Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Bread-Kneading Approach...

What a whirlwind it has been at Messiah and the Moss home. I have been stretched to my capacity, and that means that some of the extra-credit stuff, like blogging, has had to take a backseat. But that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot to blog about now that it is all over! But rather than make a massive post describing every aspect of each service, I'm going to be all post-modern about it. Expect fragmentary little snippets..

The Bread-Kneading Approach of Project Management

In previous years, planning at Messiah went something like this. A few members of the staff (Music Director, Administrator, and me, typically) would get together and plan as much as we could. We tried to take as much burden for the liturgy off of the volunteers as possible. All they had to do was show up and pick up a job at the last moment. We did this because we had heard so many messages from people about volunteer burnout. We believed that people were overburdened, and we tried to compensate by putting more work on the staff. Of course, staff resources were limited, so the programme and liturgy were necessarily limited, as well. That also meant we bore the brunt of anxiety about making stuff happen.

So, for example, instead of asking the chancel guild to set up and clean up from the Easter Vigil, I did it myself. I also arranged all the chairs and handed out leaflets before the service, etc. It was exhausting and clearly was far from the kind of "empowering leadership" that we wanted to exercise. I realize in retrospect that it only appeared easier because it backloaded the work, rather than investing in real upfront planning.

So this year we tried an entirely different approach. I call it the "Bread-Kneading Approach." It started with just my Minister of Music (Eric) and I. We talked through the liturgies of Holy Week and dreamed together about what we would find most powerful and meaningful. We looked at lots of different liturgical texts and music before we had a basic outline of what we wanted to do.

Next, we involved a few more people. That meant a more general staff meeting in which we laid out our plans and fleshed out more details. This was helpful, especially as we identified lots of things we hadn't thought of before. We also, at this stage, gave a lot of thought to how various key congregational leaders would take part.

The next meeting included even more people--key leaders from the sidespeople (ushers), chancel guild, kitchen volunteers, etc. I prepared for this meeting by making up a series of flip-chart pages with summaries of the liturgy in question. There was one for Palm Sunday, one for Maundy Thursday, etc. Again, more issues were identified and resloved. Roles were assigned. More importantly, the vision was pitched. Eric and I wanted to get this small group of leaders to be excited about Holy Week in the way that we were excited about Holy Week.

It was a great success. Much more lay involvement in all aspects of the Holy Week worship. Staff were still busy, but with different stuff. The complexity and detail of everything was much, much greater than in previous years. That complexity and detail meant a deeper, more meaningful and spiritual experience for everyone. So it was a winning strategy all the way around.

Now, I've tried to plan liturgies in large meetings before, and it always fell apart. Now I understand that beginning the process with the big meeting or ending by handing out roles to a large assembly of volunteers is the right approach. Start with a small group to discern the corp vision, then work your way outwork. It's like kneading bread, you add flour and knead and add flour and need until you get just the right amount of flour for the amount of moisture in the dough. I think Jesus, always a fan of agricultural and domestic metaphors, would like this one, too.


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