Worship Media Arts

Big Ideas, How-To, and Articles on Worship, Media and the Arts

“Help! My Pastor Won’t Plan Ahead!”

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.

1. 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, then 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 because 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.

2. 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?Äîquite 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 ?Äòresearch’ 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.”

9 Comments so far »

  1. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on March 28, 2006 @ 3:51 pm

    What do you think? Leave a message if you have something to say about this article. No registration is required to post a comment, but we will moderate for spam and obscene language, so your comment will be delayed in posting until we clear it.

  2. Jean said,

    Wrote on May 13, 2006 @ 9:21 am

    I have been challenged by planning ahead on many fronts. However, I think that my point is starting to get across. Let me elaborate. Our Pastor recently preached one Sunday on your christian identity. Basically until you come into your identity, the enemy has his cross hairs trained on you. In the lobby between services, the Pastor mentioned that this would end up being a series. I asked him what he wanted to call it, he said you know “your born identity” or better yet “Re-Born Identity”. That got me thinking about the movie “Bourne Identity”. Immediately I went home that afternoon and started pulling up the movie posters, calling our communications director and new theme backgrounds were created in about 2 days. That theme background will also be used for CD and Tape covers, you name it. It’s been a little slow to catch on, this thought of pre-planning, but its in times like the above, that it begins to pay-off. This is just the beginning, but I rejoice! Slow and steady wins the race!

  3. Deborah said,

    Wrote on May 3, 2007 @ 4:24 pm

    I have a problem with your #5. My dad was a missionary/preacher so I grew up with church — way back when computers were huge and expensive! I have now found myself in the media room almost every Sunday. There have been many times when my Pastor comes up and asks if I mind that he is changing the sermon for the day. I feel that only God knows who will be showing up that morning, one person may need the “improvised” sermon and that one person may never be back in our congregation! Who are we to question when the Lord puts a different sermon on right before the service starts? At that point, I realize that I, too, can sit back and just listen to what the Bible says – not worrying about when to click on the next slide. Thank you, Lord, for a Pastor that listens to YOU not to me!!!

  4. The MO Guys said,

    Wrote on May 3, 2007 @ 9:57 pm

    Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for your comment. Keep in mind that this article is addressing pastors who rarely or never plan ahead. #5 on the list is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but is really for the people who always come in on Sunday morning with something unexpected.

    We agree wholeheartedly that God may lead a pastor to an improvised sermon and that may be just what was needed for the people showing up that morning. This is usually the exception, not the rule. God knows who is coming just as you say, but he has always known from the beginning of time. The Holy Spirit has shown up early in the week or even weeks ahead of time for us knowing before we did who would be there to hear/see/experience the message. Sometimes the Spirit is there ready to give us what we need ahead of time, but we’re too busy, or lazy, or tired, or maybe we’re just not listening. Other times we’re just not ready to hear what we need to hear until the last minute.

    If the Spirit arrives with a new direction on Saturday night or Sunday morning there’s no doubt that “the plan” should be abandoned-something better may be in store. With that said, it’s still a good idea to have a plan ahead of time because the same Holy Spirit can be present in the creative “plan ahead” process.

  5. Media Guidelines - The Church Media Community said,

    Wrote on July 26, 2007 @ 10:35 am

    […] Check out this article: “Help! My Pastor Won’t Plan Ahead!” Joel Osborn __________ If life gives you gators, make gatorade.   […]

  6. FUMC Media and Technology » 19 Ways to use Media in Worship: #4 said,

    Wrote on August 6, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

    […] Illustrations are a great way to make a point, drive the message home or just get a good laugh. We like to create at least two or three image-based illustrations for every sermon. It helps keep the pace going and breaks up oral monotony. This requires some degree of planning with the preacher, usually in going over sermon notes together during the week (Or at least before Sunday morning. If this is a problem then read this.) […]

  7. Jim Pena said,

    Wrote on November 11, 2007 @ 11:09 pm

    Thanks for your article. Full of good info that will help as I prepare to put together a worship planning team very soon.

  8. Louella Hext said,

    Wrote on November 28, 2007 @ 12:54 pm

    Isn’t it possible that the Lord can speak to the pastor early in the week, giving the pastor the words for the message on Sunday – because the Lord already knows who will be in church on Sunday and what that person needs to hear. Stop giving the pastors their excuse for not planning and working ahead.

  9. Last Minute? | Church Creativity Worship Media Design Art Team Training | Midnight Oil Productions said,

    Wrote on April 11, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

    […] “Help! My Pastor Won’t Plan Ahead” […]

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