Voices: Worship and the Journey of Collaboration

MOUNT VERNON, WA (August 15, 2014) — Editor’s note: From time to time, we come across articles by Covenanters in church newsletters, individual blogs, and other media that we believe may interest our readers. This post was published earlier this week on the Covenant’s blog Worship ConnectRandall Wilkens serves as the associate pastor of worship and the arts at Bethany Covenant Church in Mount Vernon, Washington.

I remember the first time I heard someone talk about the concept of collaborative worship planning. It was about 10 years ago in Chicago at one of those Worship Connections we used to have. If someone had asked for my opinion after that session, I probably would have given them a positive answer. After all, how could one not be positive about a great concept like collaboration? How could it not be a benefit to worship in the body of Christ? But inside I was struggling with the concept.

How would we even do that? That was my main question. I was serving in a great church with an encouraging staff, where the task of choosing songs and developing each week’s order of worship was entirely entrusted to me. I enjoyed my weekly rhythm of looking at the sermon scripture, the pastor’s chosen theme, the lectionary, the church calendar, and helpful music resources as I crafted each service. No one else—not even my senior pastor—seemed interested in being involved in that process. Whenever I would ask for my colleagues’ opinions, the answer was pretty much always “sounds great.”

And why would I even want to collaborate? That was my darker question. I enjoyed my role as the solitary worship planner in our congregation. I got to do things just the way I thought they should be done. I got to pick the songs I liked and decide on just the arrangement that expressed my artistic personality. Why would I want someone else taking my favorite songs and ruining them by doing them the “wrong” way? Why would I want other people tampering with my great ideas? In short, I was used to getting my own way, and I didn’t want that to change.

But at the same time I knew there was something wrong with my attitude. Philippians 2 was and is still one of my favorite passages of Scripture. I knew what it said—how we should look to the interests of others rather than our own, and how in doing so we follow in the amazing footsteps of our supremely self-sacrificing Savior. So I knew deep down that getting my own way was not what it’s about. Especially in the context of the worship wars, I was constantly urging the people in my congregation to lay down their own preferences for others’ sake. How could I not be willing to do that too?

And so I knew I needed to be open to the possibility of collaboration. That was the right answer to my second, darker question. But the other question still remained unanswered. How would we even do that?

The answer, it turned out, was provided by the Holy Spirit. Over the last decade I have followed the Lord on a journey from being a “lone ranger” to someone who now regularly and joyfully collaborates with others to plan worship. That journey has often been amazingly gentle, as the Lord has gradually and naturally opened the door to conversations with colleagues who really care about worship and have great ideas to contribute. Occasionally the journey has hit rough spots—either as my own desires have risen up and interfered or as others have insisted on their own way instead of choosing collaboration. But the journey has always been worth it, and I would never want to go back to the way things were before—or the way I was before.

I am thankful that in the church I currently serve, our pastoral staff has grown in our commitment to collaborative worship planning. It happens on many levels. There are great one-on-one conversations between me and my main worship colleague on the pastoral staff. There are many interactions with members of our congregation who assist in worship. There are weekly staff meetings where the previous Sunday is debriefed and the coming Sunday is solidified. There are monthly meetings to strategically plan worship services for the entire coming month. And there are sermon-planning sessions where Scripture and themes the Lord is leading us to preach on are discussed and identified. Each of these is a wonderful opportunity for creativity, joy, and fellowship.

Where are you on this journey? Perhaps you are where I was when I first heard about collaborative worship planning. Or perhaps you have already started on this journey, or may be even further along the path than I am. Wherever you are, know that the Lord is even more committed to collaboration than you are. He will give you the grace you need to serve and plan together with others, living out what it means to be the body of Christ.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:1-5, NIV).

Amen.

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1 Comment

  1. Whew! Thank you for sharing this post! “Heartfelt Worship” is one of our present goals as our congregation experiences the “Vitality” process. This article touches on our self-centered practice of personal preference that cuts us off from meaningful worship as our own personal wants and desires pull us away from focusing on God effectively. Such prideful and selfish worship practices dissolve our Godly focus and serve to damage our congregational unity.

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