As a professor, I get the opportunity to work with undergraduate and graduate students every day. Our purpose statement is “Equipping Worshipers to Serve.” Part of “equipping” is training students musically to prepare them to serve the local church. Currently, our constituent churches (the churches that send us students and where our students go to serve) use primarily contemporary worship styles, typically involving praise bands and vocalists.
How long will this be the case? Will our current “contemporary” style be the style for most churches 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Will the role of a worship pastor continue to be the primary vocalist or instrumentalist? What new musical styles will impact the church? What models or forms of worship will change the way we “do” church?
I tell my students that their greatest ability may be flexibility.
Change is happening quickly in today’s world, and the way we worship today will likely change in the future. How quickly those changes happen and what those changes will be are yet to be determined. Worship leaders who are not able to adapt to these changes may find themselves marginalized, ineffective, or sidelined from ministry.
The Oxford Dictionary defines flexibility as “the quality of bending easily without breaking.” What are you currently rigid about? Style? Instrumentation? Order of service?
Stretching exercises may be in order to help you enhance your flexibility. Embracing creatively is one way to make yourself more flexible. Conversely, without stretching you may find yourself close to “breaking.” That could manifest itself in several ways: strained relationships with people who are asking you to be flexible, marginalization in your ministry because you are “in a rut,” or, more significantly, finding yourself out of ministry because you refuse to change.
The Ability to be Easily Modified
Flexibility can also be defined as “the ability to be easily modified.” Unexpected things happen in worship contexts often, at least in my world. What happens when your pastor wants to insert a song or change the order of service? What happens when your drummer doesn’t show up? Recently, our lyric presentation software crashed forcing a reboot. As the computer was rebooting, it had a mandatory update that disabled us from using lyrics. What do you do without lyrics? Can we even worship?!? Your ability to be flexible when handling unexpected issues will speak to your ability to lead well.
Willingness to Change or Compromise
Finally, flexibility can be defined as “willingness to change or compromise.” All of us have preferences about things that are probably at least somewhat negotiable. Among these could be types of music that we prefer, performance practices, use of click tracks, etc. We all probably have convictions that probably shouldn’t change, such as doctrinal positions or your biblically based philosophy of what worship is and how it should be practiced. In ministry, you will likely need to know the difference between preferences and convictions. Flexibility in convictions should probably not change, but you probably should be willing to negotiate flexibility in your preferences.
A missionary friend of mine did training with a group of our students who were heading to Jamaica. He brought in a Gumby figurine. If you don’t know what this is, it is a rubber cartoon character with a soft wire internal frame so that it snaps back into the same shape. He has big eyes and an indomitable smile. As my friend talked about the cultural differences that we might encounter overseas, he would stretch Gumby into unnatural splits. He made sure that we knew we would have to be flexible in these social settings. Afterward, he would let Gumby snap right back into his original position. He talked about different kinds of food that we might encounter. He would put Gumby’s leg behind his head, while reminding us that we might have to eat some things we didn’t like, but it would be OK. Gumby snapped right back in his original form. While explaining things like being stuck in the airport or in customs, he took Gumby and whacked him repeatedly onto the podium in front of him. Gumby was unfazed, still with his winsome smile. The lesson was well-taken.
How about you? When you are called on to be flexible, do you take it in stride like Gumby? Do you do it with a smile on your face? Flexibility may be one of your most important abilities, as it may help you maintain good staff relationships, effectiveness with your congregation, and ability to maintain ministry longevity as things change.
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Dr. O'Neel serves as Associate Professor of Music and Worship, and as director of music theory. He has served for 11 years as a full-time minister for worship and has a wealth of experience and knowledge in all aspects of traditional and contemporary worship. He received his Ph.D. in Music Theory from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996 and has been at Cedarville University since 2002.