Collaboration in Worship Planning (Bible Study)
Ministry goes forward when faith-filled people work together collaboratively! Collaborators are co-laborers. They contribute from the field of their own gifts and passions. But they do not labor in isolation. Their labors are so interwoven that the final product is a composite. A group effort is genuinely the product of the entire group, not merely a modified solo plan"
Lesson 8 See all lessons
Scripture: Mark 2:1-12; 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
Before you begin your Bible study, take some time to step back into the fascinating story from Mark 2:1-12. A paralyzed man is in need of the ministry of Jesus. But he can't move, the crowds are great, and Jesus is speaking in a house that is already jammed with people. What can he possibly do? All options seem closed to him. Until four friends devise a plan and carry it out. They pick up his cot, carefully carry him to the roof, open a hole, and lower the paralyzed man right in front of Jesus! Jesus speaks words of forgiveness and healing and the once-paralyzed man walks out in "full view of them all" and to the amazement of them all (v. 12).
It's a fascinating story. But there is an element of this story that is often overlooked. Where would this paralyzed man have been were it not for four friends who worked together unselfishly, cooperatively and creatively? And then consider what Jesus said to him! Jesus said, "Son, your sins are forgiven"; but he said it only when he saw "their faith" (v. 5). Here's a story that tells us the ministry of Christ went forward because of the collaboration of people of faith!
The same principle holds true for worship planning in the church. Ministry goes forward when faith-filled people work together collaboratively! Collaborators are "co-laborers." "They contribute from the field of their own gifts and passions. But they do not labor in isolation. Their labors are so interwoven that the final product is a composite. A group effort is genuinely the product of the entire group, not merely a modified solo plan" (Designing Worship Together, p. 3).
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks about a body that is healthy because all "members" function cooperatively and respectfully together. What is true of our physical bodies is also true of the body of Christ. And it's also true of a group of worship planners. Read this section of 1 Corinthians 12 carefully and notice
- All the differences. How many different kinds of gifts are there?
- The common origin. Where did all these gifts come from?
- The purpose for all these gifts. What is the "common good" (v. 7)?
- Our calling to respect one another. (See vv. 14-20.)
- Our inclusion of one another. (See vv. 21-26.)
For further information on the spirit in which our service is to be done, it would be helpful to read on into 1 Corinthians 13. Paul did not intend a break between chapters 12 and 13, for he ends chapter 12 with the words "And now I will show you the most excellent way" and moves immediately into chapter 13.
It takes a certain kind of person to make a valuable contribution through collaboration. Just putting people together in a room and telling them to work together could prove to be disastrous unless they are qualified to do so.
Effective collaborators must be people who graciously trust and respect each other. One planner told us, "the non-negotiable in all our planning meetings is that grace is pervasive so that people respect each other—they can disagree, while always keeping the goal of God-honoring worship in mind. They do not come with personal agendas." They must have a keen sense of the holiness of God and the beauty of vital worship, and a personal spiritual life that is healthy and vibrant. And they should also be pastorally sensitive to the needs and struggles of others who come to worship.
Collaborators should also be intelligent people who understand what worship is, are aware of the issues of worship that the church faces today, and are not swayed by every new wind or fad that comes along. They must be able to submit their own personal preferences for the sake of the whole.
Worship planning is work and will take time. So planners must allow for adequate time for planning meetings and be willing to carry out assignments and "homework."
We have found by personal experience and through our research in other churches, that those who learn to collaborate will experience some very positive benefits. Here are some of the benefits, perhaps you can think of others:
- A healthier variety in the liturgies of worship.
- A better balance between freshness and sameness.
- Better integration of all the elements in a worship service.
- Increased creativity as planners stimulate each other's thinking.
- A greater range of insight as all contribute their ideas.
- A healthy corrective for other planning team members when they get in a rut.
There Are Hurdles
Many of us know by experience that it isn't easy to work as a group or team in planning worship. And some tell painful stories of how it didn't go so well. Perhaps that's why many are hesitant to try. When you are working together, be aware of these hurdles that can easily appear:
- Incompatible views of worship. Those who work together must share a common and consistent view of worship.
- Insufficient time. The more people involved, the harder it is to find convenient meeting times when all can be present.
- Political poll-taking. When some members of the group think they represent a certain group or "mindset" in the congregation and others are influenced primarily by "what people want," planning quickly becomes factious.
- A competitive spirit. Competition between persons or different groups within the congregation will sabotage the work. When all work together in serving the common goal of vital worship, the task will be much more productive and enjoyable.
- The failure of the pastor to plan. The pastor is the key person who must provide information on sermons, themes, and Scriptures before group planning can begin. Some pastors do not provide information early enough and hold up the planning process.
Not all churches will function in the same way. We have encountered quite a variety in the way congregations organize their work of worship planning.
Some churches have a worship committee which is responsible for the overall supervision of the worship life of the church. Such a committee, normally from four to ten persons, includes representatives of the official church board, those who plan worship, the pastor, and others from the congregation. This committee normally meets monthly and its agenda includes items such as
- a study of biblical teachings about worship
- the evaluation of recent worship services
- the supervision of worship issues and questions
- broad planning and brainstorming for future services
- policy decisions relating to worship life
Because a group such as this usually meets only monthly it is not possible for this group to be deeply involved in weekly worship planning.
Other churches, in addition to or in place of a worship committee, have one or more worship planning teams. These teams are responsible for the complete planning process for each weekly worship service. Some members may be involved in actual worship leadership; some not. The team(s) may be relatively small (composed of the pastor and one or two others), or they may include more members of the congregation. Sometimes three or four different teams rotate a week or a month at a time. Some churches have teams for a season (one for Lent, one for Advent, etc.). In all cases, the pastor should be either a member or liaison for each team.
Tips for the Chairperson
This is a substantial subject, so be sure that your expectations for this discussion are realistic and match the time your group has. We suggest that you begin with a study of the biblical material that points to the importance of using the gifts of all. Talk about the story from Mark 2 and what a difference it made. And then talk about 1 Corinthians 12 and the insight it gives us about the body of Christ. Only then will the group be ready to enter the rest of the discussion.
1. Imagine you are one of the group of friends in Mark 2. Describe what it must have been like to be in a group that cooperated that well.
2. What does 1 Corinthians 12 tell us about our church? Make a list of the insights.
3. What significant benefits have you experienced in your congregation through collaborative efforts? Make a list of them.
4. How smoothly and cooperatively are you all working together? In your committee? With your worship planners?
5. What obstacles have you encountered in your efforts to work together collaboratively? How can they be addressed?
6. Who of your worship planners is being overworked with too many responsibilities and could use more help?
Norma de Waal Malefyt and Howard Vanderwell, Designing Worship Together: Models and Strategies for Worship Planning (Alban Institute, 2005). Note especially chapter one, "The Case for Collaboration" (pp. 1-34).