Thinking Out Loud

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?

 

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November 13, 2014

When Church Gets Too Informal

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:20 am

What’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

I had noticed her for many weeks. A very animated conversationalist. Frizzy hair that swung back and forth as she made various points to her conversational companion. I spotted this taking place for several weeks in a row. Talking up a storm. In church. During the service.

I never understood why the ushers didn’t address the problem. This was a very conservative church and there was no missing her hair and head bobbing back and forth. Surely the leadership here would DO something.

Then came the week that we ended up sitting directly behind her. She talked through the call to worship. She talked through the opening prayer. She talked through the first half of the opening scripture reading. Okay, this was scripture, the Word, right? It was then that with a voice that was reined in so it wouldn’t travel too far, but with a voice that was distinct, clear and firm, I said, “W-i-l-l  y-o-u  p-l-e-a-s-e  b-e  q-u-i-e-t.”

She got the message. I hoped she would think about whatever might have motivated me to do that. (Gee, I dunno know; maybe wanting to hear the service? Maybe something about having respect for the reading of the Word of God?) Instead, the service ended, and her son-in-law, who was sitting two seats over, stood up, turned around slowly towards me in all his massive 260 lb. frame, and informed me that if I ever did something like that again he would take care of me out in the parking lot. Or something like that.

We left that church shortly after. Not because of her, or him, but because the ushers, deacons and other leaders were gutless to deal with her. It took me to do it.

text_message_girlFlash forward several years. My youngest son returned home from church — a different church — with the news that a girl whom he named in the youth group who was sitting a row behind him was text messaging throughout the entire sermon. I happen to know this girl’s family and they are infected with the same germ as the woman with the bobbing hair. I’ve seen them conversing in a manner so animated that it was distracting to me on the farthest part of the other side of a very wide auditorium. Texting uses no audio, but in a church service, it’s amazing how the little taps can carry.

Interesting how you can be in a room with 300 other people but it only takes one person to spoil the experience. If the person was making a lot of noise, it would be dealt with, but sometimes these things sit on the borderline between requiring action or determining that confronting the situation might make a greater (and more memorable) distraction.

I like that we can dress casually for church. I like that we sing contemporary songs. I like that we show cuts from popular movies. I like that we laugh and are transparent about our lives. But…

I miss reverence. I miss solemnity. I miss the awe with which should approach that part of our week where we enter into the transcendency of bringing our worship before a holy God. I miss the holy hush I experienced in some meetings I attended in my early twenties.  I miss people treating that part of the week as something special.

If I had been sitting anywhere near this girl, I don’t know exactly what I might have done, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant. I might have gone for “P-u-t  t-h-a-t  t-h-i-n-g  a-w-a-y  n-o-w.” But remember, he was sitting in front of in this case and would have had to turn around to do this.

Then again, I might have simply stepped out of the service for a few minutes.

To make a whip out of cords. 

So… what’s the most distracting thing you’ve seen someone do in church?

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