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Daryl Hollinger on From a Mustard Seed

Conversation with Daryl Hollinger on his book From a Mustard Seed

Daryl Hollinger and Bruce G. Epperly wrote From a Mustard Seed: Enlivening Worship and Music in the Small Church to help churches of 75 worshipers or less see and act on their God-given potential for beautiful worship. Hollinger recently shared two avenues for creative change. 

Which worship challenges do you hear about most from people in small churches?

I hear from a lot of people who think they need a traditional service and a contemporary service to grow the church. But they don’t have the money to hire a worship leader or praise band leader. Another challenge is that small churches feel they are stuck with personnel who’ve been there a long time or stuck with certain ways of doing things.

What’s the way out of the traditional vs. contemporary dilemma?

In the book we talk about not limiting ourselves to two camps. Small churches say, “We can do this!” when we show how to expand their repertoire to songs from other times and places. One pastor spent $200 on simple instruments at a Ten Thousand Villages store. People love shaking rainsticks to add ambiance to a reflective song. You can use boom whackers (musical plastic tubes) to play tunes or chords. I’ve observed elderly worshipers with folded arms and frowns when they heard hand drums. But once they saw it was their youth processing in with drums, they got supportive. They began to sing songs from Africa and Asia and make connections to global neighbors.

What’s the limiting perception in small churches that feel stuck?

That you don’t have a choice. If you decide it’s safer to stay stuck, then your church won’t grow spiritually or in numbers. Visitors will think, “I don’t fit in.” It takes courage for the pastor or church musician to talk with those directly involved. You have to nudge in love, kindness, and a spirit of reconciliation. Validate people. Say, “Yes, I understand how these hymns are meaningful to you. We will honor that. And are you willing to sing the songs of the brother or sister sitting next to you?”

When you feel at an impasse, use the biblical model and get your council or governing body involved. Go to a retreat or workshop together. We’ve dealt with churches where one or two people are putting their heels in. As a last resort, we’ve recommended they part ways for the total good of the church.

From a Mustard Seed notes that the pastor-church musician relationship must thrive for small church worship to flourish. How can they find common ground?

You can defuse worship wars if you keep God central. Worship isn’t about one person leading or about performance. It is the work of the people. The pastor and church musician need to talk about how they’re trying to live out their faith through the ministry they’re feeding the church. Do they want to honor God…nurture spiritual life through worship…worship in ways that build community? Once they name those commonalities, they’re off to a good start.

How can pastors, musicians, and worship leaders in small churches support each other in spiritual formation?

You have to be creative and intentional. Check in with each other about the bothers or neat things going on in the rest of your life. Instead of just getting into the task at hand, pray first. It sets the tone that we’re in ministry together so we need to share each other’s blessing and burdens. Covenant with each other to try to have an open mind to styles and preferences. Ask what triggers keep the others from appreciating certain styles. Covenant about how and when to communicate for worship planning. You also need face-to-face time, so go to lunch, on retreat, or to a worship workshop together.

Daryl Hollinger and Bruce G. Epperly lead workshops together on creatively easy ways to enliven worship, even in small churches where people can’t read music.