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In the Absence of Creativity

Alright, so it probably wasn’t as terrifying as that whole having your lips burned with a hot coal thing, or as overwhelming as actually seeing God, but I had gone out of my way to evoke a sense of wonder, mystery, and yes, a little nervousness. Instead of a sermon, we walked through Isaiah’s call story. I had carefully woven music and prayers into the narrative, incorporating movement, smell, and sight where we are so often bound to sound alone. If I had been able to give people a taste of burnt charcoal, I would have, but that seemed extreme even for me.

This is not how I have generally experienced worship services, with scent and darkness and the shouting of angel voices. But this is how I planned worship when it was my turn to lead our chapel worship in seminary. I can’t say it was normal even there, but I had the freedom in that environment to experiment with crafting a service around a text, using every tool at my disposal to help people not just hear but encounter the Word. I graduated with great confidence in my ability to plan provocative, engaging, multi-sensory worship. I was assured that I would always do it that way.

Fast forward eight years; let’s just say that those skills are not quite as active these days as they once were. Instead of open rooms with mobile seating, my current church has the standard fixed pews. The congregation has 331 years of history to tell them that their order of worship stands the test of time. I don’t get to be a maverick now; I have to consult with people. Read more

The Art of Worship Planning

Church of the Pilgrims Advent wreath 2010

Several years ago my colleague, Jeff Krehbiel, went on a three-month sabbatical. While Jeff was gone, Pilgrims wanted to have their own enriching three-month experience. We created a sabbatical planning team to plan not just congregational endeavors but worship. Together, we explored the lectionary texts, the meaning of sabbatical, and came up with the theme of “connections and clarity” for the sabbatical season. All of these elements came alive in worship during the sabbatical. While still maintaining our loyalty to the Reformed Order of Worship, our planning process opened up our imagination, courage, and curiosity to what is possible. We sang new songs, congregants told stories on connections and clarity, we created more spontaneous moments of sharing, and we explored new ways of engaging with each other during worship.

Our planning process paid off and we were hooked. Read more