Written by Rev. Joyce Borger, director of Worship Ministries, with attachment by Rev. Darrin Campagner, pastor of Blythefield CRC in Rockford, Michigan.
Each of our congregations are journeying through new territory and our journeys will not follow the same timeline. For congregations ready to begin thinking about what worship will look like down the road as restrictions relax, consider beginning by reflecting on the questions presented here. Be sure to also utilize and adapt the attachment created by Pastor Darrin Compagner of Blythefield CRC in Rockford, Michigan.
For many of our congregations much of the energy around worship in the last weeks has been focused on the "how" as we struggled to figure out the technology needed to lead our communities in worship when we could not be physically present with each other. Now we are beginning to think about the future and are coming to grips with the growing reality that it will be some time before we get back to what will become the new normal. So what happens between now and then? How do we move forward when we don't have exact time frames?
Planning Wisely: A Map For Re-Launching Worship and Ministry
In their helpful article, What Relaunching the Church Might Look Like Over the Next 3–12 Months, Ed Stetzer and Josh Laxton highlight various phases and then encourage churches to be ready to "dance" between them. We need to learn the moves ahead of time and then be nimble enough to move between them, even being prepared to go back a step, as our context dictates. In the attached PDF, Pastor Darrin Compagner of Blythefield CRC in Rockford, Michigan, took the advice from that article and others and formulated "A Map for Re-Launching Worship and Ministry."
What I appreciated about this map is it begins with a reminder of the church's mission which anchors the conversation and then a series of values or questions that need to be considered. As the document continues, it helpfully describes the various phases the church may face. And instead of giving specific dates, it provides descriptions of the right conditions for entering into the phase. The document doesn't provide a lot of details because it is just a map and was meant to be the basis of a discussion among the elders.
I don't know about you, but when I'm on a journey, I like having a map. I am a lot less anxious if I have a basic plan. I also find the journey much more rewarding when that plan allows for some flexibility. I'm guessing our churches are the same.
Our worship doesn't look or sound the same as it did in January, and it probably never will be exactly the same. We have already learned many new things and will continue to learn new skills and develop new practices in the months ahead. The new skills open up some exciting opportunities that will change the way we do worship from now on. The new practices we are putting in place will likewise have a lasting impact on our congregation. Even though each phase is temporary, we cannot be cavalier about our practices as they are formational. We are picking up habits along our journey, souvenirs that can either spark joy down the road or not.
Good habits are thoughtfully formed. Good worship habits find their roots in worship's deeper meaning and purpose. As you journey through the phases and consider what your worship may look like in the months ahead of us also consider these questions:
- How can we best give expression to the full gospel message from despair to hope and continue to point to Christ as the source of our hope and salvation?
- How can our worship continue to give voice to our belief in a Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
- How will our worship reflect our connection to the church universal, in all times and places? More specifically, how are we expressing concern for and standing in solidarity with other parts of the church, rejoicing with those who rejoice, but also mourning with those who mourn?
- What does it mean for our congregations to look up from our own pain and concerns to see the needs and hurts of others and even in the midst of our own needs reach out in prayer and even with physical offerings of support?
- How might we continue or deepen our engagement with other Christians in our community to bring relief and how might those activities impact our worship?
- How does what we say and do continue to reflect a Reformed accent, rooted in our creeds and confessions?
- How are we expressing our oneness with other CRC churches especially those in our classis? Are we praying for them? Are we sharing our resources?
- How is our worship not only directed to God but also a means through which God ministers to his people and we to one another?
- How does our worship express the full range of emotions experienced by our community? Do we offer appropriate opportunities for lament and expressions of grief? If this hasn't been a normal practice for our congregation how might we wisely introduce it?
- When we think of the pastoral needs of our congregations are we thinking of the needs and griefs of all age groups? How are we inviting various age groups to enter into worship?
- How can we help our congregants see and give expressions to the goodness that exists in the world? How might we best testify to the work of the Holy Spirit or "God sightings"?
- How are we making sure that our worship is accessible to all including those who do not have internet access and/or cannot attend in person?
How are we expressing the corporate nature of worship and giving expression to the diversity of our church?
When we cannot meet for worship in person what are other ways we can give expression to our care and love for one another?
- Even when we are not able to share in a corporate liturgy how is our worship shaped by an ongoing dialogue between us and God and with each other?
- How is our corporate worship connected to our daily life of worship? How does it flow from and back into daily life?
- How does it encourage and prepare us for missional living?
- How can the unique expressions that it is taking be a tool for sharing the gospel in our communities?
I'm a self-professed worship geek and yet I find myself wondering if we aren't expending too much energy on getting worship just right or even being too creative. There is nothing wrong with simplicity. Your worship doesn't need to utilize the same technology as the church down the road.
I also wonder if some of the energy being expended around worship might not be better given toward nurturing faith in smaller groups; creating more opportunities for small group bible studies, prayer circles, craft and chats, training on how to reach out to neighbors. How can we lean further into this opportunity to be the church outside the building?
It certainly isn't an either/or and I do not know the right balance for your context. However, as you continue on your journey take some time to pause, reflect, and ask the deeper and broader questions.