Sunday, March 11, 2012

Discount Worship

My wife came back from a solo adventure in worship unusually frustrated. When she’d had time to absorb her Sunday morning experience, she told me what happened and why she was upset about it.

This is her story:

Her first comment was how offended she was that the minister leading the service was in ordinary casual clothes. No robe to identify his role. Not even a suit. Rather than being in “Sunday best” he was garbed in “Friday casual”.

Granted she’s of the generation that used to get all gussied up to go to church. Younger folks accuse people who dress for church of being proud peacocks or peahens, more concerned about themselves than anyone else including God. Certainly true sometimes, but for most it was, and still is, simply a sign of respect.

So, for her, this deliberate casualness on the part of the clergy was a clear statement that what he was doing was not important—and a sign of disrespect to others who were there.

The whole service followed in kind—not only was his dress casual, but so was his manner, and the service had a lackadaisical quality. There was little urgency in proclamation of the Gospel. It was friendly and folksy, yet lacked any real sense of awe in the presence of the Living Lord.

The order of things didn’t seem to be leading anywhere either. What happened was on a “To Do” list that passed itself off as a bulletin.

Several things are going on at once here.

First, the minister is not clear on his own role as a leader of worship, or at least not keen about being identified as being in that role. He apparently was more interested in just being “one of the guys”, a regular fella whom everyone would like.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, except that in the gathering of God’s people on the Lord’s Day, the person presiding has a particular function, and should be so identified. In this role, the minister has something specific to do, and is not just like everyone else.

In discounting his own role and its importance, the minister also discounted everything else. If what he had to do was without great purpose, then the whole experience was likely to be carelessly done. His leadership role already compromised, he’d cast the service adrift.

He further revealed a lack of awareness of the history of Christian worship. Two thousand years of experience and accumulated wisdom are abandoned and ignored when people try to be “contemporary” and “up-to-date” to please the youngsters. Obviously there is a need for the education of the clergy—and musicians—to draw upon the resources of tradition, and the education of the congregation as well.
I’m sure there are many ministers who want to make worship services more comfy for the young’uns, just as I know there are many more who are more concerned that worship offers the opportunity for an encounter with God. It is entirely possible to do both, without discounting the work of the people (liturgy) by making it a haphazard or heedless affair.

What worship leaders—including musicians—so often forget is that what they do in their roles has an effect on the people. And the effect is not always the intended one. It’s a smart thing to count the consequences in advance of launching into something that’s a departure from the norm.

In this instance, for at least one person I know about, the effect was not good. Not so much anger as disappointment—that was the residue for her.

How casual should Lord’s Day worship be? What are other situations where casual worship is appropriate? How is the minister identified as worship leader in your church? How are musicians identified?

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