Pioneering and Pastoral

Thomas Edison once said “I haven’t failed, Ive just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Is it possible to experiment without freaking people out when our plan doesn’t quite turn out as planned?

It’s good to experiment. God blessed us with an imagination and an abundance of creativity in our congregations and communities and it is good to use those gifts. Sometimes running through the same thing time and time again can become lifeless and stale and rob us of our enjoyment in worshipping God together. There is certainly a place for discipline, routine and repetition – we have liturgy that has lasted for hundreds of years that can still stir hearts – but their is a healthy balance, I believe, of mixing the ancient, modern and future to form new expressions of worship that fit a particular moment. The thing with experiments though is that there is an inherent unpredictablity. Whether it’s a new style of service, a different combination of ingredients for a recipe or the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, nobody is quite sure of the result. We can plan and prepare and imagine but the outcome is veiled in mystery until we are in motion.

Edison was an inventor, which, I presume, meant most of his failures/discoveries of way that don’t work happened behind closed doors. Being a worship leader or service leader or speaker is an entirely different matter. Most of our work is delivered before a congregation – a congregation that are expecting and, in some part at least, willing us to lead them. This leaves us with a choice.

We could play it safe. We could do that which we know is tried, tested and successful. We could lead them to a place they’ve been before, a place they like. Or we lead them beyond that place to somewhere they’ve perhaps never been before or not been for a long time or maybe it’s a place they’ve been before but via a different route.

The key point to make in either case is this: both involve leading people.

I’ve seen service leaders and worship leaders go to that new place in worship where one can be lost in wonder, love and praise and they are the only one who survived the journey. Somewhere along the road everybody else involved in the service, including the rest of the band, got lost – not in wonder, love and praise. Just lost. That’s not leading. That’s going for a walk on your own regardless of whether anyone else wants to come with you!

In John 10, Jesus talks about being the good pastor. He talks about calling people by name and calling them to follow him and trust him. He’s talking metaphorically about sheep following a shepherd, but Jesus knew what he was talking about. People won’t follow someone they don’t trust.

So, as leaders, we might have been into such a fantastic place in our personal worship times, and we might genuinely want to share that place with our groups or congregations, but we need to lead them to that place sensitively. So here are a few practical tips:

Develop a rapport. Build a relationship with the congregation or group you are leading. Give them an opportunity to sense that you know what you’re doing and that you’re safe to follow. This may take time but provides a valuable trust foundation for a long and sustainable journey together.

Explanations go a long way. People often like to know what’s going to happen or where they’re going. Taking a group of people to an undisclosed destination without their expressed consent is closer to kidknapping than worshipping leading. Explain what you’re planning to do and give clear directions.

Fill in the gaps. Lots of worship leaders I know are standing on the shoulders of giants; building on the experience or success (if that’s the right word) of others without necessarily knowing the story they’re joining in with. For example, the classic story of when the Soul Survivor church spent time worshipping without songs. Matt Redman was then inspired to write the song ‘I’m coming back to the heart of worship’. Thousands of churches have since sung that song without experiencing the situation that inspired it.

When you deliver something new often people only see the end result. It might be helpful to explain the thought process behind the plan. What inspired you to write that new song? What situation was occuring when you discovered this new prayer activity? Why do you expect this new service format to enhance the groups worship experience?

Be pioneering pastors, creatively caring and lovingly leading on.


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