When a church calls a new clergyperson, formally marking the new partnership is essential. In many denominations an installation worship service is the primary means for doing so. Installations typically take place after the new pastor has been in place for 1-3 months. This delay gives the minister (at least some) time to get acclimated and to meet people in the congregation, judicatory, and surrounding community that she wants to involve in the planning and leadership of the installation service. It also allows her to invite family, friends, and mentors who need advance notice in order to travel.
An installation service is a celebration. A new season in the lives of the minister and congregation has begun. Installing a leader gives church members and the pastor the opportunity to express gratitude to God for accompanying them through the transition time and for bringing them together for mutual ministry. An installation service is a time of covenanting. During the service the clergyperson and the congregation make promises about the ways they will journey alongside one another on mission for God. And an installation service connects church and minister with a broader community. Often a judicatory or denominational representative, clergy colleagues, leaders from community organizations, and/or someone from the pastor’s seminary will participate in some fashion.
For all of these reasons, installations promote positivity and connection that can lead to momentum for the congregation and minister. Often, though, churches and search teams do not think to budget for this worship service. Costs could include honorarium and travel expenses for the installation preacher (who often comes from out of town because the inviting clergyperson is from another area), a gift for the pastor being installed (such as a stole or a chalice and paten), and finger foods for a reception after the service. Larger congregations might easily be able to absorb these costs by pulling from line items such as pulpit supply and hospitality. Many small to medium congregations cannot, however. And having the forethought to include installation expenses in the search budget – no matter how many resources the church has – sends a message about welcome, attention to detail, and the desire to develop a long, fruitful ministry with the incoming pastor.
If you are deep in the process with a searching church, ask about the budget for your installation. (In some contexts, you might need to be prepared first to educate about the what and why of an installation.) If there isn’t one, make it a negotiating point. An installation service is not just for your benefit. It glorifies God and lays the foundation for your leadership and the church’s future.
In developing the approach to ministerial searches that is rooted in hospitality, I put together a meeting structure that weaves together the elements of discernment and the business that teams must attend to. It builds in intentional spaces and means of attending to the Holy Spirit as teams go about the work at hand. This outline can be utilized for a range of congregational processes. Consider the content below, then, a preview of Searching for the Called as well as a resource with many potential applications.
Preparing to perceive God’s guidance
Create an atmosphere for discernment. Prepare the gathering space in a way that is conducive to worshipful work.
Set aside distractions. Ask, “What does each of us need to turn over to God before we can focus on the work at hand?”
Worship together in your gathering space. Invite everyone to name where they have seen God at work this week.
Refine the question for discernment.
Ask each team member to give an overview of progress that has been made on agreed-upon actions.
Celebrate this progress and build in support for actions that are incomplete.
Identify what the team needs to focus on in this meeting. Parse which pieces are matters for discernment and which can appropriately be accomplished through decisions.
Clarify the question(s) for discernment that is/are now before the team.
Pray for indifference. Pray as Jesus did: “Not my will but Thine be done.”
Listen for the wisdom of God
Gather relevant data. Invite team members to share the details of work done since the last meeting.
Discuss the data. Encourage each team member to share what they notice from the data presented. Ask clarifying questions. Name what the team doesn’t yet know but needs to know. Listen deeply to one another.
Pray for wisdom. Acknowledge that the team has done what it can in terms of collecting and evaluating the data. Ask God to move in that new awareness.
Make friends with silence. Wait on the Lord. Use spiritual disciplines to tune into what God might be saying.
Consider and commit to what God is inviting the team to do
Identify the resolution that seems (resolutions that seem) to be emerging. Get every concern on the table. Refine every idea that bubbles up.
Work toward agreement. Start from points of commonality: “What is it that we all seem to be hearing clearly?” Dig deeper on points of resistance: “Tell me more about your hesitation.” Use your team’s previously agreed-upon means of coming to agreement.
Test the agreement. Let the resolution rest. If your team isn’t able to sleep on it, take a break and then discuss how team members are feeling in their heads, hearts, and guts about the proposed way forward.
Take action. Make detailed plans for action steps. Who will do what? How, and by when? What support and/or accountability is needed?
Reflect on how God is at work in the process as a whole
Before adjourning, check in on how the team felt it worked together today and what adjustments to process need to be made.
Recently I was directing my youth in a run-through of their Youth Sunday worship service. This was a full rehearsal so that we could work out the rubics, troubleshoot AV issues, and make sure every aspect of the service pointed back to the youth-chosen theme. Several times I was asked – since there were all-important lock-in games like Sardines and Mafia to get to – “Do I have to read my whole part? I know what I’m supposed to do.” And each time I replied, “Practice like you play.” (I guess that old desire to coach basketball still lurks in the back of my brain.)
There are some worship leaders who think that writing out liturgy and sermon manuscripts (if that suits your preaching style) and rehearsing worship prevents the Holy Spirit from moving in the moment. But I believe that good preparation is a sign that a worship leader takes seriously his/her responsibility to God and to the gathered body. It’s a mark of hospitality when a worship leader ensures important details are highlighted and good transitions are made, because otherwise visitors won’t know what to expect. Preparation and rehearsal also create muscle memory in a worship leader so that if he/she is having an off day, the advance work can fill in some gaps.
But perhaps most importantly – and ironically – practicing creates more space for the Holy Spirit to operate. The Spirit isn’t limited to influencing the worship hour but instead can guide all the planning, study, writing, rehearsing, physical space arranging, and recruiting of liturgists, musicians, and greeters.
Practice like you play…and invite the Holy Spirit to redirect you in the moment and to translate all that happens into the message(s) the people in the pews need to hear.