Thinking Surgically When Leading Liturgically: A Few More Nuggets

I need to wrap this little mini-series up or else I’m going to get stuck in it forever! There’s a lot more I could say, but I wanted to offer some brief final thoughts. I really hope these few posts (part one, twothree, and four) have helped those of you who serve in churches that use a more formal liturgy. Be encouraged!

Know your place in your church’s history
Most worship leaders have the mistaken notion at one point or another that they’re the best thing to happen to their church since Jesus ascended into heaven. The fact is, you’re only going to be there for 5, 10, 15, maybe 20, and in rare cases, 30 years. Take a good, hard, and honest look at your pastor, your congregation, your church’s history, and your church’s trajectory.

Here’s one way to go about this: ask the question, “what decade is my church stuck in?” The farther back your answer, the greater likelihood that your place in your church’s history is to be a loving, pastoral, patient, and faithful prodder. The more recent your answer, the more your role becomes that of a careful chef: making sure the time-tested recipes don’t lose quality or disappear altogether as a result of the new tweaks and ingredients that keep cropping up.

Learn the “capital equation”
I hated math all throughout elementary school, junior high, high school, and college. I really did hate it. The thought of having to sit down and figure out what c equals when b is x and there is a squiggly line over a with a little 2 next to it makes me want to run in fear.

But a simple equation has made all the difference in my attempts to help a formal liturgical church grow in its expression of corporate worship.

Build capital. Spend capital. Build back capital.

Here’s an example: you want to teach your church a song that written after 1985. This is a big deal and could result in World War III. Before you teach it, you do a bunch of old favorites (i.e. build capital). Then you teach the new song (spend capital). Then you do a bunch of old favorites (build back capital).

You’re welcome.

Know when to retreat (and save your energy for when it matters)
Staying on that theme of building capital, another way to protect yourself from being viewed as the enemy who hates liturgy is to know when to sit back and let the liturgy roll. Christmas Eve is probably one of these times. Don’t waste your energy on trying to get contemporary songs included if there’s a lot of resistance. Just wait. A few years down the road it won’t be such a big deal.

Repeat after me: this will take longer than I think. This will take longer than I think.

Yes, you’re right. It will.

Guard against cynicism
The danger of becoming cynical and bitter is something that all worship leaders have to avoid. But in settings where a worship leader is dealing with a congregation that is either resistant to, unfamiliar with, or downright against their efforts, that danger is especially high.

I encourage you to pray regularly – each time you’re getting ready to lead worship, actually – that God would give you a love for your congregation. Every church has its quirks. But liturgical churches have fancy names for theirs. They take those quirks seriously and when you’re starting to push up against them, your heart can become hard towards the people if you’re not careful. Pray that God would give you a soft heart for the people you’re standing before.

Handling discouragement
One of my favorite lines from a Rich Mullins song comes toward the end of “Hold Me Jesus” when he says “I’ve beat my head against so many walls that I’m falling down, I’m falling on my knees”.

Leading worship in a church that uses a formal liturgy will certainly make you want to beat your head against a wall sometimes. If you get anything from these points, get this: the frustration and maybe even exasperation you experience at times is not yours alone. It can be difficult!

But the answer isn’t to quit your job and try to work at an easier church. The answer is to fall to your knees. Jesus will give you a love and vision for serving the people he died to save.

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