Thinking Out Loud

March 1, 2018

Cricket, Cricket

Many of us aren’t fans of the part of the church service where someone leads us into a pause for silent reflection. Part of us dies inside waiting for the sound waves to begin re-commencing. We become aware of our own breathing and then we swallow. Someone coughs. We hope we turned our phone off, as this would be the worst time for our particular ringtone.

I’m currently starting four mornings this week with The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom and Silence, a short book written by Henri Nouwen  in 1981. The book was written primarily to church leaders, but I love how he nails it on this subject in terms of what we all experience in such moments, which, as the rest as the rest of the book explains so well, is something much needed.

One of our main problems is that in this chatty society, silence has become a very fearful thing. For most people, silence creates itchiness and nervousness. Many experience silence not as full and rich, but as empty and hollow. For them silence is like a gaping abyss which can swallow them up.

As soon as a minister says during a worship service, “Let us be silent for a few moments,” people tend to become restless and pre-occupied with only one thought: “When will this be over?” Imposed silence often creates hostility and resentment.

Many ministers who have experimented with silence in their services have soon found out that silence can be more demonic than divine and have quickly picked up the signals that were saying: “Please keep talking.” It is quite understandable that most forms of ministry avoid silence precisely so as to ward off the anxiety it provokes.

~Way of the Heart, pg. 52

I was intrigued by the line, “silence can be more demonic than divine.” I wonder what other well-intentioned forms and elements in our worship services are producing the opposite effect to what is intended because of the way we’re wired? 


There was another line in this section where Nouwen spoke of “driving through Los Angeles, and suddenly I had the strange sensation of driving through a huge dictionary. Wherever I looked there were words…” (p. 38) We crave constant input now more than ever.

There’s another excerpt from the Prologue to this book being posted tomorrow at our sister blog, C201.

A revised version of the book was published in 2003.

A few years ago I compiled a number of quotations from Henri Nouwen. They are collected at this link.

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November 28, 2017

Short Takes (3): Sports References in Worship Services

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:46 am

When my youngest son posted this on Facebook on Sunday night, I knew this needed to be a topic here.

The most important difference between Protestant sermons and Roman Catholic homilies is the differing regularity of sports analogies.

Sports metaphors in church sermons are one thing. Announcing the scores from Saturday games is a rather bizarre form of liturgy.

When the whole “seeker sensitive” thing started, the premise was that you would have sermons that connected with various aspects of family, business, school and neighborhood living. You would show how the Bible was already there with applicable teaching; how Biblical characters had already wrestled with these same issues.

Instead of making the Gospel relevant, we communicate the relevance the Gospel already has.

Today, we connect with our audience through sports references; particularly in the United States, where Americans are all about brand loyalty and identity.

Watch any week of North Point Community Church (Atlanta) and see how long it takes for a reference to a local or state team. Usually its 60 seconds. In liturgical churches, your opening statement or invocation is of prime importance. In the modern church, it’s a bit of a throwaway. You can talk about the game before or after the service. From the opening words, the worship service should be wholly different because we serve a God who is wholly other. If all else fails, it’s a time to shut up, stop talking and just let a holy hush fall over the auditorium. Chances are the so-called seekers are expecting something awe inspiring.

I am about to say something radical: We go to church to worship God. Our thoughts should immediately, from the opening statement be directed toward Him and Him alone.

You have one hour to help people make that God connection. Not talking about the weather. Not reviewing how bad the traffic was getting to church.

God. Jesus. The Holy Spirit.

Remember them?

 

May 12, 2012

Churches That Welcome vs. Churches That Are Welcoming

This article appeared at The Ooze, where articles aren’t dated..  It was written by Dr. David W. Manner, Director of Worship and Administration for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists since 2000.  “Worship” here is meant to refer to the whole of your worship experience, not just what’s in the picture below. The article appeared under the title:

Is Your Worship Welcoming to Those Not Like You?

Most congregations can answer affirmatively when asked if their worship welcomes those not like them…all are welcome if or when they come. Where the conflict arises is when a congregation changes its culture in order to be intentionally welcoming to those not like them. Welcoming worship loves my neighbor as I love myself even if my neighbor is not always lovely.

• Welcome is passive. Welcoming is active.
• Welcome is safe. Welcoming is usually risky.
• Welcome is occasional. Welcoming is frequent.
• Welcome may be accidental. Welcoming is always deliberate.
• Welcome is comfortable. Welcoming can stretch.
• Welcome happens on Sunday. Welcoming happens every day.
• Welcome satisfies givers. Welcoming won’t pay the bills.
• Welcome waits. Welcoming initiates.
• Welcome controls. Welcoming unleashes.
• Welcome tolerates. Welcoming embraces.
• Welcome hoards. Welcoming gives away.
• Welcome is preferential. Welcoming is sacrificial.
• Welcome focuses just on those who are present. Welcoming includes those who are not and may never be present.

Welcoming worship never compromises biblically, theologically, or doctrinally but often accommodates culturally, contextually, and systematically. Welcoming worship is not just what we do on Sunday, it is who we are and how we treat people out in the world every day.

Welcoming worship purposefully considers those who are often neglected and easily ignored. Welcoming worship affirms that, “He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God” (Prov. 14:31). Welcoming worship loves, honors and praises the Father by loving those He loves. Could worship be any more profound?

~David W. Manner

April 6, 2012

Good Friday: Who Gets It and Who Doesn’t


It’s interesting when you look at the life of Jesus how it was the religious establishment in general and the Pharisees in particular who didn’t get it.  I’m not sure that things are any different today.

I can write what I’m about to say knowing that 99% of my readers live outside my local area, but somewhat temper my remarks in light of the 1% who do.   Here it is:  Evangelicals don’t know how to do Good Friday, and the local church pastors are probably most to blame for that situation.

Good Friday is a big deal here. All the churches come together for two morning services that are now held at the local hotel and convention center. Right there, I think the thing has become somewhat unmanageable.  Each church’s pastor has a role to play, one introduces the service, another prays, another takes the offering, yet another reads the scripture, one preaches the sermon and so on. It’s all rather random and uncoordinated. They need a producer. Can someone coax Willow Creek’s Nancy Beach out of retirement?

In Evangelicalism, nothing is really planned. I love extemporaneous prayers, as long as some thought went into them, but the tendency is to just “wing it.”  Like the pastor a few years ago who opened the Good Friday service by talking at length about what a beautiful spring day it was; “…And I think I saw a robin.”

Fail.

This is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering, bleeding, dying.  Evangelicals don’t understand lament. We don’t know how to do it, we don’t know what to say.

My wife says we tend to ‘skip ahead” to Easter Sunday. We give away the plot and lose the plot all at the same time. We place the giant spoiler in the middle of the part of the story to which we haven’t yet arrived; diminishing the part where we are supposed to be contemplating the full impact of what Jesus did for us.  We rush to the resurrection like a bad writer who doesn’t take the time to develop his story, and then wonders why the impact of the ending is not as great.

I learned this year that in a number of traditions, once the season of Lent begins, you are not supposed to say or sing ‘Hallelujah.’ Then, on that day that recalls that triumphant day, the Hallelujahs can gush force with tremendous energy. But we Evangelicals spoil that by missing the moment of Good Friday entirely. Can’t have church making us feel sad, can we?

To make matters worse, this morning our service contained a large advertisement for a local Christian radio station. However, having said that, the guy who made the presentation seemed to get the meaning of the day more than some of the clergy establishment in charge. In fact, throughout the morning, it almost seemed like the further away one moved from the ‘clergy class,’ the more you would find people in tune with what this holy day is intended to symbolize.

The worship team did what appeared to be an admirable job, until you consider the songs that got left out. It was the second time in as many weeks that I’ve been part of an Evangelical gathering in that same convention center where I felt those responsible for choosing the worship songs had misunderstood the opportunity and trust that was being given to them. This is an occasion that calls for the A-list of music materials, not the C-list or D-list.

The speaker, I must say, redeemed the morning for us, speaking about the imagery of Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God.’ At the outset, he admitted he is only 29 years old, yet he stuck to the theme of the morning more than any of the pastors there.

Perhaps he hasn’t had enough time to lose his way, or whatever it is that has the rest of the clergymen in our town going completely off message, year after year.

Jesus Christ bore in his earthly body the worst torture and punishment that humanity is capable of inventing. He did this willingly, as a once-and-for-all sacrifice to cover your sins and mine. This is the height and depth and width of His love.

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