Good worship is no accident. As I reflect on the process of crafting meaningful worship, I am struck by the simultaneous mechanics and spirituality. First, the mechanics involve the tasks: setting out a theme, meeting with worship leaders, discussing ideas, and putting the disparate pieces together. Second, spirituality brings in spontaneity and the prompting of the Holy Spirit. A child whispers a question to his mother, the pastor reads the child’s lips, and the pastor weaves the child’s question into the liturgy.
The entire process begins with a group of people. Separately or together, they pray. In the end, by God’s grace, they assemble sometimes incongruent pieces into a contiguous whole.
Months before any given Sunday, for me, the process starts with a prayer—a time of listening. Paul Tillich writes, “In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen.” As Christians, our first task is to listen. I pick scripture or select a part of the lectionary on which to focus. Then, after sharing this emphasis with the staff, the music director picks music. Perhaps an associate pastor suggests a prayer to complement the theme.
Early in the week, the staff gathers together to go over the worship service. They pray together. They talk it through and think about stagecraft or logistics–who will be where and when (e.g. how will the organist get to the piano? Or, will the pastor have time to get to the baptistery and back, after a baptism?). They discuss hymns: how does this hymn connect with the theme? They work through a mockup bulletin.
After the staff meeting, the administrative assistant prints a final proof of the bulletin. Staff members review it and give a final approval. By Thursday, the admin begins printing the bulletins. During the week, volunteers add drapery to the cross to match the season of the Christian calendar. The cleaning staff picks up old bulletins, straightens hymnals, and vacuums the carpet. The florist brings in fresh flowers.
For the worshipper, she enters a sanctuary, a sacred space, and carries the preoccupations of a postmodern world. One is concerned with work. Another thinks about family and a recent conflict. Still, another thinks about how great life is. A new parent beams with pride as people dote over the baby. An elderly person is happy to see other people, yet reminded of a sore knee with each step. A teen thinks: When will this be over? Or, Does she like me? Each person enters the sacred space bringing in something different.
Humanity cannot guide God. However, God gives people the awareness of time. Thus, ministers and other church leaders have the opportunity to create meaningful worship opportunities. By choosing themes that mean something to people today, connecting the dots, and presenting each element of worship as effectively as possible, the Holy Spirit has space to roam. By taking time to prepare, each person, with their vastly different interests and concerns, can experience God in the same worship service. In my experience, God ordains preparation and thoughtfulness.