While I am one step removed from Kiwi pastors in my new job, I still enter into many a conversation with them. Unfortunately a common thread in these conversations still continues on from year to year. It is the sad state of 'worship' - as expressed, primarily, in our Sunday services in those minutes not given to teaching.
I have written on this before here - particularly heart-felt and pleading, as I remember it!
But I want to address the concern from another angle this time. If I was a pastor I'd host and facilitate a church-wide forum on the issue. Not just the worship team. Open to all - but specific invitations to those I think need to be present, including the worship team. I'd have some short foundational teaching input based around biblical, theological and historical themes. No controversial stuff. Then I'd have small groups discuss what we value in worship - with their ideas fed back via whiteboards in an anonymous way to feed a plenary session. Then I'd return people to small groups to sift and weigh the contents of the whiteboard before facilitating a discussion on what are the 6-10 characteristics of worship that we are going to hold dear in this church. My sense is that pastors need to take this kind of leadership - with the whole church, not just the worship team.
It is important to come to something like this with a genuine openness to where it might lead. People smell a manipulated process from miles away. If the process has this integrity then those involved in leading worship must be expected to align themselves to what the church 'holds dear'. If they can not do so, their own integrity means they must resign and let someone else fill the void. The pastor and church leadership team are right to have this expectation.
Now I am not a pastor so I can go on now and state the sorts of issues that I hope a process like this would surface in the church-wide consciousness. These would be the things I'd be raising in the small group of which I was a part...
(a) The need for worship-leaders to be people of spiritual maturity, a maturity recognised by people from across the spectrum of the church. This is not a ministry to ascribe to an up-and-comer. The service can easily become banal when this happens.
(b) The need for the music to be good for congregations to sing, not so much good for bands to sing. This is not the time or place to perform to a people wanting to be entertained. Performance music is out and congregational music is in.
(c) The need for songs to have strong lyrics that are accurate biblically and deep theologically. Having musicians write songs is so often unsatisfactory. They should keep to writing music and let the poet:theologians write the songs. Yes, sometimes a musician is a poet:theologian but it is not as common as people think.
(d) The need to break-out of this wretched chronological snobbery that thinks the newest is always the best and that when the psalmist said "sing a new song" he had in mind songs written in the past 12 months. There is a desperate need for the enthusiastic introduction and then the enthusiastic singing of the best traditions of christian hymnody. It reminds us that we have a past. It reminds us that we follow in a long line of worshippers. We need this today.
(e) The need to heal the dualism between word and worship in so many churches by achieving greater integration in the service. They are are kept separate, the tiny domains of quite different people. Sometimes delegation by the pastor becomes abdication by the pastor - out of fear basically.
(f) The need for a church to find a little of its own voice, willing to stand against the flow of everyone pretty much doing pretty much the same thing. It'll take a little courage but it might be worth it.
(g) The need for worship to reflect both our response to the immanent God as well as the transcendent God. We pig out on the former and do not know what to do with the latter. There is a level of fear and reverence that needs to be recovered in worship. We are far too casual...
(h) This wonderful Kiwi resource, one step ahead worship, should be on the agenda of every pastor as they make it a priority to sit down together with the worship team to build community together and discover a direction for this worshipping community.