The New Pastor's Guide to Leading Worship

The New Pastor's Guide to Leading Worship

by Barbara Day Miller


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780687497201
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 09/26/2012
Pages: 114
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.24(d)

About the Author

Barbara Day Miller is the Assistant Dean of Worship at Candler School of Theology.

Read an Excerpt

The New Pastor's Guide to Leading Worship

By Barbara Day Miller

Abingdon Press

Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-687-49720-1


The Pastor as Leader: Preparing to Lead

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

—Mark 1:16-18

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?

—The Summons, John Bell, Iona Community

As I stood at the front of the sanctuary and looked at the people, I realized they were looking to me for leadership. I had been in "leadership" in the church for many years, had taught Sunday school, had led the singing, but now I was the leader. I was the pastor.

Glenn, newly licensed pastor

You have answered the call to pastoral ministry. You have had or are receiving training for this work. Your denomination has given you authority, and you are now the pastor at your first church. In this appointment you are responsible for leadership in many areas. You will teach. You will visit in homes and hospitals. You will administer the budgets and programs of the church. You will be responsible for the upkeep and the use of the church buildings. You will encourage the outreach efforts of the congregation and the church's involvement in the community. And, on the Sabbath, when the people gather, you will be the leader of worship.

In thinking how you will lead, you will recall other pastors whom you have seen in this role. You have been in worship services in which the pastor made this work look easy—a smooth and natural flow of gesture and action and word. The worship was a deep experience in the presence of God. In fact, you did not notice the pastor, but were led along by the pastor's skill—confident but not in the spotlight, inviting but not imposing. You may have thought, "Some people just have a natural gift."

You have also been in worship services in which the leadership was much more fragmented and disjointed. The congregation glanced at each other or at their worship bulletins wondering what was next. The pastor seemed more caught up in selfconscious gestures and voice than the message of words and actions. The pastor seemed unsure of what might happen next. The worship service seemed to be more focused on the sequence than the spirit. And you thought, "I hope I don't lead like that."

Many of us have also been in worship services in which the pastor was the only thing we noticed. This leader was the center of every action, every gesture, "running the show." There was a plethora of anecdotes, stories, jokes, and an overuse of the pronoun I. The pastor's voice was the only one heard—preaching, leading the singing, and praying. You felt pushed and pulled, a bit manipulated perhaps. And you may have thought, "If that is worship leadership, I don't think I can do it."

What is the difference? Are some people called to this ministry more gifted and others less skilled? To some extent, yes. But, whether you are naturally at home and confident in front of the congregation, or whether you are self-conscious and unsure, the important element is your preparation. The ability to lead worship is not a skill automatically conferred by your answering God's call. It is a long process, and a discipline of practice and self-critique and growth.

Skilled worship leadership begins with prayerful imagination. By imagination we are not speaking of a magical moment, an instant in which you become someone you have long admired or the model of smooth and efficient presence. This is an imagination, a way of envisioning, that begins with a deep knowing of yourself, who you are and what your own style is. It is a process of finding your voice, of being at home with your gestures, of allowing yourself to be who God has called you to be.

You may have already begun this process of seeing yourself in leadership, perhaps even literally, if you have had classes or training in preaching in which you were videotaped. This process can be scary. "I can't believe I look like that!" "My voice sounds so flat." "I slur my words." "My hands are too busy." "I move around too much." These are helpful, if self-conscious and intimidating, points for growth. You can improve on these skills and smooth out irritating mannerisms through continued study and practice. The suggestions in this book can help you.

But, these desired changes should not become only a checklist, a measure against which you judge your skill and efficiency in leading the worship of God's people. You might come to think that if you complete the list of improvements, you will be an effective worship leader. This is only partially true. A list of practical, mastered skills is necessary and helpful, a good thing, but it may not bring clarity to the deep image of who you are as the leader of worship. And, over the long course of your ministry the mastery of technique alone will not sustain you.

There are many ways to be effective and competent in the leadership of worship. But in my conversations with students now in the parish, the one discovery they would want me to share with you is to "be yourself." To be skilled, yes. To be in awe of the call and responsibility, yes. To be knowledgeable, yes. To be trained and practiced in your roles, yes. But, you are not, and should not attempt to be, the former senior pastor you admired, your mentor, your best friend, or a television evangelist. You are unique and gifted, called by God to be yourself as you are the pastoral leader of worship.

Seeing Yourself as the Leader

What does being the worship leader look like? How do you see yourself? What is your image of yourself as 'leader'? This is the work of prayerful imagination.

As you move into this new calling, take some time to reflect on your image of yourself as the leader of worship. This exercise is not asking you to construct a list of what you will do. ("As the pastor leading worship I welcome everyone, then I ... , then I ..."). It is for you to articulate for yourself who you are in leading. This image is more of feeling, of style, or presence. Here are some questions to get you started:

1. When you see yourself leading worship are you enthusiastic? Quiet? Gentle? Inviting?

2. Are you extroverted in front of people, or more introverted, contemplative?

3. Do you lead with words and explanations? Or with gestures, eye contact?

4. What words describe you as the worship leader: Friend? Fellow traveler? Shepherd? Teacher? Priest? Prophet? Parent? Caregiver? Coach? Other descriptions?

5. What are the qualities and characteristics associated with these models?

6. In your imagination, are you beside the people? In front of them? Leading from the middle?

7. Is there a biblical character whose qualities you embrace? Who? Why?

Write, draw, or express your thoughts in phrases, sentences, poetry. The writing and reflection are for you, to help you see yourself more clearly as you grow into this new identity. Over time the images may change as you gain confidence, as you smooth some rough edges of your style, as you discover new gifts for leadership. The image of yourself as leader may also change and evolve as you live into the worship itself, as you are formed by the very patterns of worship you are leading, and as those patterns begin to lead you deeper into your ministry and your own faith life.

Roles of the Pastor-as-Worship-Leader

Knowing yourself, being able to imagine yourself as the leader is an important part of the preparation for the roles you will fill as the leader of worship. You may say, "I'm called and appointed to be the pastor. I thought that was my role." It is. But as you have discovered in the exercise above, there is a wide variety of images associated with that identity, and there are different ways in which you will function as a pastor.

Three biblical images are prominent in worship leadership roles: pastor, priest, and prophet. Each is distinct, yet also connected. In leading and guiding the worship service itself, you will function in these roles. Much of the time you will be in a 'pastoral' role, the 'shepherd' of God's people. You will invite the people into the presence of God, reminding them of God's care, the grace and love of Jesus Christ, the living power of the Holy Spirit. They will look to you for this guidance and leadership from within the circle of believers.

There are times in which you will function as 'priest'; that is, the one who mediates between God and the assembly. In speaking the deep desires of the people, you are lifting prayers to God on behalf of the people. In presiding at the Holy Communion or at a baptism you are in a priestly role, set apart and given authority for this work.

You will also be a prophet. Whether in preaching or in prayer or action, the role of the prophet in worship leadership is to point the people toward a vision of what might be. You may call the people to repentance. You may issue a challenge to engage in ministry in the neighborhood or surrounding community. You may speak a word of reminder that God is "doing a new thing." In your prophetic role you will be leading at the edge of the congregation, stepping out before the people.

As we look more closely at your work in leading worship, these roles will become clearer. Seeing how the roles function and seeing an image of yourself as the worship leader may point out areas for your own growth and understanding. For example, if the image is that of a quiet and caring 'shepherd,' you may not have thought of a role in 'priestly' functions. The work of presiding at the table for Holy Communion may be less familiar to you. Leadership of the sacraments may require more thought and practice until the role of priest becomes comfortable. Likewise, if you are very comfortable presiding, following the texts in the worship book, and leading the people in an ordered fashion, then you may find preaching and the crafting of creative and prophetic sermons to be a point of development for you.

As you read and work through the next chapters, and as you are in ministry with your congregation, remember that you are a "new" pastor. You are growing into and being formed in this calling. You are becoming the leader of worship.


Leading Worship on Your First Sunday

God is here! As we your people meet to offer praise and prayer, may we find in fuller measure what it is in Christ we share. Here, as in the world around us, all our varied skills and arts wait the coming of the Spirit into open minds and hearts.

—GOD IS HERE! Words: Fred Pratt Green © 1979 Hope Publishing Company, Carol Stream, IL 60188. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Carol moved to her first appointment on Thursday. The new congregation welcomed her with food and drop-by visits—more new names and faces than she could remember. On Friday she had a funeral for a church member who had been in a nursing home. On Saturday she was at the church and met the altar guild briefly as they prepared for the next day's service. Sunday morning before teaching a Sunday school class, she had a quick conversation about the worship order with the usher and pianist. The worship service began smoothly; Carol wasn't even very nervous. At the time for the offering to be presented, she stood in front of the altar, waiting. The ushers with full offering plates stood at the back of the sanctuary, waiting. Finally, the ushers, still looking as if this were not the right thing to do, approached the altar; Carol said the prayer, the congregation sang the doxology and the service continued. Only in a conversation after the service did she discover that normally the pastor gave the prayer before the ushers brought the gifts to the altar. Experiences like this become the stuff of shared laughter and stories —"remember at that first service when ..."

Imagination: Seeing Yourself in the Space

This incident points to the need for imagining your work, for conversing with the leaders and practicing for your first Sunday in worship leadership, because as Carol discovered, your preparation time for the first service will be limited. The entry into a new place is full of many 'welcoming' moments and many demands on your time. You may even, as Carol did, have a funeral or other important service prior to your first Sunday. So rather than hoping all will work out, that you will just assume leadership in the established local pattern, or that since you have been 'in church' most of your life you will know what to do, consider these ways to prepare for leading worship on your first Sunday.

Visit the sanctuary space. This visit is for you to imagine yourself as the worship leader, to see yourself moving about the space. You should spend this initial time in the space alone, without any distractions or conversation, or concerns about the location of the offering plates or the color of the paraments. Enter in prayer that God will help you see clearly—both yourself and those who will be in worship.

Come through the main entrance. Walk into the space and seat yourself in the congregation. What do you see around you? How does the light come through the windows? How do the chancel and pulpit area appear? Crowded? Open and empty? From your seat in the congregation, look up to imagine yourself in the chancel space. Anticipate moving from chair to altar table to pulpit, then into the congregation. Picture yourself in the pulpit; hear the first words of your sermon. Imagine yourself receiving the offering plates, turning to place them on the altar table; lifting your hands as a gesture for the congregation to sing. Can you see the musicians, the acolytes? Can you see the people in the space?

Now walk into the chancel area. Where is your seat? Can you see the congregation? Move to the pulpit. Are there steps? How high is the desk? Is there a light on the pulpit desk? Can you see your sermon notes? Speak into the space. Is there an echo? Will you need to speak more slowly? Is there a microphone on the pulpit desk or will you be using a lavaliere mike, or is there no sound amplification?

Move to the altar table. Can you stand behind it? How high is it? Is there a stand for your worship book during the communion service or will you need to ask someone to assist you? Are you comfortable behind the table? Do your gestures feel natural, or do they overpower the space?

If you will be wearing a robe, put it on. Does it feel heavy? Are the sleeves very full? Will they brush against or get caught on the edge of the pulpit or altar table? Can you move easily in the robe? Can you go up and down any steps without difficulty?

What shoes will you wear? If you are wearing very soft, comfortable shoes as you visit the space for the first time, you may have a different experience when you are wearing dress shoes. The unexpected sound of heels tapping on hard, polished surfaces during a moment of silence can be disconcerting to the congregation. The feeling of unsteadiness on a slick floor will be unsettling for you in the midst of what can be a Sunday of uncertainties. So, practice your role in this first service in ways that are as near as possible to the service itself.

Now walk back down the aisle, through the congregation to the door where you will greet the people. You are already more comfortable in the space, and more prepared to learn the details of the service in your next conversation.

Conversation: Preparing for the Service

The order of service for your first Sunday will follow the customary pattern of this congregation. You have probably spoken by telephone with several people, particularly the person who prepares the bulletin and who wanted to know your sermon title. The hymns and special music may have been chosen earlier in order to have them well rehearsed. Read through the completed bulletin. Most printed orders of worship provide minimal information about the actions of the service—where people are, at what points in the service they stand, who reads, who brings the offering. Make a list of questions for your meeting with the other leaders: usher, musician, altar guild member and the lay leader.

You will want to write the questions down, and certainly you will want to write notes during the conversation. Ideally, the conversation regarding the first Sunday's worship should take place in the worship space itself, so all parties can more easily picture the space and envision the actions. Being in the sanctuary will remind you of questions and remind the lay leaders of the movement that takes place during worship. You can imagine together how the service will unfold.


Excerpted from The New Pastor's Guide to Leading Worship by Barbara Day Miller. Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


I The Pastor as Leader: Preparing to Lead,
II Leading Worship on Your First Sunday,
III Rituals: The "Way We Do It Here",
IV Leading in the Worship Service,
V Leading the Prayers: Praying with the People,
VI Leading at the Table: Holy Communion,
VII Leading at the Font: Baptism,
VIII Leading through Seasons and Times: The Christian Year,
IX Leading with Musicians,
X Leading Worship with the Hymnal: Singing a New Song,
XI Leading an Expanded Practice: Reflection on the Patterns,
XII Leading the People into Leadership: Expanding and Renewing,
XIII Leading the Preparation: Planning Together M,
XIV The Pastor as Leader: Ongoing Work,
Appendix: Other Resources,
Annotated Bibliography,

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