Some Reflections on Leading Better Services

church pew

One of the things I get to do here at Grace Community Church with reasonable regularity is lead church services. This is one of those areas that I didn’t think much about at theological college, and I guess many of us don’t spend too much time thinking about when we’re in the busyness of pastoral ministry. Yet the more I do it the more important I think it is. I’ve benefited from great instruction and example from the guys who lead services here at Grace, and I’ve also been privileged enough to witness thoughtful examples of service leading in other contexts. So with that in mind, and for what its worth, here are some reflections on things I’ve picked up from others. None of what follows is particularly original. I’m a bit of a magpie stealing jewels from others, or a beggar telling others where there’s some bread. So take which ever metaphor you prefer and see if any of what follows helps:

  1. It takes time to prepare to lead a service well. Thinking about how to introduce, close, or link the various parts together requires me to set aside some time to think slowly, and carefully. Is there a psalm, or a verse, or a section of one of our songs that can help us think, meditate, reflect, and reinforce what we’re doing.
  2. I need to capture a sense of both transcendence and immanence, formality and informality. This is one of the biggest challenges. Where two or three gather Christ is present in a special way, yet appropriate reverence isn’t captured by stuffiness or sobriety. I’ve much to keep thinking about and learning in terms of striking this balance well.
  3. The concept of ‘flow’ is a helpful word-picture for me. Various traditions talk in terms of movement through the service from adoration, confession, the word of grace, thanksgiving, and commission. Thinking about the movement and flow of the whole service helps me consider where I want people to be by the end.
  4. One of the things I’m working on at the moment is ‘structured flexibility.’ So I have a pretty tight outline of where I’m going but I need to be prepared to react, particularly off the back of the sermon to help the preacher and the congregation maximise the moment.
  5. Be neither brusque nor overly wordy. Craft good pithy transitions that enable engagement, but don’t give sermonettes at every other opportunity.
  6. Most people come distracted and just want to get on with it. That provides a couple of challenges. In one sense you do need to get on with it. You can’t artificially create ‘atmosphere.’ That said you do want to try and slow people down to ‘get into the moment.’ That’s not easy and I’m not sure I’ve figured out any obvious answers yet.
  7. I need to be aware of the different people present. Different circumstances of life, different ability levels in terms of reading, writing, or comprehension. Most significantly I need to be aware of people there who aren’t yet Christians. I mustn’t presume they know where to find Lamentations or the toilet. They may not know who I am or what ‘atonement’ means. I don’t have to explain everything, but I do need a sensitivity to where people are coming from. I want the service to be accessible without dumbing everything down.
  8. Minimize notices. We’ve taken to referring people to the meeting guide and only announcing from the front things that affect the whole church. Otherwise the flow of the meeting gets easily disturbed by half a dozen different things. If you let one group give their notice it’s difficult to say no to the rest. Put notices in a bulletin and refer people to that.
  9. Little things can make a big difference. Avoiding ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ helps avoid unnecessary distraction. We also try to avoid saying things like ‘hopefully you’ll have been given a meeting guide/notice sheet on the way in.’ Don’t say ‘hopefully’ – trust its been done. If tech doesn’t work draw as little attention to it as possible and explain with words like ‘we’ not ‘they’. Make sure you’re at the mic before you speak, and a brief pause enables the sound guys to make sure you’re turned up and ready to go. Little things I know, but they can really help minimise distraction.

I know I’ve still got lots and lots to learn and, thankfully, have a lifetime to do so. What would you add to the above.


4 Replies to “Some Reflections on Leading Better Services”

  1. Thanks for this Martin, I think I’d add, think about the ‘pastoral tone’. For example: as you introduce a time of confession on any given week there will be some who will benefit from a more serious reminder of the need for confession, while there will be others desperate for the assurance of the opportunity of confession. With that in mind on different weeks I try and vary the ‘tone’ of how I lead different parts of the service.

  2. Great thoughts bro! I’m still terrible at the ‘umm’s – totally unnecessary.
    I think I’d add that it helps to be switched on to what is distracting people and not be squeamish about the ‘unspiritual’ nature of acknowledging mundane interruptions. That devastating news headline from yesterday, or the football result you know half the congregation is still celebrating. Flagging them up can help people to put those thoughts in their place, rather than leaving them humming away in minds through the whole service.
    Another classic is the screaming child – no one can hear a word the leader is saying and everyone is getting uncomfortable, yet the leader sticks rigidly to his script. Crazy! Just remind the church why we’re so glad kids are with us, and then speak up with a smile. I’ve even been in a service where a guy passed out on the back row and had to be carried out and nothing was said! true story.
    If we make the gospel seem awkward and rigidly incompatible with the most ordinary distractions, how on earth are we going to communicate it’s supreme relevance to the deepest challenges our church families are facing?

  3. The suggestions you posted here add up to the “intangible” – the nuances that many people can’t specify but that make the difference. As a pastor’s wife (now retired), many of these – and a few others – were what frequently bugged me 🙂

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