Worship Ministry in a Multichurch District: A Conversation with Zachary Payne

Nicholas Zork: I’ve often wondered how pastors of multichurch districts support multiple concurrent worship services. As a pastor of four churches, I imagine that you don’t worship with all of them every Sabbath?

Zachary Payne: [laughs] I do not.

NZ: How are the worship services planned?

ZP: I’ve been solely in charge of the preaching. I schedule myself and elders; and I’ve done a pretty good job of bringing in guest speakers. Being new to the district, I haven’t really rocked the boat with the regard to the rest of the service. But I would like to be more involved in the future.

NZ: What are some things you have in mind?

ZP: Personally, I would like to see each church have a worship committee that I sit on but don’t chair. Right now there’s not a lot of conversation about what we could do differently with the liturgy or the liturgical order.

NZ: There’s usually a tendency for things to simply continue being done the way they’ve been done in the past.

ZP: The worship services are very predictable. If a young person stopped attending and then decided to come back, they’d likely hear the same opening song, see the same people leading, and realize that not much has changed. For some people, that might be a positive thing, but not for everyone.

NZ: I think it would be helpful to have a dialogue with other multichurch district pastors about ways to improve worship ministry in churches when a pastor is not involved in planning every service. I wonder if there might be some way to invest more time training those who plan worship? 

ZP: I think so. We’ve been doing a Friday night vespers every week. It’s been theologically focused, and moving forward I’d like that emphasis to be more explicitly practical—to talk about best practices for putting together a sermon or how to give a Bible study. We could talk out about liturgy and what it means, why we do it the same way throughout the eons, and whether that’s necessary.

NZ: We often think of theology as doctrine. But our ministry practices are embodied theology. Worship is a paradigmatic example. But other practices are also theologically consequential, and we don’t always reflect theologically on them.

ZP: We do get bent out of shape when people do things differently from the way we usually do them, but we often don’t know why we were doing them that way to begin with.

NZ: Change is hard for all of us. But the more we become accustomed to thinking critically about what we do, the less threatening change will be, especially if we believe those making changes are being theologically intentional, too. 

ZP: Another issue in a multichurch district is that I’m not around most of the time and don’t know what’s going on. So, for example, I’ve never heard one of my elders preach. We’re just beginning to discuss the possibility of live-streaming the service where I’m preaching to the other churches in the district. I know there’s some openness to that idea. Then we could focus on one quality worship service per week.

NZ: Would you only stream the preaching?

ZP: We might even stream the whole service.

NZ: I wonder how much of this will become commonplace in the future. Worshippers will have certain experiences mediated through a screen and other interactions in person.

ZP: Those are things we’ve talked about that could become a reality in coming years.

NZ: Thank you for talking. We’d like to take this conversation to a larger group. I look forward to hearing more of your insights in that discussion.

See the Best Practices for Adventist Worship Facebook page for discussion.