The latest chapter in Worship Matters that I read, Planned and Spontaneous, holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in a church environment that highly valued “spontaneous” church meetings both in the signing and the post-message participation of the congregation. These were seemingly highly touted as being “spiritual” while having a plan and planned out meeting was seemingly viewed as “unspiritual” or “restrictive to the Spirit’s ability to move”. (Note: I don’t think that this view is held to nearly as strongly as I recall from my youth).
While this form of meeting had its positive features it also had its drawbacks – namely never quite knowing what to expect and seeing your guests & first time visitors experience a form of “whiplash” to sudden changes & odd statements to general confusion as to what is going on.
As I entered into leadership positions on campus and in regional youth events it became clear that while spontaneity is not a bad thing in itself, planning is essential and certainly not unspiritual. It became my experience that the Spirit could move the most effectively through those who were thoroughly prepared and had things very well planned out. That kind of person and team of people were able to effectively listen to and respond to the Lord’s voice during the meetings because they were prepared and not distracted by details that were forgotten or “iffy”. As long as that kind of person & team was open to the Spirit’s “spontaneous” promptings they could easily adjust with the Lord.
I have seen this wonderfully displayed in the Mt Top/Ignite youth conferences. The bands that were most prepared were able to powerfully move with the Spirit if He said “stay on this song”, or “change your set order”, or “do a different song”, or “pray”, or “speak”, or whatever else He spoke. Then both as a speaker and a coordinator I have experienced the ability to focus in on the Lord’s speaking and adjust or linger or emphasize things or call for a response or pray in a way different than I’ve planned. I have also many times gone through things just as planned. Both with impact.
Needless to say, I have also had the joy of seeing this on OSU’s campus with Oasis. Since Oasis is a weekly service I have the experience and exposure to see when plans change or go long due to the Spirit’s moving and when it is due to a lack of thoughtful planning, preparation, and review. The former is wonderful, the latter is often painful. When the latter happens, it is great to know that the people I work with and alongside are open to being helped to improve (as am I when I am the source of the mess up…hey, nobody is exempt from this kind of thing).
So, here are some great quotes and suggestions given in the chapter for you to chew on:
“The bigger your church, the more critical consistent planning and rehearsal become. But even when you’re small, it’s wise to develop the practice of planning. It’s not unspiritual to determine ahead of time when things will take place, where transitions should be explained, how many songs to sing, what creative elements to include, or how the meeting will end. We’ve found that the Holy Spirit’s most important guidance often comes before the meeting even begins” (p 182).
WHAT PLANNING CAN’T DO
“Planning can’t replace dependence on the Holy Spirit…[we] take more unhurried time to express our need for God’s wisdom and strength when we meet to plan the details of a meeting. The key word here is unhurried. Prayer is meant to be more than a perfunctory duty. We really need God…Planning doesn’t substitute for listening to the Holy Spirit during the meeting either. Our goal should be to plan wisely, humbly, and prayerfully, fully expecting that God may provide fresh and unexpected guidance during the meeting…Nor can planning ensure that everything will go right…Planning also can’t ensure we’ve made the right plans” (pp 182-183).
WHAT PLANNING CAN DO
“Planning can make us aware of our need for God before the meeting. As we sit down and ponder what God wants to accomplish on Sunday, we may start to feel very needy. People will be walking in confused, empty, and bitter, facing financial worries, life-threatening illnesses, and family struggles…How can we arrange this time so that people are best positioned to hear from God and receive his grace? What can we do to serve the church most effectively?…Planning can cause us to clarify our goals and how to meet them…Planning has helped us to use different musical styles…and use God’s Word more consistently in our times of singing. Planning can also help prepare all the team members for their contributions…Planning can also help prepare people for sharing personal testimonies” (pp 183-184).
“To maximize rehearsal time, I try to make sure I cover these elements: chords and lyrics, dynamics, how songs begin and end, who starts each song, when to lay out and when to enter, how to repeat a chorus, when someone should play or sing a solo” (p 183).
“Spontaneity gives us the freedom to respond to present needs and promptings. Earlier I mentioned leaving room for spontaneous contributions that increase our awareness of the Spirit’s active presence. This could include an unplanned comment, a prayer, [or] a Scripture reading…it’s important that contributions are evaluated by a pastor. Valuing spontaneity doesn’t negate the need for godly leadership” (p 185).
“Charles Spurgeon shared these wise thoughts about spontaneous impressions: ‘I have been the subject of such impressions myself, and have seen very singular results. But to live by impressions is oftentimes to live the life of a fool and even to fall into downright rebellion against the revealed Word of God. Not your impressions, but that which is in this Bible must always guide you'” (p 185).