Refocusing On The Main Things
These are questions every church leader should ask in the coming year!
Did you talk more about God than to God?
Have you noticed that in many churches confession has become a rather cleverly disguised afterthought? Often, it seems many Evangelical churches choose to avoid using language that would cause a visitor to be uncomfortable. This is not a bad thing, but even a visitor to the Rotary club would understand that there is “club” business to conduct though it sounds like gibberish to the guest.
Somewhere along the way, in the “de-liturgy-ization” of the modern church, confession slipped away unnoticed. But eliminating clear acts of confession from worship services is only one of the many ways in which the church often inappropriately skews the attention of worshipers at services. One pastor said to me, “If I try to explain who God is, I can have a healthy debate with skeptics, but if I talk to God, a visitor can quite easily become turned off and avoid further discussion about spiritual issues.” Though the reasoning here is pretty clear, it begs the question, “Why are we in a house of worship?”
When I was doing my student teaching with fourth graders many years ago I had a master teacher who sat at the back of the room and put a hashmark on a piece of paper every time I said “boys and girls” instead of “girls and boys.” Her strong conviction was that it should always be girls first and then boys. Try having someone sit at the back of your sanctuary or worship space and make hashmarks under two columns”to God” and “about God.” The results could be shocking!
Did your announcements run longer than the sermon?
With the onset of incredible visual communication tools, many churches have made an art form out of telling us about the retreat/potluck/Bible study/youth retreat/singles retreat/church barbecue. One church I visited recently had a slideshow which preceded worship with 40 different events available to members and guests. It was visually stunning, but also somewhat distracting.
I had just been going through a kind of “rough patch” with the loss of a close personal friend, and I had come to worship with a pretty heavy heart. The cleverness of the announcements left me feeling more like I was attending a political pep rally than a place of comfort and prayer. Even more disheartening than this, following a beautiful time of singing, a perky youth pastor gave all 40 week-day opportunities another airing. Now truthfully, I’ve never seen announcements outcompete the pastor’s sermon in length, but really, can’t we find another way to spend our time in worship? Oh, BTW, don’t forget to read all my other articles!
In one of my former churches, I insisted that the screens be used for Scripture verses about worship and the character of God rather than announcements for upcoming events. In retrospect, it might have been rather narrow of me to place the emphasis on Scripture rather than informing people about the happenings at their church, but I liked being able to say (perhaps pridefully) that our worship services were about worship. Perhaps I was wrong…
Did you look like you cared about where you were?
Have you ever seen a pastor, obviously trying to impress millennials, stand up to give a teaching in a tails-out wrinkled shirt and jeans with holes in the knees? So far, I’ve only seen this about 1000 times and it always makes me wonder how long this pastor spent finding just the right look to show his flawless understanding of youth culture.
At some level, even the millennial would see this as clever marketing rather than a genuine statement of who the speaker is and sees himself to be. Millennials, in point of fact, are quite bright and their discernment level is probably several notches above that for which we are willing to credit them.
The same thing applies to pastors who are wearing a suit and tie with their coat unbuttoned to show that they are “just one of the people.” If that pastor is 10 pounds overweight, he looks like a used-car salesman at a flea market. Too harsh? Try writing down your reactions to how people appear when they’re upfront over and against their perceived intentions. If they match, no problem, but if you start to focus on the fashion statement being made, then change is in order.
Did the music showcase your hipness/taste more than lead people to a place of worshipping?
Okay, this is one of my favorite subjects. Did you ever sit through a “worship set” that left you feeling great about the band but empty inside as it relates to feeling close to God?
I recently had a role in preparing a large ballroom in Hawaii for a concert featuring David Crowder. It was a fabulous event and once again Mr. Crowder proved to be one of the most remarkable musicians in Christendom. It was a Christian rock concert and the room shook with excitement. It was exactly what it was supposed to be and I loved it.
Two days later I attended a church where I heard yet another Christian rock concert. The problem was, it was supposed to be a worship service. This time, too, the room shook with excitement, but it wasn’t about being in the presence of God. With all due respect to an emerging culture which, by the way, I almost get and dearly love, God got lost in guitar loops and digital sound boards. C’mon, we can do better than that!
Did Scripture get read or just displayed?
Every once in a while I observe a worship service in which no Scripture is read. Is that a bad thing? I’m not absolutely sure that our ultimate access to heaven depends on whether or not we read long passages of Scripture in church or not, but I miss the poetry and presence of God which permeates a beautiful reading of His Word.
I realize that this point-of-view signals me to be older than 25 (in my case, much older), but there is both a practical and mystical reason for reading these holy words, the chief one being that Christ’s Church was founded on that very Word. We skip this reality at our own peril. It’s fine to put Scripture in your PowerPoint and refer to it as you’re speaking, but all too often the reverence for specific language and meaning is interpreted for people instead of by people. Take the time—read the Scripture—form a discipline!
Did the preaching/teaching actually teach or preach?
I’m going to step pretty lightly here because I don’t feel, by any means, that this is my area of expertise, but as a “consumer” of literally thousands of sermons and “teachings,” I at least have an opinion. Humor me.
It seems that often a teaching turns into an exhortation and a preaching turns into a lecture — that’s confusing. Suffice it to say, we, as receivers of teachings and preachings ought to understand the difference and strongly suggest to our preachers and teachers that they need to inform and/or challenge us in ways that are clear and where objectives have been put on the table from the outset. Incidentally…I left this purposefully vague.
Did you use the word “I” more often than you specifically named the Trinity?
You may have noticed that in this short blog-like piece, I have used a fair amount of “I” language. There was a day when I would have done anything to avoid handing out so much opinion using “me” communication. This, however, is really an editorial—a kind of OpEd page about best worship practices. So, forgive me for peppering it with so much “I” talk.
Here’s the thing—in worship we have to be very careful that we talk about a Trinitarian God who rules, loves, saves, guides, and comforts. If what transpires in worship is a log of conversations that we had with wives, husbands, strangers on planes, and other random acquaintances, we may have missed the reason why we come into the presence of God. Please understand, it’s fine to tell personal stories and to engage people’s attention, but it’s not all right to talk more about yourself than the One who issued your calling in the first place. Have I said that before? Oh my! Ponder these things in your heart…
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