Worship Planning Dynamics: Six Tips for Avoiding a Train Wreck

August 21st, 2011

Every boss is an idiot, myself included.

It’s not that we mean to make life as difficult as possible for our team members. In fact, some of us try very hard to lead with excellence and show respect to our staffs, and on occasion we pull it off just enough to make us think we’ve got a handle on things.

But the truth is that most of us are like Michael Scott, the tragicomic manager of TV’s The Office. We may have good hearts, but we are also disconnected, stressed out, and woefully lacking in self-awareness. And that affects everybody on our staffs.

When management bungles a fictional paper company, it’s a hit comedy. But when the same problems arise on church staffs, it makes for a very uncomfortable environment—particularly for a worship planning staff.

Misunderstandings, communication breakdowns, and poor planning can wreck a worship service. Even if they don’t, they can wreak havoc on a worship planner’s blood pressure. And when the root of the problem is one of the key members of the team—the music minister or band leader or senior pastor—it’s hard for others on staff to know what to do.

It’s an unfortunate fact that some of these frustrating worship bosses just can’t seem to play nicely with others, and there is not much anyone can do about it. But the rest of us, who really do want our planning teams to work creatively and get along with one another, just need a little bit of help and consideration from our staffs to get things running smoothly.

So, recognizing that I too am an idiot in need of a compassionate staff, let me offer some helpful tips for planning worship with a disorganized, distracted, or disconnected worship team member.

Play fair.

It’s okay to laugh at Steve Carell when he blunders his way through a day at Dunder-Mifflin, Inc. But it’s not always okay to laugh at your senior pastor, especially when she’s not in on the joke.

The closer we work with someone, the better the chances that a harmless idiosyncrasy will come to be seen as a frustrating character flaw. We may consider someone scatter-brained at first, but as our stress level rises, the more we start thinking and talking about her as unprepared or incompetent. And the more we talk about it, the easier it is to find others to agree with us.

But such behind-the-back talk is not fair to anyone. It belittles someone who may care very much for the success of the team, and does nothing to address the problem. So rather than complain about someone’s flaws, work to minimize them. And...

Give the finished product the power.

This tidbit of corporate business advice can go a long way in improving staff dynamics. When staff members care more about the quality of the worship service than about their own personal territory, a healthy and creative worship service is not far away.

Bringing this idea to fellow worship planners can be a delicate thing, particularly when it involves an honest conversation about someone’s specialty area (preaching, music, etc). But any worship leader worth her headset mic will care more about developing a good worship service than about ego protection. So be kind, and be understanding, but…

Be direct.

As hard as it may be to face up to someone who makes our job more difficult, the direct route is usually the best. Our chances of successfully resolving an ongoing problem with worship planning go up exponentially when we can clearly communicate what is needed to make the office work more efficiently.

One communications director at a large church recently told me about a method she has worked out with her senior pastor.

“I send him an e-mail every Monday with a list of what I need for bulletins and what our deadlines are,” she says. “If he doesn’t respond by Tuesday, I pay a visit to his office. If he doesn’t respond by Wednesday, I get to make all the decisions myself.”

She smiles. “And you know what? To this day he has never let a Wednesday go by without giving me the info I need.”

My friend’s suggestion may sound daring, but it is really only a matter of courtesy. Misinformation and missed deadlines throw the entire planning team into catch-up mode. By clearly laying out exactly what you need from each team member—and allowing them to do the same for you—you are able to…


File this one under “easier said than done.” Most of us think we are good communicators, but we base that opinion only the way we send our messages. If I say what I mean (or think I mean), I think I have communicated.

But that’s only half the process. A message that is communicated must also be received, and preferably acknowledged. Anything left unclear can lead to assumptions, which often leads to tension, which is in turn a barrier to good communication.

Best not to let it go that far. Develop a system of communication in which everyone on the worship planning team can make sure not only that their input is not only spoken, but also heard. It’s only one way to…

Control what you can.

Alas, some bosses—even we clergy—make better superstars than teammates. No matter how hard our employees try to get through, some of us are unwilling or unable to give the things that would make the worship planning team run more smoothly.

In those cases, the best thing to do may be to focus on what is within your control. You may not have the sermon title until Saturday night, but you can still plan themes weeks or even months in advance. The volunteers who work with you will appreciate your forethought, and might even convince your boss to get on board, which laity can often do much better than staff can.

Regardless, it’s no good for anyone’s mental health to have nothing he can control. Make a list of what you can prepare, brace yourself for possible resistance, and…

Keep your cool.

This is more than self-preservation. Most of us know that blowing our stack does little for job security, and rarely leads to substantive change. But at night we dream of exactly what we would say in exactly what tone of voice, should that one staff person ever cross the line.

Dream away, but don’t do it. If anybody knows a thing or two about overcoming difficulty through love, we Christian leaders should. When we stand or kneel before God in worship, we do so on equal footing with the sinners around us—even those who have made our professional lives a veritable hell the week prior. Perhaps our best response is to pray for those who, however unwittingly, persecute us.

And while we’re at it, it wouldn’t hurt to pray for bosses everywhere. God knows we—and our employees—need it.

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