When your ship is under engine power, the process of taking and using bearings is relatively simple. Use your map to identify known points and the distance between them, measure the angle between your position and those two positions, and use that to calculate your relative position. Then use relative positions over time to calculate speed. The crew simply adjusts throttle, rudder, and other fairly predictable components to correct or keep course.
Things aren't quite so simple, though, if your ship is under wind power. Exactly where, when, and how much the wind will blow at any particular time and place is ultimately unpredictable. Winds can move from gusty to still, and from one direction to the opposite, in a manner of seconds, sometimes. As that happens, it's no longer enough to identify the fixed points and know the distance between them. Now one also has to play with the angles of the sails as well.
Steer the sails too into the wind, and you'll go faster at your current heading. Turn them to the side a bit, and you'll go a bit slower, making it possible to start changing your angle in the opposite direction. Put the sails parallel to the wind, and you will slow down considerably, a useful maneuver if you're coming in too fast or find you're heading in the wrong direction and need to make a larger course correction.
Again, the challenge-- the wind remains unpredictable.
Jesus said something about this. "The wind blows where it will, and you can hear its sound, but you know neither where it came from nor where it is heading. That's how it is for everyone born of the Spirit" (John 3:8).
And so it is for everyone planning and leading worship with such Spirit-born folk!
You can get your general bearings from reliable maps-- like the church year and the lectionary. But the vessel you're planning to pilot has sails. So it's not enough to know what season it is or what text to use. You have to keep catching the winds and readjusting, playing with the angles.
That's true both during the planning phases for worship, and especially when you and others are leading worship in the moment.
Playing with the Angles: Planning
I am convinced that one of the reasons worship falls flat-- or worse!-- in so many of our congregations is a less than "inspired" approach to worship planning. In 2009, I ran a survey for users of GBOD Worship Website about how they were using the worship planning helps I develop. Among the things I wanted to know from users was how worship planning worked where they were. 87% of respondents indicated they used what I refer to as "solo" or "silo" planning. Either they planned everything solo, or they assigned parts and pieces to one or two others and simply assembled them at the end (Thursday afternoon, often) in a plug and play fashion. Almost invariably, these were planners for "traditional" worship. Why? In contemporary worship, there are usually so many "moving parts" (music, sound, lighting, video, drama, art, presentations to develop) that a more regular team based approach to planning is absolutely essential if it's going to work at all!
What happens on those teams isn't just coordination. At its best, it's collaboration. Even more, it's "con-spiracy"-- "breathing together" and sensing together where the winds of the Spirit (as well as other winds!) might be blowing in the scriptures, in the lives of the worshiping community, and in the artistry and skill they and others may bring to the worship moment.
In a team like this, you quickly realize there are many possible angles to play with a given text and season-- soundscapes, visuals, lighting levels, sound levels, kind of musical accompaniment, where the congregation sings, how the congregation moves-- and each of these pitches the ship in a slightly different angle of approach to the destination. Sometimes you need a direct, almost perpendicular approach. At others, you want to come in alongside, almost parallel to shore. Having a skilled team that is also attentive to the winds and what they can do can help you plan to play the angles well.
Playing with the Angles: Rehearsal
Always rehearse your newly angled creations. Use rehearsal to test the angles, but also to play with them more. Don't assume you're here simply to "nail down" what you had planned in your team. You may have a wonderful vision of how it might go. But you don't know in your bodies how it will go until you've physically walked through the moves, and especially the transitions, yourselves. You may discover a better way to do something in rehearsal as you put what you had planned into something closer to "sail" conditions. You may also discover that what you had imagined may be too awkward to pull off gracefully, or too difficult to teach the congregation as you had planned it. Maybe the folks running the board can't switch fast enough from DVD to MediaShout at a key point. Or maybe where the singers end up places their wireless microphones too close to the speaker system. You don't know until you do the run-through. So always do it, the evening before if possible, always ready to play with and rework the angles.
Playing the Angles: Worship in Progress
As well as you've planned, and as thoroughly as you've rehearsed, the Spirit and other winds still blow where they will. And they may blow in a very different direction than anyone had anticipated when worship actually happens.
Be Spirit-ready to play with the angles yet again!
Sometimes, it means you'll change a song. Other times, it may mean you discover a need for a time of healing prayer. Maybe the sermon needs to move in a very different direction, or not happen at all. Season, lectionary and planning may still mark the general direction for what you do, a kind of undergirding, but exactly what you do may need to look and feel very different, dropping some things, adding others.
So take your bearings. Use good maps. Play with the angles. And let the Spirit lead-- as the Spirit has led the church in the wisdom of the past, and as the Spirit now blows with fresh wisdom among those who are born again in your midst.
And stay tuned for Bearings, Part 3: Fluid Motion in Four Movements.
Peace in Christ,