This is the season when clergy, musicians, and other worship leaders are busy preparing and leading a variety of extra worship services. Most of our churches have special Advent services, Christmas Eve services, Watch Night services on New Year’s Eve, and various other additional worship and devotional times. Preparing for and leading all of those extra services is indeed a lot of extra work. It is a joyous season, but for church leaders it is also a season of extra work.

In his book “Leading a Life With God: The Practice of Spiritual Leadership,” Daniel Wolpert warns of the danger of allowing this extra work to become what he calls “Toxic Work.” He states: “In the world of church, something has gone awry with the way we relate to work ... The nature of work in the church seems, for many people, to have changed from life-giving service to Jesus into exhausting, anger-producing drudgery.”

Wolpert talks about how we even turn worship into work, and he notes in particular that for many pastors leading worship is just more work to be accomplished. He reports what I hear from many pastors, namely that they cannot worship during worship, because worship is work for them. Wolpert then warns, “In a church setting, if the spiritual leader is not worshipping during worship, neither is the congregation.”

So what will it be for our United Methodist clergy here in Indiana this Advent and Christmas season? Will it be Work, or will it be Worship? Laity can help their pastors. The lay leaders can pray with the pastor prior to worship. People can abstain from deluging their pastors with last-minute announcements and other details which distract from preparation for worship. And the pastors themselves can focus upon the worship service not as more work, or as a performance, but as a time to fulfill their calling as spiritual leaders.

We all make a huge mistake when we turn worship into work, rather than allowing worship to be a time when God leads us into a deeper awareness of the spiritual dimensions of life. May God bless all of us with times of genuine worship this season.

from Bishop Michael J. Coyner