No More Summer Worship Multi-Tasking: Use the Lectionary to "Think Series"

By Taylor Burton-Edwards

Worship planning no more summer worship 279x300
Christine de Pizan, Multi-tasking. Used by permission under a Creative Commons License.

In the U.S. in particular, we live in a distracted and distracting world. Multitasking seems required of us all the time, but what we know is that our brains are simply not set up to make that work.

In fact, as significant research at Stanford University has shown, much to the surprise of the researchers, the more we multitask at things such as email, Twitter, documents we are writing, and the like, the worse we get at multitasking and the worse our capacity to filter out irrelevant information and remember and keep track of important things.

What's even worse, people who do such multitasking over time believe and feel they're getting better and better at it, and they crave it more and more!

There's a reason media multitasking feels so good but works increasingly poorly. Our brains reward us with "dopamine blasts" when we encounter something new. The brain apparently does that so we have the incentive to deal with the new thing in a focused way, once we can focus in on it. But that's the key. This dopamine-reward mechanism was not designed to be stimulated again and again in rapid succession. Keep stimulating it, and we become "high," rather than more focused. Literally high. In reality, such constant task-switching may be measurably damaging our brains.

Worship planners are often tempted during this period of unrelated texts after Pentecost to "multi-task" worship after Pentecost, jumping around the lectionary texts or topics from week to week, or even changing up the order of worship each week for the sake of variety. We justify it to ourselves that variety is good. We may think we should give folks a "break" since choirs, Sunday school, and other programs may be off for much of the summer vacation season in the U.S. and Europe. We may follow suit, offering a more low-key, casual feel.

The more casual approach and variety may feel good. Likely it will. But given the fact that worship happens and folks generally hear these texts and a sermon only once per week, you may very well be reducing their biblical memory and enhancing their biblical illiteracy by changing up the worship order too much or by jumping among the texts or topics rather than diving deeply into them from week to week.

Instead, "think series."

And think series, not only in terms of texts for focus, but the basic patterns of your worship as well.

Pick one stream of texts to focus on for several weeks on end. Read them all in worship if you can.

And accompany that series of texts with repeated elements of worship that help all who worship with you enter these texts and the work of the Spirit through them in a more profound way.

So plan intently -- not casually! Plan with the end of what God can do with us, with the particular brains we actually have, in mind.

Quit multitasking during these months-- and see how the people invited into practices of worship that reinforce the message of scripture may actually grow, rather than decline, in the intensity of their love for God and neighbor.

For another take on the dangers of multi-tasking, from Harvard Business Review, click here.