Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Care-Full" Worship

The first visit I made many years ago to the New Skete Monastery near Cambridge, New York, required a substantial thought adjustment on my part.

A friend and I arrived unannounced at their “Old World” church for Vespers as the sun was setting. We were the only visitors. The service was beautifully sung and chanted by the ten monks, for more than an hour.

To my Protestant mind, it was impressive, to say the least. Wow! I thought, how much rehearsal must it have taken to perform such a program? Not only Vespers (Evening Prayer), but they sang Matins (Morning Prayer) every day as well. The brothers had shown extraordinary care in preparing their liturgy, the music, the space, everything. Clearly all this was not for just the two of us. If my friend and I had not shown up, it would have been only the monks and their God in the liturgical conversation.

Well, this demanded a reorienting of my ideas of worship. So often in Protestant churches, we are so concerned with the response and reaction of the “audience,” we forget that the most important listener is the Almighty.

Even so, in our desire to please the congregation in front of us, we don’t always give it our very best. We cut corners or slack off a bit, because we are too busy in other arenas of our lives. Worship doesn’t always appear at the top of the To-Do List. Even if it does, other responsibilities are known to claw their way to the top of the heap. Preparing and leading worship may be ranked Number One, but there are a lot of other things ranked One-B. Clergy have sermon prep, visits, committees, counseling, family, prayer, study, and those other unexpected emergencies that take over prime time. Everyone is busily busy.

Nevertheless, should we not care more fully about our worship? Is it not important for us to make it as first-rate and near perfect as possible? Being care-full in our worship demands our extra attention in many areas.

If one is going to use electronics, for example, spend the extra time to make sure everything works the way it’s supposed to.

As the guest preacher one Sunday, I was greeted by an elder who clamped a tiny mike on my stole. I asked to try it out, and when we did, I was glad we did, because it only worked on its own whim. After fussing to fix it and failing, I removed the mike and spoke louder. Microphones, amplifiers and speakers that crackle and cut out can completely obscure whatever is being said or sung. Give electronics considerable care.

I’m not a fan of projecting lyrics or readings on the wall, mainly because it is so rarely done with perfection. In a church recently a lengthy creedal statement was printed in the bulletin in paragraph-prose format, but also shown on the wall. Most people watched the wall. So when one slide was skipped, the leaders continued without the congregation, until they caught up with the wall. Better to read it from the printed page. If you’re into projecting, be extra full of care.

(Also, while we’re on the subject, printing anything to be read by the people is best not in a paragraph-prose format. Try phrase-lining, a phrase to a line as one would speak it—for samples, look at the prayers in the Book of Common Worship. It’s a way of being care-full so the people can do their parts in prayer and praise.)

And one more small admonition to care: proof read. The misspelling of a word that people are to read aloud can be annoying at best, disastrous at worst. Someone other than the secretary or writer should give it a care-full second, even third look.

After all, when we worship, we are gathered in God’s presence, and it behooves us to be full of care so we do our best for our God.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Sometimes it’s the bumper-sticker quotes that stick to my brain and remind me of a critical truth. The one that’s been pestering me recently is this: “We go from service of worship to the worship of service.”

Too often service concludes not with a “sending” but an “ending.” Worship winds up with a closed door, slammed, not swung open to world. When that happens, the curtain comes down and worship winds up just going through the motions.

On the other hand, sending means that our worship is open-ended. When it’s over, it’s not over. So something must happen to lead us out to be God’s people scattered into the world.

Whether your congregation is made up of 50 or 100 or thousands, stop thinking about it the number of people in the pews. What really counts in the long run is how many Christian disciples go out into the world to be the Body of Christ and do his work as our constant acts of worship. What a difference might that many laborers make?

For liturgy to have value, as we all know, it must be lived. Otherwise, our prayers and praise have a hollow sound to them. The “work of the people” during the hour or so on Sunday morning needs transforming into the “work of the people” the rest of the time.

The Book of Common Worship (1993) views the order of Christian liturgy in four major sections: Gathering, The Word, The Eucharist, and Sending. It’s the use of the term “Sending” that tips us to the clue that our Lord’s Day worship experiences are not finished when we leave; we are just shifting to a different expression of prayer and praise to Almighty God in the outside world.

Prayers of the People

Someone once said that we should offer our prayers every day with the morning newspaper at hand. To prepare ourselves for “going out into the world,” it’s a good idea to bring the world in to our worship first. Prayers of the people can be pointedly aimed at current questions or controversies. This delivers our prayers from being so vague as to be ultimately meaningless. A friend of mine once said: “All our prayers are down payments on our actions so they will come true.”

Special Announcement

There may be opportunities for congregants to venture in ministry and service beyond their own church activities. It would be appropriate to announce such occasions toward the end of the service, briefly, as a memory boost. There may also be specific references in the sermon to local issues or needs that call for Christian response. These can be underlined by a brief mention.

The Charge

The BCW provides a number of charges to the congregation based on biblical references to worshipping God in action. For example, See 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Tim. 2:1; Eph. 6:10; 1 Thess. 5:13-22; and 1 Peter 2:17
Go out into the world in peace;
have courage;
hold on to what is good;
return no one evil for evil;
strengthen the fainthearted;
support the weak, and help the suffering;
honor all people;
love and serve the Lord,
rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This charge is the one I most often use, as I have for many years. Many times I’ve been asked for a copy of it. I’ve been told that it has been memorized by some, and in other homes it’s appeared on refrigerators, dresser tops and bathroom mirrors—a constant reminder that we are all “sent” people every day. Including Sunday mornings.

and Benediction

The benediction completes the charge to the congregation. Not only are we sent out to act faithfully as disciples of Christ, we are also conferred (read “blessed” and “empowered”) with God’s love and grace to accomplish what we are charged to do and be.


The practice of the choir and other worship leaders filing out during the last hymn is a helpful example. Just as a procession at the beginning of the service is symbolic of the gathering of the community, so the recession visually displays the start of the dispersion of worshippers to serve in God’s name.


In some places it is the custom to remain seated for the postlude. Not that it’s supposed to be a “performance,” although some treat it that way. Rather the postlude can serve as accompaniment for a time of reflection to absorb the meaning of the worship, in which case it might be quiet and contemplative in tone.

On the other hand, if there is to be reflective ending music, it should be followed by a very different postlude when the congregation is on the move out of the pews. That calls for music to be bright and brassy, a sprightly tune for the “exit dance.”

Go forth and carry your worship with you wherever you go and whatever you do.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Worship at Meetings - Part 2

In the previous post, I lamented the deflated worship before/during/after a meeting that was the result of the planners duplicating or rehearsing Lord’s Day services, or perhaps creating something ex nihilo. The reason this too often happens, I think, is that these are the only options the producers of liturgy think they have: a Sunday-like service, or make it up.

Ah, but there is something else, another model that’s been around a long, long time for the people of God to use. Known typically as “Daily Prayer” in Christian circles, this form of worship is rooted in ancient Hebrew practice, and repeatedly reformed and renewed by the Church through the centuries. (For purposes of discussion here, I’m referring to the daily prayer source I know the best, Book of Common Worship—Daily Prayer, Westminster John Knox Press, 1993.)

While Daily Prayer is often practiced as an individual exercise, it was really designed for groups. Nevertheless, some folks surmise that saying prayers every day is accomplished solo. When we assemble with others, they think “Sunday” and follow that great tradition. Daily Prayer, however, has its own tradition, running simultaneously with the development of Lord’s Day worship. Over the centuries the two have connected and co-opted items back and forth, but always remained different, serving various needs in a variety of ways.

The Daily Prayer option offers flexibility in use for groups small and large, meetings long and short. The service can be molded to fit the shape of any meeting from that of a national group to a family of four, from an ecclesiastical judicatory to a neighborhood service committee, from a seminary chapel to a Sunday school class. What is more, such a service often is lay-led, not requiring the presence or participation of clergy.

Daily Prayer is shaped by the cycle of the day, starting with Evening as in the biblical tradition. Morning, Midday, Evening, and Close of Day—each one calls for a special time of prayer. Morning and Evening are the major times, with Midday and Close of Day inserted as their brief extensions.

Each service offers the possibility of compression or expansion as appropriate. For example, Morning Prayer, with optional items to be added, is outlined this way:

Opening Sentences
Morning Psalm or Morning Hymn
Silent Prayer
[Psalm Prayer]
Scripture Reading
Silent Reflection
[A Brief Interpretation of the Reading, or a Nonbiblical Reading]
Canticle of Zechariah or Other Canticle
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Concluding Prayer
Lord's Prayer
[Hymn or Spiritual]
[Sign of Peace]

At the other extreme, given the need to abbreviate the service, it could be cut to the bare essentials:

Scripture Reading
Silent Reflection
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession

Or, of course, the services could be compressed or expanded to the “perfect” size and shape.

Certainly planning and producing a Daily Prayer service is much more than assembling the list of ingredients. Essential is that the event be personalized. It’s all about God’s relationship to the people in the room and their relationship to God.

One of the ways this happens is in the Morning and Evening Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession. Ellipses (….) provide opportunities for silent or vocalized prayers by the participants related to specific subjects of common concern.

For example, just before the prayers at the end of a meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the 600-plus commissioners were asked to stack their materials on their desks in front of them. During the brief service, prayers offering the work of the assembly to God were vocalized, prayers of thanksgiving for the gifts of the Spirit, prayers for those served by actions of the assembly, and so forth, each followed by silence for individual prayers recalling personal involvement. That worship experience has been in my memory for decades.

Another example came from a series of session meetings I moderated while the church was seeking a pastor. At the start of each meeting we had a brief Evening Prayer, prepared by me but led by the elders. During the Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession, personal concerns and celebrations came out. By this prayerful sharing, the members bonded to accomplish their challenging task.

Months later two of the elders asked me if I’d help them do Daily Prayer services for a weekend meeting involving several congregations. I told them I was sure they knew how to do it, and they should go ahead—I‘d help them if they got stuck. They never asked more of me. They did just fine.

Prayer is always a personal matter. The tradition of Daily Prayer in the Church is a great resource for those who plan for weekday worship that supports the ministry of the people of God. Next time you’re asked to lead worship for your group, reach for a book of Daily Prayer.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Worship at Meetings

We Presbyterians are wont to gather in clusters from time to time, just to bring local congregational representatives and clergy together for mutual support and guidance. These are “presbytery meetings,” during which we talk (and sometimes argue, or debate,) about ecclesiastical and social issues, and how best we can be the church in a larger-than-congregational region.

For many of us clergy, especially those of us who are retired from parish ministry, this is our church. (Presbyterian clergy do not have membership in local churches, but in a presbytery.) So it’s particularly important that we worship and pray together, for in this particular grouping, we are a unique expression of the whole Church of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, it’s crucial that worship be “authentic” and “meaningful” and “relevant,” and you can add other appropriate modifiers. What happens so often instead is that worship at these meetings often comes off as either “sloppy” or “stilted,” “casual” or “high-church formal.”

For one example, there are the occasions when, in the middle of a meeting, delegates take time out, usually before a meal, to “have church.” What is experienced may be a Sunday morning sample, either a preview of next Sunday’s service for the planners or preacher, or a rehash of an old preaching and prayers.

In both situations worship is likely to be below par in fulfilling the modifiers. Rehearsals are rarely as well presented as the event itself. And re-runs are weak and weary. Second runs of sermons are, as someone once told me, “as tasty as yesterday’s mashed potatoes.”

On the other hand, however, worship offered at these get-togethers can be just the opposite. Neither rehearsal nor re-run, it appears to be last-minute and thoughtless.

In addition to my own past experiences, I sometimes get reports from my friends in distant regions about such “wannabe worship” experiences that never quite make it. Often they take place like this:

When the leader says, “Let us pray,” heads are appropriately bowed, unaware that hi-tech projections on the wall give a prayer to say in unison or lyrics of a prayerful hymn to sing. The leader lacks leadership. Then we have those musicians who don’t bother to tune up in advance, or even practice what they’re playing, and so their accompaniment is a rough and ragged distraction for the singers. An ad-lib prayer is often thrown in, punctuated with uh’s and um’s. I have no problems with prayers offered in the moment, but they should be thoughtful and clear. There’s no shame in writing down a prayer. Worship at meetings deserves more than an offhand and erratic experience.

The problem with both the Sunday service imitation and the slipshod alternative is that neither one takes into account the group of people there as a group, as a body of Christians who are part of the Body of Christ.

How rare it is when a group assembled for a meeting can worship in the context of their immediate circumstance. As each meeting is different and as each group has its own ongoing history of challenges and needs, the worship of that group should lift up those particulars.

My own experience lately has been that I didn’t realize how inadequate some of our presbytery worship was until we had a couple of meetings where our prayer and preaching rose out of our situation. It all fit who we were in those moments, what worried us, and where we might be going. After those experiences, I began to see clearly where other efforts were lacking. Do it well and you’ll not want to settle for less ever again.

The other problem with the two alternatives mentioned above is that they are cheap efforts. Not much energy has been put into them. Using an old order, bygone prayers, and past preaching is a shortcut, just as thoughtless as pulling a prayer out of the hat and improvising the music. In both cases, preparation is needed. Preparation prevents perfunctory praise and prayer.

What is more, preparation is itself an act of prayer and worship. Writing a prayer, reading commentaries, doing exegesis, learning the music, tuning the instrument, thinking through the service, and thinking some more about what is needed, what God is offering—all of this is worship that lays the groundwork for the worship of the community.

Working carefully to prepare the worship for such assemblages is the appropriate and right thing to do for the worshippers. Yet even more so, we do not ever want to cut corners in what we offer our God in praise and prayer. God is worthy of our very best.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


The report I received from a friend on a worship workshop for musicians and clergy was enthusiastically favorable. The discussion during the event, however, hit upon one sour note.

When the attendees were asked to “describe a memorable worship experience,” a frequent response was something like “I don’t get to worship because I am always thinking of the next thing that needs to be done." They had to reach back to the rare experiences where they were not leading to find anything worthy of “memorable.” My friend said this raised the question for her, “How can worship leaders lead worship when they do not have worship experiences themselves?”

That is an excellent question in and of itself.

Anyone who leads worship, clergy, musician or layperson, knows that there are always details of the service that need persistent attention. These can be significant distractions, drawing the leader’s attention away from the reason for being there: the worship of Almighty God.

At the same time, however, the reality of bits and pieces in a liturgical service, does not preempt the possibility of the leader actually worshiping with the community. Leading worship is not separate from and exclusive of actually worshiping. It’s entirely possible—even desirable—for the leader to lead by actually worshiping.

One Sunday on the way out of church a parishioner approached me with a sympathetic face and said, “Had a rough week, huh?” Since it was, as a matter of fact a rather nice week, I replied, “What do you mean?” So he explained, “Your silent prayer of confession took up a long time, longer than I needed, so I figured you had a bad time.”

There are some, I know, who count so many seconds for the duration of a silent prayer. That’s arbitrary and more than a mere distraction—it’s giving in to separating leadership from worship. I had long since learned that if I were going to take part in the worship I was leading, I would just do it.

This works in other parts of the service too. Leaders like to sing hymns, so go ahead and belt them out enthusiastically with the congregation. Don’t give up the joy of that to worrying about where the offering plates are hidden.

Prayers are not just for the people in the pews; leaders can, and should pray them as well. If you use one in the BCW or other source, rework it to make it yours, or write your own. In the preparation of prayers pray them as you select or write them, and give them a second shot heavenward in the service.

Reading Scripture also is a worshipful event. When reading the morning lessons on Sunday you can hear them afresh yourself; the Spirit brings life to the Word, so listen as you read.

All choristers know well that singers can be uplifted and stirred spiritually by their own singing. Choirs don’t perform to congregations, they perform in praise to God.

All of this is to say that one cannot adequately lead worship without worshiping. When that happens, something is out of sync in the worship experience. Furthermore, it’s a formula for stale and dry liturgy. When distractions rule, enthusiasm wanes.

Søren Kierkegaard, 19th century Danish philosopher/theologian, used a metaphor of worship-as-drama in his lover’s quarrel with the church. It’s time to dust it off again and put it to work.

S.K. saw that most people who went to church viewed worship as a drama (often true today as well). God was recognized as the Prompter cuing the Actors (clergy and musicians) who performed for the Audience (people in the pews). The only problem was that assigning the roles that way was wrong. Weak worship was the result.

According to Kierkegaard, the roles should be shifted one space around so that the congregation becomes the Performer, the clergy/musicians the Prompter, and God is the Audience.

When we reassign the roles properly, we find that the worship leader is not a performer, but a prompter, part of the worshiping community. The leader has a role, not separate from the liturgical action of the people, but a significant part of it. If the leader will worship with the people, than there is more passion in the readings, more soul in the prayers, and more zeal in the singing of praise to Almighty God.

Finally, worship on Sunday morning by the whole community is supported by a discipline of Daily Prayer. It is critical that worship leaders and preparers have developed for themselves a pattern of “continuous prayer” (I Thess. 5:16-18) that will carry over into the Lord’s Day worship of the gathered community.

This will overwhelm all silly little concerns that threaten to skew our focus on glorifying God and enjoying God forever.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Foot Washing?

“Shall we wash feet on Maundy Thursday, or not?” It seems that in some liturgical circles congregational participation in a foot washing ritual is considered mandatory.

I’m not a great fan of Holy Thursday foot washing for several reasons.

For one thing, it is not clearly mandated as is the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—either by the Lord himself or the Scriptures that tell about him. Jesus doesn’t hold back in directing his disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine he offers at the final meal, because in the sharing he is giving of himself. The scriptural warrant for the Lord’s Supper is unmistakably ordered by the Master for future gatherings, starting with the earliest reference by the Apostle Paul in his firsts letter to the Corinthians (11:23-26) and the three synoptic gospels (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, and Lk. 22:7-39).

On the other hand, Jesus washing his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17:26) is offered as an example of what the disciples “ought” to do for one another. The action takes place at the final meal in the context of the revelation of Judas’s imminent betrayal and a large amount of last minute instructions for the rest of the disciples. While it takes place at the table, the mandate of the Last Supper is never mentioned, and neither are the references to sharing the bread and wine Jesus offers. The act of cleaning the disciples’ feet is a dramatization of the servant role the disciples are given by their Lord.

The point is that the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper as observed at the Last Supper is dominant, for that is where the final drama takes place. It is in our sharing of Christ’s gifts of bread and wine that we share in his life, and as the Holy Week moves along, in his death as well. But the rite of foot washing is secondary to the sacrament, at most. To make a large production out of it allows it to up-stage the real action: bread is broken and shared, wine is poured and passed from one to another, and Christ is present.

This is not to minimize the import of the cleansing rite, for it is a strong theological message the Master left all who would follow him—21st century disciples included. The biblical view of foot washing was a cultural gesture of hospitality and humility—worthy virtues for any follower of Jesus.

Another reason I’m not terribly enthusiastic about a foot washing ritual is that it is often carried out in a complicated and clumsy manner. The last one I took part in was in a large congregation, and it took much longer to wash feet than it did to partake of the Holy Meal. It was a huge distraction and anti-climax, drawing attention away from the Meal.

Also, my experience has been that a number of people stay seated for the ritual of foot washing and are observers rather than participants. It may be personal embarrassment or medical reasons or whatever, but they are in a very passive if not withdrawn mode. That puts them in a very different role as an audience, and removes them from performing the worship to show their obedience and humility.

Finally, when such liturgical floundering is anticipated, there is the temptation to improvise or improve on the foot washing by doing something “cute.” For example, I recently heard about one attempt made to include the substance of the foot-washing by allowing people to keep shoes and socks on and instead wash hands. That, they decided, would be much less “distasteful” than bathing the feet. Of course that misses the original cultural point of foot washing in the first place. Changing feet to hands is moving away from meaning of Christ’s example with his disciples and the mandates he taught them. Some have even suggested hand-washing among Christians on Maundy Thursday can be liturgically linked to Pilate’s hand scrubbing. That is a stretch, to say the least.

If your congregation is going to have foot washing on Maundy Thursday as a worshipful action, there are some cautions.

First, be sure the congregation is educated in advance about the theological meaning and what it can mean for them personally as an act of devotion and worship.

Also, make sure worshippers have prepared their feet to be washed—they might best come not wearing stockings and have on shoes easily removed.

Finally, work out the choreography so people know where they’re going and don’t stumble or bump into one another—perhaps they may instead use the time for contemplation of Christ’s presence in the event they are celebrating.

This is, after all, Holy Week, and the journey to the Cross is the path our worship pilgrimage must take. Our Lord presides at the Table to offer us food for this life-changing journey.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Remembering the Saints

Today, as everyone surely knows, is “St. Patrick’s Day.” Unfortunately, it has become a civic celebration more than a prompt to prayer. For most folks, it’s an occasion for wearing green, being “Irish” even if you’re not, and sampling some brew of Emerald Isle origin.

For those who follow a calendar of daily prayer, however, remembering the saints of the church is important in a very different way. Those pilgrims who travelled before us are often models and mentors in prayer and practice.Today, as everyone surely knows, is “St. Patrick’s Day.” Unfortunately, it has become a civic celebration more than a prompt to prayer. For most folks, it’s an occasion for wearing green, being “Irish” even if you’re not, and sampling some brew of Emerald Isle origin.

On this day, March 17, the Christian calendar of commemorations presents St. Patrick (c. 390-461?), “Apostle of Ireland.” If you peel off the legend and lore about Patrick, you’ll discover a powerful story of diligent faith.

At the age of 16, while caring for his father’s sheep somewhere in the western shore of what is now Scotland, Patrick was kidnapped and taken captive to Ireland. After some six years of enslavement, he managed to escape to the continent where he found refuge and education in monasteries. It was about A.D. 432 that Patrick was ordained bishop, and returned to Ireland to bring his Christian faith to his former captors. He is credited with firmly establishing the faith on the Emerald Isle.

Patrick has always had a special appeal to me. His return to minister to those who treated him like a slave was extraordinary. It would be understandable if he never wanted to go back to the people who snatched him away from his home and kept him confined in a foreign land. Vengeance and hatred would be reasonable attitudes in which he might indulge. He is instead an example of forgiveness, grace and diligence in Christian discipleship.

I became aware of an even closer connection between Patrick and me as we were working on the Daily Prayer Supplemental Liturgical Resource. We were hoping to include a Calendar of Commemorations listing notable people and events of Christian history. This would help place us in the continuing journey of people of faith through the centuries.

Remembering the custom in many traditions, we would suggest that people identify themselves with the hero or heroine of the faith on whose remembrance date they were baptized. I was baptized, as it turned out, on March 17—Patrick was indelibly written into my life. In the years since, this day is a special one for me to remember my baptism, my calling by Christ to be his faithful follower, after the example of Patrick and many others.

The year’s calendar is full of celebrations of holy people of God, usually on the date in which they are baptized in death and raised again into heaven’s life. Do you know the date of your baptism? Have you found one of God’s heroes or heroines whose death date matches your baptismal date?

Saturday, January 11, 2014


You’ve seen those digital signs, I’m sure, in grocery stores, on banks, at sporting events, even guiding travelers through airports.

Nowadays, at least in our neck of the woods, there seems to be a rash of these bright-bulb boards popping up in front of churches.

It’s not that they are simply for designating the denomination and hours of worship, but they also announce the current time and temperature, perhaps with a quick weather report, and sometimes wish passers-by a happy greeting regarding the next secular holiday. Of course, there is also the invitation to “join us” for worship and other church activities.

I know pastors and other people responsible for congregations are eager to get the word out so that new folks might find their way in on some Sunday morning. That’s perfectly reasonable. But so often these signs seem so crass that the invitations look like the welcome at Loew’s theaters, to “sit back, relax and enjoy the show.”

Church people are much too quick to jump on the latest marketing bandwagon. Those digital billboards on major highways have begat progeny in the form of smaller church signs. If it works on super highways to get people to go to the movies, it should be even better to draw a congregation for Lord’s Day worship.

Besides, a bright animated sign demonstrates how modern we Christians are, and just might impress the younger generation.

It took me a while to figure out why I really don’t like those blinking signs on church lawns. In front of a preacher-personality driven church, it seems appropriate, perhaps. But when one shows up at the front door of a mainline church in the Reformed tradition my issues come clear.

First of all, such digital signs advertise the worship service as entertainment. I have ranted about this problem sufficiently before, and so have many other people since Søren Kierkegaard. Christian worship is not for the congregation; the true Audience is the Almighty, and we come to perform our prayers and praise. Somehow if we don’t have worship as the fundamental act connecting us with our triune God, whatever else we do is in jeopardy of being vain and empty of purpose.

Secondly, the cute and clever flashing signs out front verge on false advertising. They indicate a nice, safe and pleasant place where one can come to relax. They glow with affluence. Such a sign signals a successful church—at least financially. It’s a comfortable church, and who wouldn’t want to go there with all they must have to offer.

The problem here is that such advertising is more about what the worshipper will get than what he or she will give. There are plenty of televangelists to have the easy solution to all problems, and you can tune in and get a feel-good gospel. The Gospel of Jesus, on the other hand, says something about “taking up a cross” in order to follow him. To be a disciple of the Risen Christ today is, or should be recognized as being, just as dangerously risky as it was in the early church and ever since. And it’s still all about giving, and then giving more.

Of course, if you put that on the sign, it just might scare off a few prospective members. So what does one do to fill the pews?

Telling the truth is a good start. Many of the heroes and heroines of the faith found that following Jesus was often rough traveling on a very bumpy road. Doing what needs to be done in this world, in our society, in your town and mine, to “prepare the way of the Lord” takes a heap of energy and effort.

The way we market our faith is to follow the most obvious principle of retail: The best advertising for anything is the endorsement of someone who owns one. Demonstrating our faith by action is more convincing than any blinking sign, no matter how bright and beautiful it may be.

It’s prudent for us not to get so enchanted with modernity and all the electronic do-dads and gizmos that flash so brilliantly that they blind us as we try to follow where Christ leads.

Does your church have a digital sign?