One day, while in the midst of a life-changing worship experience, I began to ponder, "What is it that others hear when I play?" I looked around at the congregation of worshippers. Some were crying, some were smiling, some had hands lifted, some were rocking from side to side, and others were just sitting in observation, seemingly just trying to take it all in.
After the benediction, I was approached by people saying, "We enjoyed your ministry!", "Oh, the music was so beautiful!", "Great job today!" I felt overjoyed with accomplishment, but then it hit me! I asked myself a question that wiped away every note I'd played for the previous two hours! "When do I get to worship?" After spending countless hours learning the lyrics and chords, designing and printing the flyers, preparing the slides for the projectors and screens, laying out the weekly bulletins, cleaning the restrooms, and even toiling over the process of sermon preparation, am I so overwhelmed by the work that I’ve missed my own opportunity to worship?
Go There First Yourself
I've found that the most effective way to stay connected to the worship experience while doing the work is to lead the people to a place where you've already been! When I'm searching for the perfect Resurrection Sunday background image, I'm really trying to find God in the background (Wow, that'll preach!) If I'm preparing the song selections for this week's rehearsal, I want to present the song with compassion and conviction because of the experience I've had found while listening to the song in my personal time with God! Can I get my dance in without the music during your personal devotion time? If my answer to these questions is "yes", then now I'm ready for worship!
Adjust Your Focus
Many of those who work in ministry often miss their own opportunity to worship due to mis-focused preparation. The focus of our preparation should be to lead others into the presence of God! This takes a team effort and is best achieved when the entire team embraces a culture of F.L.O.W., or Focused on Leading Others in Worship! This begins with developing a church-wide culture of hospitality that is inviting so that all who attend the worship experience feels welcomed. Next, everyone has to see the BIG picture, and make that end result their individual goal! If I understand that the worship backgrounds have to F.L.O.W. in sync with the songs selected, then I'm not just looking for a good clear picture! I'm looking for THE picture that complements the song selection! So when I see my part and hear their part, I'm overwhelmed by how God can connect our unique and individual efforts to present an experience that represents Him in a way that compels someone to make a decision for salvation!
Please excuse me if the next slide doesn't flow with perfect timing! It was probably because I had my hands lifted in worship, or was wiping my own tears, or giving someone an embrace, or praying with someone in need! After we've worked so intensely to prepare for worship, we deserve to take a moment to feel God's presence for ourselves! There must be a balance between the congregation's need for support and the staff's need to experience the same God they've led everyone else to. Our worship, though often presented in a digital context, must support the analog experience of lifting our hands.
Developing a Culture of Work that Supports Worship
Sometimes the work done behind the scenes to produce ministry and worship experiences can cause moments of tension or "intense times of fellowship"! Begin our days, our rehearsals, and our meetings with devotion, will help us center on the reason why we're connected...for worship! The creative discussion of red background or blue then becomes centered around worship elements rather than somebody's favorite color! When you remain focused on who you're really working for (God, of course) the burden seems lighter and is always rewarding! Even if this week's bulletins did not survive the copier's paper jam, our attitude could be overcome if we remain focused on worship! If all of the work that we do is to support the worship experience, then we should try our best not to operate in attitudes that will hinder the worship experiences!
Preparing for God's Presence
We often spend countless hours preparing for our congregations to have an engaging experience, but often do not take the time to prepare our hearts to experience God's presence. After we've passed out all the first-time visitors cards, if we're not ushering our congregation into God's presence, our worship service has not been effective. The following are simple tips that, if implemented consistently, will help us keep our focus on experiencing the same worship we work so hard to produce for others!
Music and Worship Arts Ministry
It is impossible to convey a message that you do not know. It is just as difficult to communicate the heart of God through a song that you do not know. It is imperative that musical selections are presented by worship leaders and choir members who have practiced in God's presence. Be intentional about practicing God's presence in rehearsals. If you " communicate an expectation of the atmosphere your selections should produce, your choir and ministry teams will be encouraged to actively participate in producing that experience during worship.
Technical Sound and Video Staff
Simple soundchecks and "Run of Show" walkthroughs should be prefaced with prayer. It takes a great deal of focus to cue the right mic, launch the right video, play the right soundtrack, and keep in sync with the scripture being read in a different version...all at the same time. As we become more embracing of technology, we also become more dependent on those who produce the creative and technical portions of our worship experiences. The scripture on the screen has to sync with what's being read, but do we take the time to really digest the scripture as we're searching for it in the software?
A Note of Thanks
For those of you who work and toil behind the scenes orchestrating activities that no one tends to see or appreciate, be reminded that your work to support worship is appreciated through our smiles, our tears, our lifted hands, and our songs! Thank you for embracing the task of providing the support that takes our worship and intimate time with God to another level! Keep pushing, keep going, keep growing! And by all means, press beyond the work to get to a greater place of worship for you!
The Rev. Roderick “RJ” Stevenson is an ordained elder serving in the 11th Episcopal District of the AME Church. He currently serves as Pastor of Worship and Outreach at Allen Temple AME Church in Tampa, Florida, under the leadership of the Rev. Dr. Glenn B. Dames, Jr. For more information, send correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org