Sunday, November 18, 2012

Attitude and Aptitude

I’ve been out on the “Sermon Circuit” again, and come up against a problem that should never happen. I’m not even sure why it does, but it does. Here’s my story.

I got myself on the road bright and early, well, early enough to make a quick pass at Dunkin’ Donuts and still arrive early at my destination. I was greeted at the door by the kind lady with the key who informed me that she was the musician of the morning. At least she was prepared to play the electronic keyboard—although she was quick to admit that she hadn’t played in a decade and a half and might be reduced to one finger at a time.

A few folks arrived to scramble around and put the place in order for the service. With about ten minutes left on the clock, someone glanced at the empty Communion Table and realized that the set-up team had not arrived. A hasty sortie to a nearby convenience store netted three sandwich buns, two of which were broken in pieces, the third left for breaking in the service.

More fussing was required to arrange furniture, get out the table cloth, set the table, find a place for the offering plates, and hang the pulpit cloth.

By the time the hour struck, all was ready, more or less. It was a breathless beginning, yet the service proceeded well and we all praised God. However….

What struck me was how unfortunate it was that the lay leaders of the church were not better prepared, and that they apparently did not take it seriously enough to have everything set up well in advance. Frankly, the set-up for the service revealed a slipshod manner and a casual attitude toward worship. Everyone improvised well, including me, but improvising should not be standard operating procedure on Sundays.

I don’t mean to be harsh in criticizing these people. I’ve been under pressure myself and had to scramble at times. Dealing with unexpected crises, minor and major, can throw everything out of balance. Nevertheless, there are two things that occur to me that might have helped in this situation.

First the attitude of the people about worship needed improvement. Somehow folks in our churches need to learn by experience, teaching, and mutual support that worship is at the heart and soul of being Christian. Without that faith basis, the church is built on sand, on sinking sand, all of which may be exactly the problem in so many of our churches with dwindling membership. If members don’t believe that worship is central to their lives, and act like it, it’s not likely they will attract anyone else.

How does one change the attitude of church people? It requires a culture change. That takes time, a lot of conversation, strong education, and clear expectations of members expressed by the church leadership. It’s a never-ending process, because people get comfy and soft and forgetful, and treat congregational life all too casually.

The other improvement needed was in the people’s aptitude regarding worship. They needed to be trained on best practices about worship, why it’s important to have the scene set before most people arrive, and what different responsibilities need to be filled. Simply, the people—all the people—need training in what’s involved in a worship service and how it gets prepared.

Musicians need to sit down regularly with the pastor to go over plans for congregational singing, and the congregation will benefit from instruction in new hymns and service music. Deacons and those responsible for hospitality and ushering need to understand how important their roles can be to the worshipping community. People who care for the cleaning and arrangement of the worship space also have essential responsibilities.

Worship, when done well, is never a simple casual affair. What we offer God should be the best we’ve got to give—the best music, the best setting, the best sermon, the best prayers. Planning should also be our very best. When we come to worship, well prepared, we offer it all up to God, and if there are glitches and mistakes we chalk it off to our humanity. Sometimes the unexpected malfunction or mishap can be the opening for the Spirit to give us a humility lesson. But we don’t need to create those opportunities—they just happen often enough.

What’s the attitude of folks in your congregation about worship? Do they have sufficient aptitude to prepare for and participate in worship?


  1. An underused part of BCW is "Prayers for Use Before Worship." Maybe we should send one home a week for daily use in preparation for the following Sunday to remind all we are preparing for a holy time.

  2. Excellent idea, Bruce. Choirs often start with prayer as they prepare for Sunday. How interesting it would be if prayers were spoken or offered silently on opening the building,turning on the lights, arranging the flowers, getting out the bulletins, etc. It might just result in an attitude change--even a cluture change.


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