Collaboration and the Small Church Pastor
January 8, 2015—In over nine years as a small church pastor, I’ve found collaboration to be one of the keys to my continuing ministry. This is not easy in a church of 45 members in an urban area with few other mainline pastors, but the collaborative work I nonetheless do with my colleagues around the world inspires me and keeps the worship I lead fresh. Here are some of the collaborative techniques I have found helpful.
Online Networking and Resource Sharing: Over the past few years, I been a part of a network of colleagues on Facebook and Twitter who share resources for preaching and worship. It began with occasional requests from friends asking, “Does anyone have a prayer for ______?” Over time, this informal network became a bit more formal with the creation of LiturgyLink, an online space for sharing liturgy originally supported by the S3 Project at Columbia Seminary. We now have over 700 pieces of liturgy submitted by dozens of contributors, with new submissions still being added regularly.
Good Books: A good book of worship resources may not seem like a great collaborative tool, but I have found them to be invaluable partners in my worship leadership. A book of prayers or worship resources like the excellent Feasting on the Word Worship Companion series, the five seasonal resource collections from Ruth Burgess and the Iona Community/Wild Goose Publications, or the reliable Call to Worship Annual Lectionary Aids issue can serve as a jumping-off point in my planning and thinking. These resources lead me in different directions that I then adapt to fit my own voice and context, and suddenly what began as another person’s words on a printed page becomes a vibrant collaborative moment in worship.
Collaborative Worship Teams: On some occasions, when the interest is right, I have gathered a group of church members to assist me in planning worship services. In my small congregation where the majority of members’ time and energy in church activities is spent on the basic functioning of the church, finding willing partners for collaboration of this sort can be a real challenge. However, when there is time and space for such work, this can result in a fresh and meaningful worship experience as church members explore their different gifts and work together to lead the people in worship.
Other Worship Services: I have found that attending other worship services at conferences, special events, or even other congregations helps me to be fresh in my thinking about worship. When others lead thoughtful services, I get new ideas for my own. Sometimes these can be directly connected, like a specific prayer or action that I use as-is, but other times simply the spirit or space can inspire a different way of thinking as I work through the possibilities for my own time and place.
Collaborative Time with Others: My planning style is not set up to allow for the kinds of gatherings with colleagues that some enjoy with events like The Moveable Feast or even a weekly Lectionary group, but I am looking forward to attending the CTS Lifelong Learning Lectionary Studies Seminar later this month. As a part-time pastor, it is often difficult to find the time to step back and get the long view to plan worship over a longer period, but I have found it helpful when I have been able to make the time to look over a season and see if any broader themes emerge. A colleague and I met a couple times a year to do this for several years, and while we rarely ended up going down the same path, I think we both emerged from those gatherings with a better sense of the possibilities that we might find as we wandered through the liturgical seasons in our different congregations.
I’m always looking for new ideas to help foster collaboration in my worship planning and help me escape from the doldrums of worship planning and leadership, so please share the things you have found helpful in the comments below!
Andy James is the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Queens, New York, and the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of New York City. A 2005 graduate of Columbia Seminary, he has been trying to find ways to link his love of computers and the church since attending the 1998 General Assembly as a volunteer techie!