One of my nieces, an accomplished singer who has sung in Cincinnati’s renowned May Festival Chorus, this past weekend coordinated a night of small-group Cabaret singing as a fundraising event for the world-premiere production of Morning Star by the Cincinnati Opera this summer. As my wife and I sat listening to the wonderful music, it occurred to me that the evening was producing some good reminders for worship leaders, even though the event was not held in a church, and we were not gathered for expressly religious purposes. (For more advice for worship leaders from unlikely sources, consider this excellent post from Willow Creek worship leader Aaron Niequist: Aaron Niequist on Bono as a worship leader.)
1. We were greeted hospitably. Uniformed personnel opened doors for us, asked us if they could take our coats, and gave explicit directions for how to find the room where the event was taking place. How often, I wondered, do folks walk into our churches without the faintest idea of what to do, where to go, or how to find what they’re looking for? I bet more of our churches would retain more of our visitors if those of us in leadership reminded ourselves more regularly what it felt like when we were visitors once ourselves.
2. The room was decorated beautifully. We entered a performance space that could best be described as “industrial chic,” with tastefully accented lighting and other décor that obviously had been given much consideration. Someone on the leadership team had been assigned the task of paying significant attention to details that, technically, had nothing to do with the making of good music. And yet, of course, they did, as the beauty of the environment made us even more receptive to the music than we otherwise would have been. How often, I wondered, do our churches, in well-intended efforts to focus on the majors and to make sure we don’t distract worshipers, miss opportunities to allow sacred space to inform our worship services–to point people to, rather than distract people from, God?
3. The meal was prepared with excellence. We were served a four-course meal that was fabulous. Everything was tasty and presented beautifully. How often, I wondered, do our churches adopt a penny-wise mindset that ends up being pound-foolish where things like coffee, donuts, and even communion bread are concerned? In a church staff meeting today, one of our associate pastors cited Ps. 34:8, “O taste and see that the Lord is good,” as a rationale for serving extra-tasty bread for this year’s Good Friday service, and I think he has a point (for Good Friday and for any observance of the Eucharist, for that matter). Near the end of his life, Robert Webber began articulating the strong connection between worship and hospitality. I suspect many of our churches could focus a bit more energy here.
4. The outline for the evening was made very clear at the onset. Once the meal had been completed, the emcee for the evening laid out the plan for the rest of the festivities. Those of us in attendance knew exactly what to expect going forward. How often, I wondered, do worship leaders fail to “connect the dots” for the congregation during worship? I fear we sometimes forget that although we have been thinking about this particular worship service for a week or more, although we have been in prayer about all the details (song keys, arrangements, transitional comments) for several days, although we have a significant emotional investment in the goings-on, none of the above usually has been/is in place for our parishioners, many of whom are just finishing up socializing or concluding church business while we launch into our call to worship. Helping our congregations understand why we are doing what we’re doing can enrich the overall experience significantly.
5. The songs sung were predominantly familiar. The opera for which funds were being raised that evening concerns early 20th-century American immigrant experiences, and so the songs sung that night came from that era of popular music. We heard Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes,” George and Ira Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm,” and Irving Berlin’s “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” among many famous others. Of the 12 songs sung that evening, I was familiar with 10 of them. And because I knew most of what I heard that night, I could better enjoy being introduced to two new songs. How often, I wondered, do we miss opportunities to introduce new songs well because we haven’t allowed our congregations to experience old favorites first?
To extend this analogy much further would cause it to break down, I know, but I appreciated the Holy Spirit’s opening my eyes last weekend to see Truth in areas where I might not have expected it. How often, I wonder, do I miss other times He speaks to me with insight about the Church when I am in arenas outside the church?
The Lord be with you!