Musicians of the church are artists, and we value creativity and innovation. We thrive when we minister in congregations that call us to imagine new ways of designing and leading the work of the church – for us, mainly worship.
Artists who serve the church become discouraged when liturgy is locked-in by stifling sameness, lack of permission to experiment, colleagues who fail to search for fresh materials, and congregations who defend lackluster worship participation. However, the good news for music and worship leaders who serve in this time in history is that creativity and innovation is prized and valued.
However, a word of explanation might be important to distinguish between true creativity and innovation and “radical change.” What the church needs is not “radical change.”
All good leadership within the church is characterized by the leader’s ability to learn carefully the church’s liturgical history, listen to the worship experiences that have shaped the congregant’s lives, assess the skills and abilities of its current music and arts leadership team, gauge the flexibility of other ministry colleagues, and gently lead the church to experience new worship forms and expressions over time. In discussing ministry, the words “radical” and “leadership” do not usually coexist. How do we lead in this positive change that we have described?
We minister in an ever-changing culture in which very little could be described as static. When we go to our local grocery, we expect the displays to change each week and occasionally for the store to be rearranged. When we frequent a favorite restaurant, we expect sporadic new dishes and daily specials – but not replacing the tried and true favorites. When we visit a department store, we expect new merchandise, seasonal fabric and color shifts, and updated styles.
Yet, for some churches, these normal and expected shifts are minimal and sometimes even hard to detect. In a rapidly changing culture, the church should be a stable and foundational component of our community; however, the church must also be characterized by fresh expressions which reflect the newness of the Christ we serve.
Four Design Options
As we look to leading in creative and innovative worship expressions, the following four worship design/leadership options have been helpful my students and me:
Repetition (same place, same method)
This worship design model in which we do the same liturgical elements each week in the same manner is not creative nor innovative. For instance, this method retains the same liturgical order (which for some of our congregations is important) but also carries out the liturgical element in the same way – the congregational songs are accompanied by the same instruments, introduced in the same way, led by the same group from the same position, etc.
Interestingly, this is not a method that is exclusive to a liturgical congregation in which all musical elements are led from the organ; it is just as prominent in a congregation in which all congregational songs are led by a band in a similarly-designed twenty minute continuous song set each week. Both formulas are lacking creativity and innovation.
Refreshment (same place, different method)
This worship design/leadership model offers a constructive option. It allows for developing or maintaining a consistent liturgical pattern (which offers stability to the congregation) while also providing interest and freshness through presenting and doing liturgical elements in different ways – introducing songs in different ways; accompanying musical elements differently; praying in different patterns, locations, and methods; and reading scripture in different places, by different people, etc.
Reposition (different place, same method)
This worship design/leadership model might be described as a “cut and paste” option since it retains the same elements but mixes up their sequence in order to offer worship that might be perceived as fresh and different.
Refreshment and Reposition (different place, different method)
This worship design/leadership model is the most radical of the four options mentioned because it has the ability to make the congregation uneasy since they can neither readily predict the order of their worship nor the methods utilized. However, it is an effective model for some innovative and experimental groups who have been conditioned to be flexible and adaptive. Most often this model works well for special seasons of the year, large celebrations, infrequent worship gatherings, and other times in which the congregation’s expectation is set for something novel.
While “repetition” is rarely an effective worship design/leadership model, neither is “refreshment and reposition.” However, “refreshment” and “reposition” offer tremendous possibility for congregations desiring greater creativity and fresher worship experiences. In my experience, I have found that “refreshment” with occasional “reposition” offers the level of innovative expression that most congregations desire and affirm.
Simply moving elements around for the sake of creativity can quickly become gimmicky and trite; and furthermore, this option often leaves the congregation feeling groundless and confused. Continually seeking ways to introduce and lead the basic elements of worship that comprise worship of all congregations regardless of liturgical tradition or style preferences offers both an ongoing challenge for artistic worship leaders and a welcome departure from the sameness that might have characterized worship of a different era.