Professional chefs and bakers adhere to a strict commandment: mise en place. (If you want to sound especially authentic, it’s pronounced “meese on ploss.”) Mise en place, which means “putting in place,” is the ritual of arranging and organizing ingredients before any actual cooking begins: you chop the chocolate into uniform bits, measure out the flour and brown sugar, line your pans with parchment paper… all before you put on your imaginary chef’s toque and start mixing ingredients together.
Personal experience has taught me that this is a Very Sensible Plan. Without practicing mise en place, you’ll discover at highly inopportune moments that your hands are too sticky to use a knife safely, or your cookie sheet needs to be washed, or your brown sugar supply ran out last week. (There are two kinds of people in the world: those who prepare the bake sale goodies, and those who purchase them. I’m the latter.)
In the cooking world, mise en place is the secret sauce. It eliminates rookie errors, streamlines the cooking process, and results in better food, but — this is key — all of this preparation is rendered invisible by how effortless the meal appears. In other words, the more energy and thought that go into planning, the more tantalizing the final product.
The same principle applies to worship, my honey-loves. Much like preparing a meal for guests, worship-planning and worship-leading are acts of hospitality.
Our people — our beloved guests — are giving up the gift of a weekend morning to bring their hunger, their numbness, or their broken hearts into our sanctuaries. They deserve a worship experience in which leaders hold the vessel mindfully, having walked through each transition (verbally or physically) before worship begins.
The mise en place of worship goes beyond setting out matches for the chalice, testing the microphone, and placing hymnals on the chancel (although you get a donut with sprinkles as reward for doing so). We worship leaders are responsible for planning and preparing every ingredient of the feast that we offer to those who hunger. Our guests can’t relish the worship experience if we leaders heap our figurative dirty pots on the Welcome Table.
I’ve attended — and squirmed through — services peppered with awkward logistical conversations that disrupt the worship experience and drain spirit of out of the room. Here’s a real-life example: “Which microphone are you going to use? You should come up here.” “Oh. I thought I was going to use the floor mic.” “Well, if that’s what you want.” “Hang on: I left my papers on my seat.”
Dearies, this is like biting down on an olive pit in your salad: painful, unnecessary, and avoidable had more care been taken in the preparation process.
The mise en place of worship has little to with perfection — an unrealistic, sterile goal. Even Julia Child reminded her viewers that sometimes the soufflé falls in the oven. As worship leaders, all of us are eventually required to model imperfection, or embody grace in response to an unplanned worship disappointment. (I call this “channeling your inner Julia Child,” but I don’t recommend doing it out loud in the pulpit.)
Preparation and planning matter. The soufflé might fall anyway. Still, no chef worth her salt (pun intended) skips mise en place, and neither should worship leaders. We communicate respect and love for the people we serve when we prepare worship as carefully as we would plan a dinner party in our homes.
May your worship services be a welcome table, set for all to enjoy;
may you bring reverence to your worship role, as you create space for guests to be fed;
and may you fulfill your worship responsibilities with zest.
When she’s not thinking Grand Thoughts about worship (which is a lot of the time), Rev. Erika Hewitt is usually officiating a wedding in one of Maine’s innumerable seaside villages. You can connect with her through the WorshipWeb Facebook page, where (ahem) Erika is still taking orders for Worship Web stickers.