The Mechanics of Awkward

5 comments Written on July 25th, 2014     
Filed under: Leadership, Order of Worship, Vocational Excellence

by Chris Logan

I interned for a summer with a worship arts pastor when I was in college. At the time, it had nothing to do with my major, and I did it for free. But it was an awesome summer for me – I learned a ton, and I also met this amazing girl who later agreed to marry me. The church was fairly large by most standards – average weekend attendance was around 1500 at three services – and so it seemed a fitting place to learn the ropes of leading and planning worship.

I remember that the first few weeks of this strange new world I’d entered were awkward, as starting any new routine usually is. There were lots of things I wasn’t used to, especially the planning meetings, but I remember noticing that my mentor had an attention to detail that I’d never seen in a pastor before. She was a bit of a nazi for transitions in particular, and it’s taken me a long time of doing this myself to realize why it was so important to her.

People can tell when things happen on purpose, or when they are simply mistakes or badly planned. When telling a story, awkward pauses in the flow – someone who doesn’t come up to the stage fast enough, someone who can’t remember their line in a sketch, a capo change that lasts forever, a mic still muted when a speaker starts – those awkward pauses interrupt our attention to the story and instead draw our attention to the mechanics of what’s happening. Instead of pondering what God just revealed in the midst of a piece of music or scripture or drama, our eyes and ears are instantly drawn to whatever interrupted the experience. Planning our transitions – and bring prepared for what to do in the eventuality that something will go differently than planned – helps us to tell the story in a way that makes sense to those we’ve been entrusted to lead. Far from manipulating an audience, it’s about creating space free of distractions from what’s most important. Instead of drawing our attention to the mundane – walking, people putting down instruments, fumbling for a mute button – it allows the elements we’ve spent so much time planning draw attention to God.

But there’s one more reason I’ve discovered, and to me, this is the most important one.

When there’s that extra space that lasts just a bit too long between things, and you’re left wondering if these people actually care enough about what they’re doing to know their own plan, there’s always an uncomfortable silence. The thing is, the silence was not on purpose. In our culture, people are already suspicious of silence or pause; it doesn’t fit into our “self-made people” image very well, and doesn’t fit into our cultural narrative of constant productivity. We work hard, we play hard – we don’t like to slow down for sabbath. Yet silence is an important spiritual discipline and thus a counter-cultural element of the Christian spiritual life. So when it happens unintentionally, say in an awkward transition, it reinforces our hostility towards it.

Awkward transitions give silence a bad name.

Planning your transitions effectively not only helps tell the story of God in a better way, it also helps curate space for purposeful silence. It helps us learn to sabbath.

Chris Logan is a Covenant Worship Arts Pastor and writer living in Omaha, NE. He currently serves as the Summer Worship Leader in Residence at First Covenant Church of Omaha, and is currently open to call. This post originally appeared on Chris’s blog, Unseen Eternity. It is re-published here with permission.

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5 comments “The Mechanics of Awkward”

Great word Chris! My father (a Covenant pastor) told me early in my ministry that the congregation has given us the gift of their time, don’t waste it or be sloppy. 

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You nailed it, Chris – both your comments about the importance of transitions and how poor ones give silence a bad rap. I have always given great attention to every detail of a service to minimize distractions for my congregation so they can truly keep their attention on God.  Being out of worship planning and leading for the past few years has allowed me to see how others curate worship services – and it is actually making me crave more strict liturgy! Where there are planned parts, accessible to the people, with flow and focus and an unfolding of something that culminates with a desire to go out and engage the world for another week.  Services that just have disconnected elements (bunch of songs, prayer, Scripture, sermon,  offertory, benediction) with no recognizable purpose, flow, focus, or help from those leading the service diminishes, for me, the power and delight of being engaged in worship. The ongoing conversation about worshipers participating or just observing comes to mind here as well.

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I’m really mixed on this. it’s actually always bothered me a bit when church is a well-oiled machine. We are humans and it is everyone’s church, not a slick performance we’re attending. I often think that those little gaffes and moments when everyone can laugh & be human help bring everyone together. It makes the people on stage “one of us” instead of Other or elevated.

I’m also coming from the direction of having attended a few megachurches (Lakewood, for one) and I cherish the humanity. I feel like there is a real distance created between the “audience” and those on stage (and the fact that it becomes that) the more elaborate the production is.

Not to say that I don’t appreciate a good flow and purposeful silence. I understand that it’s a struggle to intermingle the business-type things that have to go on during service with the worship that is our reason.

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I’m not meaning to suggest it should be so “slick” that it lacks humanity, but that most of the time we go to the opposite extreme of thinking that it doesn’t matter, and that in our culture it ends up coming off as if we don’t really care about what we’re doing … for our culture, planning = intentionality = we care about what it is we’re doing.

I know what you mean about larger churches though, since it can feel like you get lost in a crowd (although the introvert in me says “yay!”) … however, I’ve seen it done well in them too … the best ones are more intentional about connecting people to smaller communities right away. But it’s true, that’s the biggest challenge with larger churches …

I’d love to hear from some people AT larger churches to see how they handle creating community in the midst of crowds …

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