How do we worship ministers navigate this unknown territory in which we find ourselves today? I didn’t figure I would find the answer in the Book of Jeremiah.
Let me start by saying something we already know: Because of COVID-19, we worship ministers have had to get creative and agile to keeping our mission on target.
In Patrick Johnstone’s book, The Church Is Bigger Than You Think, he references a book by Robert Brow, where he talks about how organizations need to have rigidity and agility (page 164). Like a human body, we need to have rigidity (i.e. skeleton) and agility (i.e. blood vessels). We need structure that provides predictability and a firm footing.
We also need the agility and flexibility to “turn on a dime” when the situation requires it and/or the Holy Spirit directs it.
I’m afraid that we have gotten a little too committed to our structures. Perhaps, God is going to use this season of pandemic to help us as curators of worship services to try new things, be creative and trust God to keep doing what He’s always done: grow His own Kingdom.
I’d like to offer a few things worship leaders can keep in mind in navigating this unknown territory and I believe Jeremiah will be our guide. In Jeremiah 10:21, 23-24 we find these words:
For the shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the Lord: therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered. I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps. Correct me, O Lord, but in justice; not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.
According to Jeremiah, to be a “stupid shepherd” means that, however educated and experienced we might be, we have neglected one important task: inquire of the Lord. Those who are blessed with the privilege of guiding the people of God should be the first to seek God’s wisdom–maybe now more than ever.
In verse 24, Jeremiah prays that God would correct him. This implies that Jeremiah, a divinely inspired prophet, doesn’t always have the answers.
In the same way, we will not always know what to do as we lead God’s people, so it is incredibly important that we maintain humble hearts, willing to regularly seek the counsel of God’s Spirit.
And in the spirit of heading into the unknown (like Elsa from Frozen 2…which I have seen my fair share thanks to my youngest and the “Stay At Home Ordinance” from our county health department), I’d like to offer three things to help worship leaders navigate this season in a way that is less “stupid”:
#1 – Humbly plan services with a loose grip.
What worked before in the corporate gathering may not work now, nor may it be exactly what people need. Explore other practices of worship that your typical Sunday morning service may not allow. Just because you can get a whole team together and record/stream your experience (which is what our county has allowed) doesn’t necessarily mean that’s what you’re supposed to do.
This is a great season to try new things.
As is always the case, not everything you choose to do to creatively lead your people in worship will “work,” yet I believe we too often reduce our efforts to what “works.” As I have regularly quoted Sandra Van Opstal to say, we must give our people what they want, but also “what they didn’t know they needed.”
Already through the last few weeks, we have tried a few different things we’ve never done before for the Body at large. We’ve done a small house worship setting, worship in the round, and simple daily hymn videos through Holy Week. It might be a good time to reach into ancient practices of brothers and sisters, via liturgies, readings, and guided prayers.
Inquire of the Lord and see if He is directing you to lead your people in worship with creative, innovative and “new” ideas.
#2 – Evaluate your ideas and efforts with grace first.
We are usually our own worst critics, and the truth is, most people don’t even notice the simple mistakes we make. When it’s time to evaluate your ideas, initiatives, services, etc., do so with an extra measure of grace…first. That’s not to say you can’t have an objective mind. But as we navigate new ground, speak first with grace. This will help your team feel that it’s a safe place to have the needed critical discussions.
Even as Jesus moved toward people with grace, I think this season requires that we be extra gracious to people.
Even if you have a critical comment or perspective that must be shared, be hyper sensitive to doing it in a gracious way.
Maybe I’m being too sensitive to this, but I’ve had my share of evaluation meetings on Mondays. After I have poured my heart into a worship service (the prayerful preparation, the hours of personal practice, the equipping of volunteers, the leading of rehearsal, the stressful Sunday morning schedule), I have to be mindful that my heart is in a vulnerable place to receive any critical comment.
Our staff has not always done this perfectly, but for a while now we have employed a system of evaluation that has been helpful which I believe we stole from Andy Stanley. We ask these four questions whenever evaluating any program or event:
- What was right?
- What was wrong?
- What was missing?
- What was confusing?
By asking these questions consistently and regularly, we are able to proactively make things better. As good as all four questions are, I think the most important question to ask is, what went right? By starting with this question, we move toward one another with grace.
We are too quick to pick on the things that went wrong. I’ve received text messages within seconds of a mistake. That’s not helpful. Grace values the person more than the issue at hand. Grace leaves room for trusting that God’s got this (we’ll address this in a moment). The bottom line is this:
While it’s natural to be our own worst critic, don’t be someone else’s worst critic. Start with grace.
#3 – Don’t forget to trust God.
Historically, the Church in the United States has been through rough spots before, but we seem to be facing an unprecedented season. And even now, the Church around the world endures more than inconvenience in order to gather in worship. But, wherever you are in these uncertain times, it is always wise to trust God.
When things don’t go well, I regularly remind my team that God is in control by saying, “Hey look, the Kingdom is still standing!” Not everything rises and falls by our own capacity. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for excellence, but at the end of the day, there are more important matters than the content we produce.
If we’re honest, we need to remember that even our best efforts must rely on the power of God’s Spirit, so certainly when we miss the mark, we must trust that God’s got this.
Psalm 125:1 says,
“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”
Learning to trust God is like learning to exhale. Just because you can hold your own breath for a really long time doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Trusting God means we release, or relinquish, control. In the services we plan and the ideas we enact, we must learn how to release those things to the Lord, trusting that He will continue to be faithful to advance His own Kingdom. May we not place upon ourselves the pressure of the delusion that we can control how effectively we are reaching people.
As Jeremiah 10:23 tells us,
“I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself.”
We are not enough by ourselves. We must rely on the Lord to direct us. We must trust His power to advance His Kingdom. God wants us to be faithful to plant and water the seeds of His Word. He is still the One who brings the growth. Trust Him with the results of your efforts.
There’s a good chance that I will watch Frozen 2 this week. I will probably sing along with Elsa as she cries out “Into the Unknown.” She will end the song with this question, “How do I follow you into the unknown?”
If all of us worship leaders would ask the Holy Spirit the same question each day, I think we would become wise like Jeremiah. We would experience the opposite of what he prophesied would happen in verse 21, where those who did not inquire of the Lord would not prosper, but would be scattered.