Worship: it is our Business
By Lindsay Peyton
Each year, clergy and lay members head to the UMC’s Texas Annual Conference for worship, fellowship and business. There’s a lot of work to do – from ordaining clergy, and electing delegates to adopting programs, budgets and goals. Dr. Craig Gilbert explained that worship is a central component to completing the tasks at hand.
Gilbert serves as the conference’s worship coordinator. He maintains that the business and worship sections of the event are not separate – but interdependent.
“Some see this as a business meeting with worship interspersed,” he said. “Some see it as worship, with business interspersed.”
Truthfully, the conference doesn’t belong in either camp, Gilbert explained.
“My biggest focus is that worship is separate from business, but it is also part of our business,” he said. “They’re not exclusive. We should be about our business -- with the heart of God.”
Worship services give participants an opportunity to re-center themselves, he added.
“We’re trying to be in God’s presence, and hopefully we carry that spirit over to our business sessions,” Gilbert said.
One important aspect of the worship service is reminding participants of their ministry goals.
Each worship service in the annual conference is rooted in ministry, Gilbert said. For example, the memorial services speak about completed ministries, while retirement services address the end of one ministry chapter and the beginning of another.
“In spending time with worship, we are constantly rooted in ministry,” Gilbert said. “So when we go into business, we have a core of ministry in our decisions.”
The annual conference is also a time to learn about the various styles of worship – from contemporary to traditional.
“There are all types of languages of expressions,” Gilbert said. “We have to allow everyone at some point to speak their language. You attend all of the worship services to get the full spectrum.”
He hopes that attendees will walk away having learned something new. “Maybe you’ll find something that your local church does not offer, but you really connected with,” he said. “Maybe you’ll experience something and take that home with you.”
Gilbert also serves as worship coach for the Vibrant Church Initiative and oversees worship renewal projects for area churches in our Annual Conference.
Keeping up with the trends and best practices in worship services is what Gilbert is all about.
In addition to his work at the conference, he is a contributor, instructor and editor for various worship magazines.
Gilbert is also a lifelong musician and started singing at church since the age of four.
“The arts were my first and foremost language of expression of worship,” he said. “But creativity is not just limited to music. Music is just the beginning.”
Gilbert’s goal is to bring that creative energy to churches at the conference.
A few years ago, he started the conference’s clergy choir, bringing pastors to the stage to sing. Now the choir has grown to include between 70 and 80 members.
“We’re breaking down the wall between the platform and the pew,” he said. “A lot of pastors love to sing, but they don’t have a chance. This gives them the opportunity to sing at conference.”
At the upcoming conference, Gilbert added morning and evening worship services to the schedule. “This will be an intimate, acoustic prayer time,” he said. “It’s going to be wonderful, a very personal and intimate event.”
Gilbert reminds participants that worship is active. “The whole point of worship is to give,” he said. “It’s not to receive. It’s expression, people expressing their love for God in the cultural vernacular they speak.”
Some prefer the oldest rituals, while others look for the latest trends. The point is to get everyone to participate and feel they have a way to engage, Gilbert said.
Creating a service that relates to multiple generations can be a challenge for churches, he added.
“Everyone wants a simple answer, but there isn’t one,” he said. “There’s a broad swath of answers. There are endless possibilities.”
Each community can find a unique model to fit its congregation.
Gilbert recommends remembering to love God first – and to love your neighbor.
“Carry that heart into worship,” he said. “Just because you don’t like a song, doesn’t mean that your neighbor doesn’t. Pray that they are experiencing God in a new way. Then pray for your own experience and ask, ‘What kind of revelation can I get from this?’”