In most churches, politics get to decide the style of worship. Now, this does not mean altruism is not part of the equation or the motive. It simply means that the “who” in the decision process is a political equation that involves church history, tradition, governing structure, and even theology. Add to this the team that plans and leads the music and worship. And, add to this the senior or lead pastor who is in charge of the outcome. Every part of the equation forces a political hand in an activity that should be more family-driven as opposed to institution-driven. Our weekend service styles are either the result of committee or dictatorship. Either way, politics decide.
Most people attending services have no clue about the sausage being made, even though it would make a fascinating reality TV show. The production of a worship service is not too different than putting on a community theatre production. In both, the event is bigger than one person, and there are tensions in its creation and execution that can make it a smash or deliver a flop. Too often, in a church setting we want to minimize the appearance of conflict. Theatrical productions that do this end up being benign and boring. Does this sound like a lot of church services to you?
The worship style is simply the shell you see as far as songs, volume, lighting, vibe, and the whole look and feel of it all. But, these things are defining. Playing music with electric guitars, subwoofers thumping, and dark lighting sends one message. Having a vocal team in a row in button up shirts and dresses with full lighting says something else. The tech we use or don’t use also plays into all of this.
Style is more than music. And, politics determines who is in or who is out. The system works when it deals with tension and conflict honestly. The reason many of our services lack is because we do not openly acknowledge the existence of the conflict and tension. We stuff what we really think and feel, thwarting the powerful opportunity to see God bring diverse gifting and perspectives together.
Here is how to leverage the reality of conflict and make it work for you:
- First, admit to all that conflict and competing visions for worship style exist and that politics are a reality. Different people think differently. Creatives appreciate knowing the reality of the landscape, and need reminders of it. Everyone does.
- Allow strong people with passion to be on your team. A leader who wants only “yes sir” without question is not very smart, and will end up having boring, un-creative, and safe weekend services.
- Determine to bring unity in foundational factors: theology, strategy, and your church’s unique history and identity. Who you are should be understood as the boundaries for what you do. Build these relationally and institutionally.
- Measure success not by lack of conflict, but by the greater purpose of leading people to worship Christ together. Complaints, disappointments, and people losing politically does not mean the service did not achieve God’s purpose. Remind all of this fact.
- Open up a safe place for meaningful and controversial conversation, diffusing the water cooler debating that often undermines morale. When people are not fearful of having a different point of view, they are freer to be more mature with it.
- Give away the execution. A flat structure to lead in execution works under a primary leader who keeps vision clearly defined. Is the church worship style the pastor’s style or do we ask what is best for the people to express their worship? I say a community needs a community to lead it in worship.