I had a friend call me the other day asking for advice on first steps in a new worship position at a local church. We spoke for a few minutes, and after hanging up, I continued to think about his situation, and what I would do. I remembered some things I had done when beginning previous jobs.
First, you must accept a basic reality, which is this: if you have ideas about what you want to do with your position, then you’re a leader. In leadership, a new job is an exciting opportunity because it’s a chance to introduce a strong vision. Vision is essential to leadership. But it doesn’t come without trouble. Here are six realities you must accept if you’re a new leader.
Demonstrate, don’t debate.
I woke up to the sound of rushing water late one night. Running downstairs, I discovered that a pipe in our rear storage room had frozen and exploded, spraying freezing water everywhere. Water had begun to leak under the dry wall into our kitchen. I wanted to lay down towels to stop the water that was rapidly covering our kitchen floor, but that wouldn’t solve the problem. The only solution was to grit my teeth and shut off the water. Trying to implement change through debate is analogous to stopping the flooding by laying down towels.
As an advocate for the use of images in worship, I have believed that a proper understanding and presentation of the theological significance of media as a form for communicating God’s truth is essential. But I have also known that polarizing debate won’t change people’s minds as much as it will create enemies. I have discovered time and again that one finely produced, properly executed worship experience is more effective than a lifetime of roundtable discussions at demonstrating the power of the screen when communicating the heart of the Gospel.
Accept that some people just won’t follow.
Let’s assume that you have experienced a “eureka” moment, a clarifying experience for what you should do. The moment became a catalyst for change and has helped form a vision. While the need has become obvious for you, there is a likelihood that, although you may have fellow converts, most people aren’t yet with you.
You must recognize that some people will never follow you. Regardless of what you do, some people will never accept your leadership, whether it is in the realm of creative communication, preaching, or what section of the parking lot to repave. To quote Michael Slaughter, “Put it up for a vote, and the people will always vote to go back to Egypt.” As a leader it is your job to both give compassion and love to these people while at the same time holding fast to the mission that you have been given. Like Jesus in Matthew 15, it’s okay to let some people go. Stay positive and loving, but stay committed to your mission.
Enlist strategic partners to assist with the vision casting.
Don’t be the only advocate. Find friends, fast. Key lay leaders can turn a programmed mandate into a grass roots movement. This difference in perception can go a long ways to overcoming negativity.
In addition to strategic lay leadership, it is vital to have key local church staff people on board as well. For example, worship changes will likely not happen without the music leader on board. The problem is that for some people in staffed positions who have been designing effective worship for often quite a long time, there is not a clear mandate to change. It is easy as a change agent to deride their efforts as out of touch or as an obstacle to creating a team-based worship experience. But you first need to respect their experience. Many in such local church positions as music minister have assumed, and even been trained in, isolationist models of leadership. For a lone ranger in worship, your primary goal is to demonstrate a new model through the creation of a team environment for every aspect of worship planning, including music, calls to worship, and even the sermon. It is only through jointly prepared worship at every level that truly transforming integrated media worship may occur.
Vision trumps capital.
It is not necessary to spend money to create change. This may sound pollyanna, but I really believe that if your community gets behind a project, it is possible to find money to make it happen. Passion is created in part through the excellent presentation of possibilities. A set of these experiences will begin to open doors for the money necessary to maintain a consistent presentation for the long haul. Lead with the passion that fires your spirit.
Strategic trumps speedy.
I remember one small church pastor in the late 1990s who wanted to introduce a video clip in worship. He set up two TVs to a VCR and showed a clip from The Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve. (The old version of the movie.) This was innocuous enough that the congregation didn’t feel threatened, it was easy to pull off, and it fit well into the context of that pastor’s sermon. A few examples of this can have the effect of creating enthusiasm not from the leadership but from the laity. When done right, your vision will become a group initiatives instead of a forced mandate. Starting slowly, however, doesn’t suggest approaching implementation idly.
Clarity trumps magnitude.
Focus on doing well with limited resources. This may mean simply using a film clip or one new song, and working on completely integrating it, before you add a number of elements. Also, if for example your new worship service starts in September, use Sunday nights or other, smaller gatherings throughout the summer as an unofficial rehearsal environment. Find times to practice your new service before you go “live.” Get together with your team(s) and plan exactly how you will get into and out of technologically intense moments. Plan at least 3-4 times where your team may actually go through the service in its entirety, without a congregation.
Even as a first-time experiment, there were problems with the use of the aforementioned Christmas Carol clip. The audio was not wired into the church’s sound system. Instead, they turned up the audio coming from the little TV speakers, which came out distorted in their acoustically inferior worship space. This was especially troublesome since the clip they chose was from a black and white era film that was difficult to both see and hear. Excellence applies to not just to production values but to lucidity of message.
The following is adapted from my book Digital Storytellers: The Art of Communicating the Gospel in Worship.