Choosing The Better Thing: Priorities in Worship Planning

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As worship artists, we long for our congregations to encounter the living God and experience a deep sense of His presence in our worship services. We know that those who encounter the God will be changed, and above all else we desire to see real transformation happening in the lives of our churches and communities. Rightfully, we prepare diligently for these precious times of worship where we can drink deeply from God’s grace and enjoy him uniquely together.

Understanding that God will work in is own way and in his own timing, I can recall as a worship leader many Sundays after rehearsing the band and singers through a carefully crafted worship service with the perfect visual elements and flow, only to be underwhelmed in the end. Things seemed to fall flat, and there seemed to be a real lack of spiritual power and authority. There have also been times when the ministry preparation (specifically planning and rehearsals) was weak, at best. The week got away from me, and I felt less than prepared. But God moved powerfully in our midst anyway.

What was the difference? Is there a difference? What are the healthy and unhealthy patterns in our ministry preparation? Are we spending our time on the right things?

The Better Thing

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus and his disciples spend time at the home of Mary and Martha. In the narrative, Mary chooses to worship Jesus rather than help Martha with all the “preparations that had to be made(10:40, NIV). In response, Jesus says, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (10:42). What did Mary choose that was better? What can this brief narrative tell us about our priorities as worship leaders and artists?

Faithfully, we all spend a great deal of time each week “making preparations” for those who will be in our midst. Countless hours are spent planning and rehearsing for the 60 to 90 minutes we will spend inviting in and experiencing the presence of God each week. This was certainly Martha’s goal as well. She was making preparations for the presence of Jesus in her midst, and she was working hard at it. She was also quite disgruntled at her sister’s seeming lack of interest in helping, and it showed. Also, the preparations, if Martha is being honest, were the preparations she felt were necessary to host Jesus and the disciples–the ones the world told her should be done when hosting guests.

Making her frustration known, she appeals to Jesus for help. Jesus, then, shifts the focus from Martha’s priorities to his priorities. First, he gently rebukes Martha because of her concern for many things. Jesus implies that the world expects much (after all Martha is doing the work she thought was appropriate), but that she didn’t actually take the time to ask Jesus what he wanted. Then, Jesus says Mary has chosen the better thing–that is, to spend time in his presence, worshipping Jesus as a learner sits at the feet of the rabbi.

Which do you tend to be? Are you typically a Mary who prioritizes time spent at the feet of Jesus, understanding it is indeed the better thing? Or do you tend to be a Martha getting many things done (often all at once) in preparation for the feast, but neglecting time spent with the Savior? How many of us actually prioritize the better thing in our weekly worship preparation?

Now, I am certainly not suggesting a lack of preparation. Preparation is essential. The task of our calling is a high one, and shouldn’t be taken lightly. We need adequate preparation. Often, though, it seems that the external preparation for ministry supersedes the spiritual preparation. It seems the trajectory of our spiritual lives often runs at an inverse trajectory to our level of busyness. In a busy season of ministry, my spiritual life will often suffer. My inner Martha rears its head and I neglect to spend time at the feet of the Rabbi learning, growing, and changing by God’s grace. As a result, I am often frustrated, stressed, feeling disconnected emotionally and spiritually, and often ineffective in my work.

What will you choose?

Life is a series of choices. We all have twenty-four hours in each day and seven days in each week. If you are like me, there is always more to be done than can be done in each day. It seems like the task list grows daily, even though much was accomplished. Our culture demands more, all the time. Our jobs demand more, even for those of us in vocational ministry. Results are the name of the game, and this can be dangerous for our souls if we are not aware.

So, before you reach for that next time-management or productivity book, I encourage you to consider the following questions:

  1. In our culture that values busyness, are you prioritizing the better way like Mary in your week? If not, what changes can you make to your schedule to prioritize time with Jesus?
  2. When you sit at the Master’s feet, are you allowing Jesus to guide your priorities?
  3. Is the “banquet” you are preparing for worship each week the one that Jesus actually desires? If not, what changes should you make?
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Branden is a worship leader, pastor, teacher, and aspiring jazz musician living in New York City. Branden and Jenn are planting a church in Manhattan. Prior to living in NYC, Branden served at Sent Church in Dallas, TX, as its Executive Pastor for 4 years and Worship Pastor for 13 years. Branden is an accomplished music producer, musician, and teacher. He is also an Adjunct Professor at Oklahoma Wesleyan University. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Northern Iowa, an MBA from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, and a Master Certificate in Music Production from Berklee College of Music.

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