ensemble approaches the microphones during the last chorus of the hymn.
- The reader approaches the pulpit during the prayer.
Make your transitions smooth. This is a pet peeve of mine. I’ve had the blessing of visiting hundreds of churches. I’ve had some astounding worship experiences. But, very few churches have effectively pulled off transitional moments. When transitions aren’t attended to, the service is like driving a car with a bad transmission. The flow becomes jerky and predictable. I love planned silence in worship. Reflective times can be very insightful and emotive, but 15 seconds of awkward, no-clue, ambivalent nothingness is abhorrent.
30. PREPARE WELL
Getting to Sunday morning is the dessert of the process. If a worship team is prepared, then even the platform people are liberated from the tyranny of self-consciousness and escorted into the pres- ence of God, along with those who worship. Constantly worrying about what’s next and whether you can pull off your plans makes you a “dish-cleaning Martha” instead of a “worship- driven Mary.” Let’s choose the better.
31. REALIZE THAT WORSHIP IS DIFFICULT
As my grandfather would say, “This ain’t tiddledywinks, my boy!” Worship is a lifelong work of art. No one ever arrives at the ultimate worship plateau. Watch what happens when you think you have arrived. God always seems to remind us of the reality of our own infancy. It is truly a process, not a destination. We are being transformed from glory to glory to glory.
32. USE TECHNOLOGY, KEEPING IN MIND THAT ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT LOUSY WORKMANSHIP
In other words, you can have all the bells and whistles of 21st-century worship technology and still crank out mediocrity. Leaning on bells and whistles to replace perspiration is a formula for failure.
33. BECOME A WORKAHOLIC
Become addicted to glorifying God on Sundays. He is worthy of our worship. A minister who doesn’t worship is like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood. Do I want that man to operate on me? No way! If you can’t wait for another chance to experience God in corporate worship, then your people will follow your hunger for passionate, holy worship. By the way, may I rant for a sentence or two? If I see one more pastor flipping through his Bible, checking notes, and not singing or worshiping during the service, I think I’ll scream. What an insult to the team! What an insult to God! (Sorry about that! I just had to get it off my chest.) What that behavior says to a worship team and to the congregation is that corporate worship is just all fizz. My part supersedes everything else. The same is true of musicians who take a trip to la-la land during the message. Wherever we are, there we should be. All of us! That’s what worship should be.
34. EVERY NOW AND THEN, DO A POST MORTEM OF THE WORSHIP EXPERIENCE
(What did we do well, or badly? Where could we have improved?) Learn from mistakes and, as a team, talk about how to avoid the mistakes. Laugh together, and don’t turn the postmortem into a gripe session.
Ask these questions:
- Did it work?
- Was it adequate?
- How could we have improved?
- Did we offer people an opportunity to be trans- formed?
- What feedback did you receive?
- Are we in a rut or on a roll?
- Did we, as leaders, worship?
- Did we improve the mix by using more than two or three communication strategies?
Pray, asking God to continue transforming people through the experience, worship, and truths that we experienced.
What are some tips that have helped you create powerful, creative worship? We’d love to hear from you! We are all on the same journey.