Creativity in Worship

Recently I started working with the worship team at our church, and I’ve been having so much fun.  I don’t sing, and while I might be able to toot a tune on the ol’ licorice stick, there isn’t a whole lot of room for a clarinet in our contemporary worship band.  Unless we start playing songs from Fantasia.  So at first you might wonder what a tone deaf ex-member of the marching band is doing on the worship team.

We are blessed to attend a church that is not afraid to experiment.  On any given Sunday, you can expect to hear the worship leader say, “We’re gonna try something different today.”  Sometimes we have choreographed dancing.  Sometimes we have painting.  Sometimes we have flags.  We haven’t brought out the snakes yet, but if the Spirit moved… well, we’d probably move to another church. 😉

Every week, the worship team talks via email or in person to start planning for the following Sunday, or a few Sundays ahead.  I love the intentionality, the enthusiasm, and the creativity that is permitted and encouraged.  I feel as if we are each given the freedom to use the gifts that have been given us, and it gets me just plain excited to be a part.

For those of you who are tone deaf, like me, but enthusiastic about worship and find yourself yearning for a way to use your gifts, talk to your pastor or worship leader and bring your ideas forward.  I’ve only been at this with our worship team for a month and a half, so I’m still learning lots of things, but it has been such a fulfilling experience that I can’t help but share what I’ve learned so far.

Here are a few tips for bringing your creativity to Sunday morning worship:

1. Don’t be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed by your creativity.  This is important and might seem like a no-brainer, but I know from experience that self-doubt and negativity can weigh in on you and convince you that what you have to offer either isn’t good enough or no one else will understand/appreciate what you have to offer because you are too different/unusual/strange.  Every good gift is from above, after all, and what better way to use what yo daddy gave you than in worship? Be bold and courageous.  Do not be afraid, do not be terrified.  The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Even in front of the congregation.

2. If you write poetry, write a poem about God/faith/forgiveness/grace/mercy/love/prayer/fear/justice/etc. If you paint or sculpt, interpret a passage of Scripture.  If you dance, choreograph a praise song.  If you love to read, read a passage of Scripture or a story.  If you act, work with a writer in your congregation who wants to do a skit.  If you sing, by all means, sing a new song unto the Lord.  Whatever brings you joy and passion, bring that to worship, and not only will your worship experience be more meaningful and alive, your authentic worship will help others to worship too.

3. Be other-focused.  Your creativity is an act of worship, yes, but don’t forget that the congregation is trying to engage in worship, and through your writing/dancing/painting/singing, you are leading worship, too.  So that poem with all of the literary and biblical allusions and cross-references and utter brilliance that leaps from one image to the next and requires several in-depth reads in order to fully understand… that one you might want to leave in the notebook. 

4. Talk to your tech-y people, your musicians, your video people, your dancers, your writers, your public speakers, and your photographers.  Collaborate with other members of the congregation and see if you can’t approach a topic from several different angles– some people engage with sound.  Some people with movement.  Some people are visual.  Some people are tactile.  Diversify your worship pallet to engage all of the senses, and not only will you help more of the congregation to connect, you’ll build up each other as each of you continues to become the fullest version of yourselves in Christ.

5. Approach the throne of grace with humility, awe, prayer, shouts of thanksgiving, reflection, mourning, rage, distress, fear, and mystery.  Praise and worship is acknowledging God in every season, and it is good to lay before him the full range of our feelings and emotions.  It seems appropriate to me to reflect this same element of worship in the corporate worship setting.  Sometimes we need to mourn and wail together.  Sometimes we need to move from wailing to dancing.  Sometimes we need to stand in awe.  Sometimes we need to be silent.  Our worship planning ought to be sensitive to the place of the congregation.

6. Listen to the prayer team, pastor, and elders of your church and pray over your worship planning.  The Holy Spirit knows better than us all what needs to happen in our hearts and minds, so make time to listen before you leap into all of your amazing plans, which are truly amazing, after all. 

7. Don’t get too caught up in presentation and execution.  Remember that what you are doing is worship, too, not just a means for other people to worship.

8. Don’t be afraid to fail.  Allow the congregation and the worship team to flex its muscles, strain and push.  Some weeks, what you thought would be awesome might fall flat on its face.  Other weeks, what you thought might seem hastily planned could be the most authentic worship experience your church has had in months.

9. It’s not your job to carry the congregation.  It is the Holy Spirit’s responsibility to move in the members of your church, during worship and beyond.  You might be a catalyst for that experience, but surely the Holy Spirit will be speaking into the hearts and lives of those he knows are ready to hear and be so moved.  Worry less about how the congregation is going to respond to what you’ve prepared and concern yourself more with approaching God humbly, executing your part of the plan to the best of your ability, with grace and attention, as part of your act of worship.

10. You are part of the body of Christ, and every limb and nerve ending of the body doesn’t need to be in motion all at once in order to be active.  Let parts of your worship team and plan take a break from time to time.

11.  Be intentional.  Just because you have the ability to do sound, lights, video, reading, full band, flags, dancing, communion and candles doesn’t mean you should do them all at once.

12.  Do not give up meeting as some are inclined to do, but keep communicating with the members of your worship team and listen when someone volunteers or even hints at wanting to contribute, and follow-up with those people.  Sometimes us creative folk need an invitation, or several invitations, to come forward.  And if you are wanting to get involved, don’t wait for an invitation.  Your desire to contribute is an invitaiton from God to get involved, so go with it.

13.  Encourage one another regularly.  Just because Joe has been leading worship awesomely for months doesn’t mean he believes he’s got this thing nailed.  Sometimes all we need is one or two attaboys to keep the energy up.

Above all else, come with love and grace.  We’re all working toward completion and wholeness, and we’re all going to screw up some time or another.  The beauty of the body of Christ is that we can hold each other up, forgive, heal, and be restored.  I’m not sure exactly how this last part applies to worship and creativity, but surely we can put love and grace in everything.

So bring your gifts to the altar and let them shine!  The whole church will grow in faith and praise alongside you.

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

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