"Help! My Pastor Won't Plan Ahead!"

In Uncategorized by tfwm

It may be the most commonly voiced complaint we hear. At some point, a lost and alone media minister will make a plea for help. He or she will acknowledge the power of digital media to create transformative experiences of God, pledge an undying devotion to proclaiming the Gospel through powerful images, and read, train and work to become proficient at their craft. Yet, they are powerless to actually do anything because the boss leaves sermon notes an hour before worship.

What does one do when stuck with a pastor/boss who has no interest in pre-planning, no understanding of the power of team development, and seemingly no respect for the work that goes into creating media for worship?

Following are a few suggestions for overcoming this problem. Some of these come from our personal experience, some from other people who have been in the same situation, and some are just theoretical. Quitting is not one of them.

Demonstrate don’t debate. Or, show don’t tell. We talk about this in Digital Storytellers but it is worth saying again here.

Many pastors aren’t antagonistic to the power of media in worship; they’re ignorant. Pastors simply want to communicate the Gospel, as one reiterated to us recently during a seminar. Most have been trained to believe in seminary that communicating the Gospel in worship is only done through the spoken or written word. Many have never had a personal experience of God’s presence with images as the primary medium, so they don’t understand the power of visuals to communicate the Word of God. If they were to be made to understand that it is possible to communicate the Gospel through visual media, most would jump at the chance to utilize an additional medium in their stockpile.

This means as an advocate of digital media it is your responsibility to provide an opportunity through which your pastor, and anyone else that needs to know, can experience God through visual media. One effective demonstration will do more than untold amounts of describing. It must be seen to be understood.

There are a few ways to get this demonstration going:

First, consider using a youth-led worship Sunday. Often youth pastors are very open to the use of media to present their messages, and will be more than happy to plan ahead to incorporate it into the service. This gives you and your youth minister a chance to make a lasting impression on the church and staff and a leadership opportunity for your youth.

Adults love to see their children and grandchildren excited about their faith, so it’s a good bet that they’d happily receive a youth-led media service. If your church doesn’t do this on a regular basis, start taking steps to make it happen.

Another opportunity is the twice a year, big holiday or “special” Christmas/Easter service, which are statistically the two highest attended services annually. Many churches are aware of the large numbers of “C/E” people (attendees that only come twice a year) and do some degree of pre-planning to take advantage. Consider incorporating visual elements into these services, both to take advantage of existing pre-planning and because the services are a good ministry opportunity to infrequent attendees and to demonstrate media to those who would support reaching them.

During the pre-planning stages for these “event” services, infuse every meeting with discussions of how visuals and metaphors might be incorporated into the service. Use holiday weekends as an opportunity to raise the bar. Once you’ve set a new standard, it will be hard to go back.

In addition to Easter and Christmas, try doing something special for Mother’s day (statistically the third biggest attendance week of the year), Father’s day, Memorial day, baptism Sunday, September 11th, Graduation Sunday and more. Just seeing how media adds to these special Sundays can help bring about change on the rest of the weeks of the year.

Last, if your church participates in a pulpit exchange program with other churches in the area, you might try working with the visiting pastor in the weeks leading up to their sermon at your church. Pulpit exchange weeks create an environment to experiment with the way worship is done.

Request that your pastor meet with you and others in a creative team environment. Pastors have also been trained to design worship by themselves. Many have an alone (and lonely) understanding that God’s word is only revealed to writers in quiet rooms surrounded by books and that to proclaim God’s Word, one must go into isolation. In fact, the early church as outlined in Acts was a riotous atmosphere of interchange quite different than the traditions we’ve been handed down from monasteries and writers. Others are simply very busy and don’t place a high value on sacrificing time to do in a team what they think they can accomplish just as well, and with less time, on their own.

As with the use of media itself, many pastors are ignorant, not antagonistic, about the power of teams. If a pastor knew designing in teams would communicate gospel more clearly, he or she would be all for it. One pastor Len has worked with, Joe, had had a prior, failed attempt at team before Len came on the scene. As Joe states, “My earlier attempt was to put together what I called a message ‘research’ team. The goal was to design worship with a visual theme, or metaphor, connected throughout. However, I did not make time for face-to-face interaction, but instead tried to operate via email. It didn’t work. Eventually only one person was shooting me ideas.”

In spite of Joe’s first experience, he was gracious enough to try a second time. The second team has worked and the quality of worship has dramatically improved, partly because in a group setting the team does not operate as a sounding board for the pastor’s pre-conceived worship ideas, but instead understands itself as the primary design group for worship. Joe says, “I now think that an intentional meeting time, where team members gather to share ideas, sharpen their ideas, build community and provide accountability, is essential to its success.”

By being willing to sacrifice valuable time and submitting himself to the dynamics of a team to do what he formerly did on his own, Joe discovered a much better result. Remember, pastors are trained in modern-era seminaries that place a heavy emphasis on books. Books both reading them and writing them are individual experiences. A by-product of such a book emphasis is that pastors are trained to think and work alone in their ministry.

There are multiple problems with working alone, including loneliness and busyness. One of the worst though, is that a bad idea remains a bad idea. Most of the time lone sermon planners don’t know it’s a bad idea until the words spring from their mouth as they are delivering the message. That is mostly avoided in a team environment where creativity is exponential and a bad idea is a path to a good one. Learning to trust in the power of a team takes lots of time and many small steps, but results in savings of time as well as better worship.

If your pastor is not willing at first to meet with a team, then request to meet one-on-one with him or her for the purpose of creating images that will correlate with sermon points and illustrations. Working within the boundaries that already exist, no matter how tight, may provide you with an opportunity to create something that will speak to your pastor in such a way that she or he will understand the power of media and the power of team.

State your case in simple terms. Explain that preachers take time to plan, musicians don’t usually practice for the first time Sunday AM, and hosts and spoken word people don’t often just stand up and wing it. Media people must also be allowed to prepare and plan ahead so that their contributions may have the same care, devotion and skill as any of the other elements of worship.

There is a simple but powerful concept to keep in mind if you’re frustrated about not being able to preplan for worship: If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. You might find that gently asking if preplanning is possible is enough to make it possible.

Design Media After the Service is complete. This one sounds a little crazy and like it could potentially be a lot of wasted effort, but it might work miracles with your pastor. Sit through worship one weekend and take careful, detailed notes about how visual media might be incorporated. If possible set up a camera to record the entire service, or if your church already does IMAG (image magnification), obtain a copy of the feed after worship.

With your notes in hand and maybe the IMAG feed to watch, gather a group of people who share your vision for working in team to design a metaphor, or some other type of visual direction for the service. In other words, brainstorm after the fact. Pay close attention to scripture references and sermon illustrations and then find visuals that tell the same story.

When your “post service” design team finishes its meeting, develop the media as you would for the actual service. If you are capable of doing so, edit the graphics (and maybe even video clips) into the service as if they were there during the live event. Give yourself a week or two to completely finish your retrofitted media service, keeping in mind that this first impression will be important.

Finally, schedule a meeting with the pastor, where you can sit down and view the visually rich service in its entirety together, or at least the graphics you have created for it. Prior to starting the tape (if you’re going that route), share the vision you have for making the visual aspects of worship stronger. Explain that what he or she is about to see is a demonstration of your hope for what might happen with a week or two of lead time, and then thank your pastor for their openness to these ideas. Throughout the viewing, interject thoughts about how things might be accomplished in a planning meeting. Highlight how stories become even stronger when enhanced by matching visuals. Then give your pastor plenty of time to think about it following the meeting. Be sure to check back after some time has passed.

Have your pastor write a backup sermon. There are many pastors who insist that God speaks to them on Saturday night. Not just little things to interject, but entire sermons. We won’t question the validity of this method, but sometimes wonder about who’s waiting until the last minute the Holy Spirit, or the pastor. Regardless, last minute inspiration leaves the media person/people scrambling on Sunday morning to throw things together that often don’t fit with the message. This endlessly revolving problem can be solved with one simple backup sermon.

Plead with your pastor to write one sermon ahead of time to be used at an unspecified date in the future. Once that backup sermon is in place, create media to match it. When your pastor arrives one Sunday morning, beg to use the backup sermon instead of what was delivered the previous night. If God spoke to him or her on Saturday as He usually does, there is sure to be a sermon ready for that day. Shelf it for one week and use that time to brainstorm and develop media around it for the following Sunday. When God speaks to your pastor on the following Saturday night, ask him or her to write it all down as if they were going to deliver it the next morning. Return to the sermon that was written for the previous Sunday, and shelf the second Saturday night vision for the following Sunday. A few weeks of this and the vicious cycle will be broken.

Of course persuading a strong-minded pastor to actually do this method might be difficult, but such a discussion might lead to other ways that media can be integrated into the sermon.

Request a few talking points, main ideas, or lines of manuscript ahead of time. If it’s just not possible to get the pastor to write the whole sermon a week to a few days out, try to get the main ideas ahead of time. The purpose of these clues is to design a central metaphor for worship.

This is not the best-case scenario, as a few things scribbled on paper don’t have the ability to interact and become fleshed out during brainstorming, but it is a place to start. As we often say, “Pieces of paper don’t talk.” But you and other team members may attempt to develop a visual thread that goes from the beginning of the service all the way through the sermon by using whatever scribbles you can get from the preacher.

The potential disaster with this method of change comes when the preacher shifts directions without telling the team, or informs them too late for things to be changed. The result is a disjointed service, where visuals don’t tie in.

But if you are desperate for something to work with, a few lines of text may be better than nothing.

Design the rest of the worship experience according to a visual metaphor apart from the sermon. If none of the above suggestions equate to any development or growth for your situation, a last-ditch effort to incorporate visuals into worship may involve ignoring the preacher and focusing on the other elements of worship.

In this case, everyone involved with producing worship, including musicians, media people and artists, liturgists, and so on, but not including the pastor, brainstorm a theme together at least a week prior to the service. The theme that develops is woven together through the variety of worship elements, so that the entire event, minus the sermon, communicates a common idea. The potential consequence is that the sermon would appear ill fitting by comparison.

This, of course, carries potential dangers, as it may come across like a worship mutiny. But it may also form a sort of de facto demonstration of the potential of visual metaphors to communicate the Gospel in worship.

If you resort to this method, we take no responsibility for your actions but we’d love to know the outcome! Mail us at mail@midnightoilproductions.net with your tragedy and we’ll pass it along to others.

Most pastors feel a strong calling to reach the lost and will do whatever it takes to get there. The idea of planning ahead or designing worship (in particular sermon material) as a team is relatively new. A lot of pastors that are perceived to be “anti-team” have either never been asked, have never explored what that means, or have had a bad experience in the past. As media ministers, we can help pastors do what they do in even more powerful ways through creativity and visual communication.

Any process of change starts with prayer, vision casting, communication, patience, and continued commitment to one another. Take a moment to explore what your pastor’s thoughts are on pre-planning. Chances are, once you show the benefits, he or she will be on board at some level.