Thinking Out Loud

January 29, 2021

Evangelical Flashback

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 12:00 pm

It was customary in our 11:00 AM service to have as many as four “performed” music pieces each week and two at 9:30 AM. We had gifted people who were able to do three services per month but on the fourth a guest would come to do “special music.”

One Sunday I invited Grant, who I had known back when I lived in the city. I had no doubts that he would do well. He arrived early and satisfied that his sound system check had gone well, he went out into the lobby to be sociable with people arriving for the service.

When it came time to sing, Grant made the obligatory opening remarks, such as one does in these situations. “It’s really great to be with you all this morning;” etc.

But Grant wasn’t just a gifted musician. He was also gifted in sales; the type of guy you would hire to be part of your sales department even if he didn’t know much about your particular industry or product. He was that good.

Part of being good in sales is learning to remember peoples’ names when you meet them. I confess, I sometimes struggle with this. Introductions are made and I converse for ten minutes and then I have to say, “Sorry could you just give me your full name again so I can remember?” Of course the “full” in “full” name is the cheat; I’ve forgotten both.

…and I see Mary, and I see Ted, and I see Jacob, and I see Alice…

But as good as Grant’s giftedness in name-remembering was, his hearing was apparently a little off. Furthermore there were people in this church who had names which sounded close to some familiar names, but weren’t exactly the same.

So Grant launched into a weird litany of names while glancing around the room but not specifically looking at any one person to the degree we could figure out who he was referring to.

When he said “Elisabeth” we all knew who he meant. Each of us had done that once upon meeting her. But who was “Alice?” We never did figure that out.

It was awkward.

Then he did his selection of songs…

…I was thinking about this story last week. I wasn’t sure if I’d shared it here before or not, but I’ve always thought it was rather funny. It’s also a good case for asking “How do you spell that?” if you’re unsure.

Then a new thought hit me.

How would I explain this to my high church friends?

How do I tell someone raised Anglican what “special music” is and that we had guests who would “perform” very non-liturgical pieces from available compositions in contemporary Christian music?

How would I tell my Episcopal blog readers that rather than just stand to sing at an appointed time, it was normal to do a mini-monologue; stating that it’s “really good to be here this morning?” Why not invoke the name of a local sports team at the same time?

And how would I tell my Church of England contacts in the UK that Grant then launched into this unusual roll-call of names which, by this point, even by our standards, was out of place?

Here’s the thing: In an Evangelical church the first two were not unusual and the third was not a service-stopping moment. This type of unscripted patter was and still is the norm in Evangelical churches. Some revel in such informality, but it’s also a distraction. It adds to the view of the congregation as audience to what is enacted on the stage instead of as participants in an act of worship and proclamation.  This is still normative in a few churches.

But such was life.

I hope Alice enjoyed his songs.


  1. I read your blog because true worship is important to me. I understood what you are saying. I am not commenting to disagree, but rather to learn or have an exchange.

    We both know that having congregants enter actively into worship is important. Were the lyrics he sang not ones that would draw them in or do you not think that happens unless the people know the song?

    Comment by Constancia — April 18, 2021 @ 8:38 pm

    • You raise some good points which are forcing my memory to fill in some additional details.

      My role in that church was “music director.” That’s important. It wasn’t “worship director.” There’s a difference. 100% of the songs the “guest” singer would have doing would have belonged to the realm of “performance” music, not worship as we know it today. There were no words on the screen, no invitation to sing along. Not many of the songs were “vertical” in orientation (sung as to God; using the word “You” frequently) but were either narrative stories (or testimonies) or songs expressing the joy of Christian living in general.*

      But my main point here was the complete informality of it all; that’s the part I would have had trouble explaining to my Anglican or Episcopal or Roman Catholic friends. The ad libbed, off-the-cuff, un-planned, un-rehearsed remarks. I’m all for joyful worship gatherings, and I’m all for a certain degree of spontaneity, but certain types of things just cheapen the weekend service in my opinion. This is the one hour out of 168 hours that we give entirely to God, and for some people, they need every minute of that hour to fill their hearts and minds and souls with what they need to face the week ahead. So we shouldn’t waste time with trivialities.

      (* I do think the pendulum has swung too far the other way at present, and we could use a few songs of testimony; but that’s a whole other subject.)

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — April 18, 2021 @ 8:49 pm

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