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Taking Flight With CreativityWorship Design Teams That Work
By Len Wilson
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2009 The United Methodist Publishing House
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWHY DESIGN WORSHIP IN A TEAM?
Let's just be honest here and admit it: our worship stinks." Those were the words of a denominational official, addressing a group of pastors and other church leaders at a meeting on congregational growth and development. We were pleasantly surprised at his candidness. He was being brutally honest, but he spoke the truth. Good worship is a compelling, powerful, life-changing experience; yet so often what we create on Sunday morning falls far short of this potential. Instead of taking flight in worship, we stay on the ground.
For some, the inability to fly is tied to the denial that such flight exists. There's an old saw that states, "If man were meant to fly, he would have been born with wings." In all likelihood that pithy zinger fell out of the mouth of a naysayer at the turn of the twentieth century—someone who had never seen or experienced flight and assumed it didn't exist. Maybe it was someone watching the Wright brothers or others of their ilk crash a crazy flying machine with four sets of wings into a house or barn, like in an old Buster Keaton film clip. That person looks the fool now, assuredly. To mix a transportation metaphor and quote Francis Bacon: "They are ill discoverers that think there is no land, when they can see nothing but sea."
Similarly, there are Christians who—in a lifetime of church attendance—have rarely if ever known a powerful, transformative experience of the Holy Spirit in a corporate body of fellow believers. These people are often victims and sometimes perpetrators of a variety of dysfunctions that keep them grounded.
We believe it is possible to take flight weekly—to design and experience transformative worship on a regular basis. And the way to consistently achieve flight with creativity is through the work of a team of collaborative worship designers. But first, it is important to look at what worship is, theologically and methodologically, and why teams should be a part of its design and creation.
Do you ever feel effective worship is something other people do and have? Do you feel like you're grounded in the same old holding patterns while those around you are soaring to new heights in creativity and power? Sometimes our best efforts seem to go nowhere, or even worse, end up crashing in a big heap. While others fly ahead we find ourselves covered in dust and beaten up by our humble attempts at effective worship.
This book is for people who remember why they got into ministry in the first place—people who do the work of creating corporate worship because they want to see other people encounter a holy and living God, and through that encounter experience healing and transformation. This book is for people who believe and hope that worship can be a truly transformational experience. It is not about creating worship that is doctrinally or historically correct, personally edifying, "nice" (like Milquetoast), entertaining, or even aesthetically pleasing. It's about worship that works.
What does that phrase mean, you ask? We believe worship works when it is the basis for personal and social transformation. Worship works when we—believer or nonbeliever, saint or sinner—meet God through the Holy Spirit, and in that encounter confess our brokenness, discover God's grace, and are made new.
Further, the experience of worship, or maybe we should say the "noun" of worship (as opposed to the "verb" of worship), is the primary vehicle through which, on an everyday, local level, we demonstrate on a corporate level what it means to be a Christian. When people worship (verb) together in corporate worship (noun), transformational things happen.
We don't believe that worship is limited to acts of glorification or adoration, although they are certainly a part of the worship experience. Good and true worship forms the basis for discipleship and social transformation. It is out of worship and the Christian community within which it occurs that personal and social change happens. Worship is the core of the church. It is the single most important, recurring reflection of the body of believers. It is the big gathering. It is "prime-time" Christianity, if you will.
Bells may be going off in your head with that last statement. "Whoa! Worship is not a production!" you say. This is true. Worship supersedes any understanding of an experience rooted in words like program or event. Such a shallow interpretation misses the point of planning a corporate gathering in the name of Christ. Choreographed cultural spectacles are a dime a dozen, and certainly the Holy Spirit appears in even the least organized of gatherings. Effective worship of any sort is separate and distinct from what we may call the "wow" experience. It points people in powerful ways to the risen Lord.
Yet at the same time that worship is not a production, or more than the summary of its technical components, it is indeed a production, worthy of our best planning and effort. The presence of the Holy Spirit is not an excuse for the absence of creative vision or any sense of forethought. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is often found moving in places with the highest creativity and best organization. For if we don't use our creativity to plan worship that engages and moves us, then how can we expect it to move others? Fumbling through a mediocre service can impede the work of the Spirit, whereas creatively planning a smoothly flowing worship experience allows us to "get out of the Spirit's way" as it moves in people's lives. That doesn't just happen by creating a song list and a standard three-point sermon. It takes hard work. This book is about designing worship that works.
How do we, as twenty-first–century proclaimers of the gospel, enable our worship to take flight?
We suggest one key way is by establishing effective worship design teams. Emphasizing teamwork and teams-based organization has been trendy in corporate culture for a while now, to the point where Saturday Night Live has parodied the irony of ragtag corporate groups of coffee drinkers in crumpled shirts sitting around a featureless conference room table, with a big, supposedly inspirational banner proclaiming "Together Everyone Achieves More" behind them on the wall.
As followers of Christ, however, there may be more to teams than meets the corporate eye. True teams of people, operating as two or three gathered together in the name of Jesus, doing ministry together, know something that mere money-makers cannot: the power of the Holy Spirit. This kind of community is known as koinonia, a Greek term found often in the New Testament. To coin a simple definition, based on the different ways it is often translated into English, koinonia is the intimate fellowship of sharing, participation, and contribution that followers of the risen Christ experience.
Although it is incredible to experience, koinonia is more than a feel-good moment. To quote a song by the band R.E.M., it is more than "shiny happy people holding hands." Koinonia has power. It does something. It is the dynamic of a community of believers out of which amazing things happen.
We know this at more than a theological level. We know it because we have witnessed it firsthand at churches we have served over the years. When a group of Christians set aside themselves and set about the work of the Kingdom, truly amazing things happen. We believe in the power of worship design teams because we have lived it, first in an amazing period of growth at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church.
Ginghamsburg is a large, influential congregation in rural Ohio whose rapid growth and pioneering style of worship began to draw national and international attention in the mid 1990s. Len served as the first media minister there, from 1995–2000, and Jason served as the church's first full-time artist from 1997–2000. During this period, worship attendance tripled to more than three thousand attendees weekly. Much has been documented about Ginghamsburg's innovative model for designing worship (see Kim Miller's Redesigning Worship, Abingdon Press, 2009), and we could spend a book dissecting and understanding the innovations that occurred during that late-1990s period alone. But since that time, a myriad of additional experiences in churches of a variety of sizes has broadened our scope significantly.
After this seminal period, we worked together for two years on a para-church team designing and sometimes implementing worship that had to work for churches spanning a large spectrum of sizes and styles. For another period of about two years, Len worked with a traditional "high steeple" church forming a worship design team to serve a new "contemporary" service. Jason served for two years with a team designing contemporary-style worship for a church plant that met weekly in a YMCA and averaged about 150 in worship. Len then spent two years serving as a volunteer worship designer for a small but growing church whose attendance grew from 150 to 400 during his time there. Since 2006, Len has designed worship with a team at a large church in the Dallas-Forth Worth area, Trietsch Memorial United Methodist Church.
In addition, we have consulted with a variety of congregations encompassing a variety of denominational traditions, sizes, and worship styles, and we have conducted short-term consultations at churches ranging from fifty to fifteen thousand in weekly worship attendance. Although this seems like a bit of a laundry list, it evidences that we have seen, in a variety of settings and with a variety of models, worship design teams that work—and ones that don't.
The Power of Teams
But what if you have never experienced amazing, transformational teams in ministry? What do you do then?
Take a glimpse at the working relationship of two brothers from the Midwest whose combined efforts went beyond what either could have achieved alone. The birth of flight was much less glamorous than myth may suggest. On the morning of December 17, 1903, at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Orville and Wilbur Wright put a plane in the air for twelve seconds, covering a total of 120 feet. That's ten feet per second, or 6.8 miles per hour. They probably could have run faster. But by the end of that same day they had launched three other flights, with the last going 852 feet in 59 seconds and ending in a dramatic accident that nearly totaled the plane and ended test flights for the rest of that year.
Their feat was remarkable in ways that we probably can't fully imagine. It literally took years of blood, sweat, and tears just to go 120 feet in the air. The path to this victory wasn't smooth by any means. The Wright brothers took their victories however they could. It is important for us to view our struggles in ministry with teams the same way. There will be conflicts and failures, with tiny victories in between, but if we stay committed we can be assured that eventually we will achieve the sometimes seemingly elusive yet transforming sense of koinonia.
In The Wired Church 2.0, Len wrote, "Don't do this alone. Don't even try." Teams make organizational sense; but more importantly, they are the embodiment of Christ in the daily work of ministry. Many of us know this, at the business or theological level or both, and spend much time recruiting, training, and working with teams in our daily ministry efforts. But do we really practice effective teaming? Good teams should take us to heights unimaginable by ourselves. This is a product of not just a team but a team with koinonia. That spirit of koinonia creates team effectiveness that would be impossible if any one person attempted it. It is the purpose of having teams in the first place—the experience of being a part of something great. Koinonia is truly living as the body of Christ.
As a team of two who has also worked both individually and collectively with a number of other teams, we have learned a few basic principles for developing this koinonia in a worship planning environment. This book is designed to help teams of Jesus followers everywhere take flight with creativity and discover worship design teams that actually work.
Excerpted from Taking Flight With Creativity by Len Wilson Copyright © 2009 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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