From White Page to Worship Service

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White page.
A yellow #2 pencil freshly sharpened.
Three pens…black, blue and purple ink.
Thousands of thoughts . . . What should I write about today? What’s for breakfast. I need some recipes for all the tomatoes in my garden. What should I write about? I hope my friend’s biopsy comes out benign. Deuteronomy is a weird book. What should I write about?

Still a white page.

Every week, Sunday comes and Sunday goes. Starts as a white page, full of possibility and promise. By the grace of God and the shared gifts of the Spirit, it ends with fullness, joy, wonderment and thanks.

How do we get from blank page to the “Amen?” Out of the hundreds of thousands of options, how did that particular worship service move from scattered, unrelated ideas and pieces into a completed whole?

There are those who think it “just happens.” Like the fairy tale cobbler who set his shoes on the workbench each night and woke to find them mended in the morning, worship services just appear out of thin air. Ha! You and I know better. We know there is prayer, thought, worry, imagination, strategy, history, invention, phone calls, conversations, emails, negotiations, reading, writing, study, and more prayer.

But if anyone should ask—how do we actually do it?—it’s easier to say “it just happens.”
Those of us who’ve done this for years may have developed habits that now seem like second nature . . . and the plan “just happens” in time for the bulletin (or in time for the first chord of the opening song!)

In truth, the white board is rarely ever truly blank. We are usually bound by parameters that include some factors and exclude others. Sometimes we’re aware of these limits and embrace them as they help us focus; other times, we operate in closed circuits without recognizing them or imagine that we have eclipsed the restraints of plans and order only to discover that the congregation went back to their confused lives more confused and less graced than we intended.

Let’s agree that worship is a mysterious blend of God’s work and our response. (Yes, I know . . . even our presumed “work” is a response to his gifts embedded in us.) Assuming the work of the Spirit both in and through us . . . .

How do you plan?
What assumptions do you start with?
Do you have a standard process or go with the flow?
How has your planning process or method changed with experience?

If you taught a basic worship planning class, where would you start?  

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