Every Sunday, sports fans all across the country crowd around television sets to watch one of America’s favorite past times: professional football. Why it’s such an exciting way to spend three hours is unknown. Maybe it’s the food, or the fancy uniforms, or maybe it’s just the thrill of watching a group of men function as a unit.
Whether in last place or first, no team would dream of taking the field without a plan in place. Players don’t wait to decide who’s taking what position when they huddle up for the first time on the field. Each role is defined long before the season starts. They train hard together and when they’ve done their work and know their role, on game day when the whistle blows, each player is free to have fun doing what he does best. Knowing what job to do and how to execute it is what makes teams work.
If your worship design team were about to play the big game, would you know what your position is? What about the others on the team? If your team has no game plan, you may find yourselves running in circles, and most likely finishing with a losing record.
Game plans don’t just come together, for football or for worship. They are the result of a group of players, each with defined roles, working out their designs ahead of time. This can be a difficult process. As opposed to the veto power one planner has when creating worship in isolation, working in a group of people is not as easily controlled. Like in every small group, dynamics evolve. Some individuals, more introverted in nature, may stay quiet in the midst of brainstorming and interaction. Others may gravitate toward different functions that suit their giftedness.
Team roles are one of the most important aspects of team development. If you’ve never taken the time to define roles, this article is for you. Whether putting together a brand new team, or working with one that’s been in place a while, roles need to be defined in a way that everyone understands.
Why are roles so important?
For one, if everyone has a vital role to play, then everyone feels ownership for the team. Disgruntled football players are often ones who don’t feel their contribution is being acknowledged. They feel they don’t have a vital role to play. When everyone feels ownership, individual agendas become team agendas. When individuals are able to drop their own preferences and focus on what is best for the team, the first step to a functioning team occurs.
Roles also help in the creative process. When roles are clearly defined and understood, teams are freed up to focus on creativity and brainstorming, and not on who is doing what for each meeting. In our experience in worship team planning, once roles are defined, there is often a noticeable sentiment of relief felt within the team regarding how the brainstorming will translate to the service being implemented. In other words, no one is worried that all of the creative stuff is going to get lost or forgotten once the meeting is over because each person knows what he or she is responsible for.
Assigning roles in a team is necessary to ensure avoidance of the dreaded “peanut gallery,” where some members of the team implement the ideas generated in a planning meeting, and other members get to shoot holes in their creations at the next gathering. We have seen more than one team suffer because of a dynamic where some people have specific roles and others don’t.
Be cautious, though, about roles becoming a roadblock to creativity. Every role or area of responsibility must be seen as an area of leadership where others are welcome to give input. People who function in these roles should not act as gatekeepers, making decisions in an area of expertise whether an idea is acceptable or not. The group decisions of the team must supercede individual preferences.
Each role should be assigned to help guide discussion in a particular area, not shut it down, so there can be no gatekeeper mentalities within the team. Musicians, graphic artists, and pastors alike must learn to share their area of expertise when it comes to creative input if the team is to succeed.
This is difficult to accept for many people to accept—particularly, for some reason, musicians. It’s been said that the difference between a church music director and a terrorist is that one can negotiate with a terrorist. (Not that we ever said that, of course!)
Veto power only comes in when the team member is unable to create what the team has dreamed together. It is his or her job to honestly assess their ability to create an idea, not whether they want to or not. Regardless of the role, it is the job of every member of the team to represent the team’s decisions to the best of his or her ability.
So, what are the roles? The makeup of your team’s roles may vary according to your own unique context, but here is a starting point for thinking about the specific needs that must be present in a worship team.
Roles are not people. Some teams can have two or three people filling all of the necessary roles, other teams as many as ten. Brainstorming studies have shown that an ideal creative team has between 4-7 people, each serving at least one of these roles and some serving at least two.
Every team needs to have a preacher. This may seem like a no-brainer. But we have witnessed many teams attempt to function without one.
Some preachers, citing other demands on time, will send notes to a meeting in lieu of themselves. One team’s preacher did just this, saying that he had an important small group meeting to attend, so the notes would serve as a proxy, of sorts. The team planned as usual, without their pastor’s presence, developing concepts that made sense in the context of their brainstorming session. But when the preacher saw the image the team had designed the next Sunday morning on screen, he was confused, saying he had no clue what it meant and couldn’t integrate it.
The team tried again the next week without the preacher’s presence, and when he saw the image the following weekend he adamantly refused to use it, saying it represented a concept that was directly opposed to his intent.
After two consecutive failures, the team’s preacher realized his presence was necessary for the team to function well. He realized that pieces of paper don’t talk back. In a brainstorming session, it’s necessary for the seed ideas to be represented and healthy dialogue to occur around them, and for the one doing the preaching to be present in order to confirm his or her ability to integrate the concepts into the message.
A team may also consider having a second preacher on the team. Let’s assume the first-string preacher doesn’t intend to serve 52 Sundays a year. What happens when the back up preacher enters the mix? One without any team knowledge seriously hinders the ability of the team to do its job, but a back up preacher who has been on the team is able to fill the role without too much disruption in the development process.
This person is the head musician and represents all of the music portions of the worship experience. They are an absolutely critical part of any functioning worship team. Since music is such a large and vital part of most worship services, musical choices that don’t fit what the team designs can disrupt the entire planning process.
We’ve seen much resistance from musicians in the past to allow others to participate in the song selection process, but this is an obstacle that must be overcome. Ideally, a creative team designing one cohesive service would choose music that compliments the theme for the day. If the service focuses on purity, then songs of purity (such as “Create in Me a Clean Heart”) make more sense than songs of adoration. Utilizing all of the team members in the selection process makes for a wider array of choices.
Note that we intentionally avoid using the term “worship leader,” out of a desire to move away from thinking of the music portion of the corporate time as worship, and toward thinking of the entire experience as worship.
The producer is the most important role in worship development that many teams don’t have. The person fulfilling this role is an overseer—the guardian of the theme, if you will. It’s worth mentioning again here that no one, including the producer, is to act a gatekeeper for ideas. The producer is the point person and is given the task to provide leadership in every area of worship development, from music to media to preaching, to ensure that the main idea of the service is present and that the various elements fit together into one seamless experience. This may happen in the meeting, but typically happens more so outside the design meeting. In our experience, teams that function well are often managed by the producer (as opposed to the preacher or some other party). It is important that this function is truly about management, not micromanagement. Nothing kills the spirit of the team worse than over-managing every detail of the process.
Outside of the meeting, the producer empowers, equips and coordinates with the various staff and volunteer groups who have a hand in implementing the team’s design. He or she may also act as the director of what can be a chaotic scene on the day of worship and manages a variety of tasks from directing the technical rehearsal to touching base with media, altar, music, drama and other groups to help take care of last minute details.
To be the leader of the team is not to be the creative decision maker. While in some situations, creative direction is a necessary part of the role’s leadership, it is not the job of the producer to advance a personal creative agenda, but to lead implementation of what the team decided as a group.
Some larger churches have a staff person with the title of “Creative Director,” “Worship Arts Pastor,” or the like. The person with this title is organizationally an ideal choice for the producer role.
Themes, metaphors, and other techniques used to integrate the various elements of worship together don’t just emerge on their own. They must be intentionally cultivated prior to the live worship setting to make sure they are clear and understood to the congregation. This is where a writer comes in.
Writers pen specific language that helps to bridge metaphors to ideas and makes themes evident. These connections can occur in a call to worship time, within musical sets, during prayer, as a part of a sermon, in drama, and in a variety of other ways. During these times, have specific language prepared for the speaker to use.
Some churches avoid reading pre-written words. If you’re a part of such a congregation, having a writer doesn’t mean changing your style. Many churches use a writer to create “talking points,” then allow the speaker to improvise while at the same time hitting on the key words that keep a worship service cohesive.
The tech director is the team’s representative for all things media, including sound, lighting, projector and stage. Because of the technical challenges often associated with planning big ideas on short notice, this person is frequently under much job performance pressure. This can cause some grumpiness in the team meeting, and may also result in taking creative shortcuts. The disgruntled tech director might look for ways to not accomplish the big ideas that are generated if they are approaching burnout. Good communication and plenty of lead-time on major changes will ease the pressure and frustration felt by the tech director.
Additionally, the gatekeeper concern is often present for the person filling this role. The challenge is to stay upbeat and energized to accomplish what is both technically feasible, and sometimes, seemingly impossible.
A good team also has a number of people with specific creative skills. These can range from video production to graphic arts, drama, and much more. Len’s current team has someone whose creative skill is an incredible knowledge of movies. For any topic this member can name two or three great movie clips. The specific creative talents on your team will be unique and a reflection of your church community. Learn to not worry about talents unavailable to your team and to focus on improving the skills that are available.
A role that many teams never consider is that of a new believer. Even without knowing it, many worship planners and pastors infuse a churchy or “Christian-ese” language into the written, spoken and visual Word. This creates a problem for unchurched or slightly churched visitors who are not well versed in this strange tongue.
One visitor remarked that he thought church was going to end with a card game after hearing the pastor say that they would partake in Holy Eucharist later in the service. This of course means communion to those of us who know the language, but for someone new to faith, it can be a confusing concept.
New believers help worship designers put the message into layman’s terms. They can help flesh out hard to grasp concepts and they can bring new perspectives that make the message stronger. If there are terms used in the design meeting that don’t make sense to the outsider, the new believer can help identify them to be changed, or at the very least to be explained in a new way.
Other roles may either play an important part of the team or occur outside the planning session, including a scribe (someone gifted at writing down all of the team’s ideas and disseminating them to everyone later) and a display guru (someone who creates altar displays each week that reflect the day’s theme and metaphor). If you have additional roles that are vital to your team, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.
Huddle up with your team, determine roles, and pretty soon you’ll find your playbook expanding in ways you never knew possible! Roles can make all the difference in the way your team functions and how many successes you achieve.