Printed programs and spontaneity (2)

Caveat lector brevis: I’m trying to think through something here (beginning with the last blogpost), and I’m not really ready to present it, but I’m presenting it anyway.  What follows may well sound confusing, and confused, because I have conflicting observations and feelings.

~ ~ ~

Speaking pragmatically, I have concerns with worship “set lists” in terms of the preparation timetable.  Recently, the Lawson Road church where we worship (Greece, NY) finally got with it and changed the timeline so that the group involved in preparing for the assembly is working 12 days in advance instead of 5 days.  Consider this with me …

The old timeline:

  1. Tuesday noon:  conference call bringing everyone to the table in knowing any special considerations, sermon topic, etc.
  2. Tuesday pm and Wednesday am:  scramble to prepare (or, in my case, revise, because I’ve nearly finalized thematic and sequential planning by this point) a set list based on new information received
  3. Wednesday noon:  deadline for church office receiving set list, for printing in the bulletin
  4. Thursday & Friday:  finalize PowerPoint slides and send to the tech deacon (or, as some prefer, send set list to tech deacon and let him prepare slides)
  5. Saturday:  receive PowerPoint presentation back from tech deacon, with his added pretty backgrounds, transition & announcement slides, etc.

Aside:  step 5 is always wasted for me, because I print the slides no later than Thurdsay, 6 per page, punch holes, and put them in a loose leaf binder for my own use as I led, and I never refer to the new version at all.  If I’ve learned one thing in my 15-or-so years of leading worship using PowerPoint, it’s that you can never trust the tech people to change slides on time.  While our particular tech people are pretty good at this, I always want my own printed hard copy, so I can surmount as many word/memory lapses as possible, and so I can read ahead in order to enhance my leadership in the moment.

The new timeline:

  1. Tuesday noon:  conference call bringing everyone to the table
  2. ALL THROUGH THE NEXT 7-8 DAYS:  prepare/revise a set list based on new information received (I rarely do well at being flexible here, because my thinking and planning has already been crystallized by step 1, but at least I have more time to try to process and make some adjustments)
  3. Wednesday noon, 8 days after the conference call:  deadline for church office receiving set list, for printing bulletin
  4. Thursday & Friday:  finalize PowerPoint slides and send to the tech deacon
  5. Saturday:  receive PowerPoint presentation back from tech deacon

The new timeline works much better, allowing for other things in the lives of volunteer leaders.

Don’t miss the word “volunteer” above — and the significance of it in this equation.  “Clergy” (I have trouble using concocted, abiblical words and ideas to talk about biblically based things, thus the scare quotes) folk, take note:  when volunteer leaders are involved, you need to do things on a timetable that suits THEM, not you. Stop making proclamations from your holy chairs and desks that say “Pastor” or “Minister.”  Wrap your schedule into the schedules of the volunteers.  They are spending significant time they don’t have for the betterment of corporate assemblies, and in some cases, they are working a lot more hours than you are, so don’t take advantage of them.

Now, back to our story (and questions).

Does printing a worship “set list” present an organized, “we-got-it-together” face?  Or does it acknowledge death in the Christian gathering?  Or both?  Is “we-got-it-together” requiring too much out of your congregation’s energies on a weekly basis?  Is the business model (think CFOs and CEOs and VPs and budget-drivenness in academia instead of deans and principals and teaching) driving churches to more organization than worship and teaching, or are all the technological and administrative tools helping us?  To what extent?

How can the Spirit (or the spirit) live and breathe in us when things are programmed to the Nth degree?

For churches that use instrumental worship bands, a cappella “praise teams,” etc., what are the implications of the “set list”?  (Do remember that bands and teams and PowerPoint and amps are not necessaries; they are just methods.)  Is there more time spent in rehearsing transitions between songs — getting the sequence of the set list “down” — than in experiencing the textual content of the songs, scripture passages, dramatic presentations, etc.?  The mechanics of transitions and who starts what, how, and from where–all these things are important, but I’ve focused too much on them, on many occasions.  In fact, I’m guilty of this very thing in this very week of my life.

The content is what it’s about.  The words.  The concepts.  The musical ways and means, and other peripherals, must support the content.

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