Thinking Out Loud

February 26, 2021

Opening Lines

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

In my early years of blogging, a popular site to visit was Ship of Fools. The highlight there was a page where reviewers — Mystery Worshipers — would visit churches and write a report based on quite a list of criteria.

The reviewers visit churches around the world, while most are in the UK. Many are ‘high church’ denominations, but there is a variety here as I tried to hone in on alternatives to the Church of England and Episcopal churches which dominate.

One thing they held in high regard was the opening statement, or opening spoken call to worship. I had reason to re-visit the site recently, and decided to do some copying-and-pasting. Some of these services were observed online during the pandemic.

This is something that honestly, Evangelicals don’t put a lot of mental energy into considering; but you could argue that as goes the opening statement, so goes the service.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. It is a pearl of great value.”

‘In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’

“Good morning, church! Praise the Lord. God is good all the time – and all the time God is good.”

‘Good morning. Welcome to church!’

‘Good morning, and welcome to our celebration.’

‘Good morning. It’s a blessing to be here.’

“Good morning! Let’s stand and worship the Lord through singing.”

‘OK. Good morning, everybody. We’re gonna make a start. There’s plenty of seats in the front!’

‘Good morning. Welcome to [name of Church] as we celebrate the solemnity of All Saints.’

‘Is this mic working? Ah, there. Good morning, everyone!

‘Ready to go? I’m ready.’

“Good evening, everybody. Tonight we celebrate Pentecost, the birth of the Church.”

‘Visitors are very, very welcome!’

‘A hearty welcome to this Service of God today.’

‘Isn’t it great to be in the house of the Lord?’

‘Welcome. Isn’t it great we have the freedom to worship together today?’

‘We meet in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

‘We are gathered this morning in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.’

‘Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’

Blessed be the holy Trinity, one God, whose steadfast love is everlasting, whose faithfulness endures from generation to generation.’

‘Hey, welcome… We’re really glad you’re here.’

“Welcome to everyone who is here to worship the Lord.”

‘Praise the Lord with all that you have,’

‘Stand up as God calls us to worship.’

“OK, let’s worship God together.”

‘Let us come together in our call to worship.’

‘Let us worthily fulfill the act of consecration of man.’

V: ‘Let us go forth in peace.’ R: ‘In the name of Christ, Amen.’

V. ‘Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people.’ R. ‘Kindle in us the fire of your love.’

I must confess that this is a point in a worship gathering where I do prefer the gesture to formality. One opening statement that I picked up somewhere and have used myself is ‘We welcome you [or ‘We’re gathered here] in the name of the Father who loves us, the Son who died for us, and the Holy Spirit who lives inside us.’ 

How does the worship service commence each week where you gather?

November 8, 2018

Preempting the Sunday Morning Service

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:03 am

Yesterday I heard about a third church in my area which is replacing the normal worship time and sermon with a concert. That’s right, a concert.

While this is nothing new, it certainly is becoming more prevalent. In the case of the one I just heard about, I know the band in question and have no doubt that some good ministry will take place that Sunday morning; and I recognize that the Sunday Evening service has become extinct, so realistically, only one opportunity is available to do this sort of thing on a day when the church family is guaranteed to be present.

Still, I wonder about this.

I’m trying to picture a Roman Catholic, or an Episcopalian showing up for church and instead of the familiar liturgical call to worship, a band starts playing a song. And then one more. And then another. They would probably feel their worship service had been hijacked. While one or two might like the creative change, I suspect that most simply value their order-of-service too much to see it removed; even for a single week. Those forms simply offer too much spiritual benefit to be sacrificed, even for a single week.

But Evangelicals don’t approach church that way. In the modern, megachurch-mimmicking church service there are three elements:

  1. Worship
  2. Announcements/Offering
  3. Teaching

Apparently, it’s okay to take a week off from the formal teaching time or the teaching plus the worship time. Hopefully the concert serves as a drawing card that is part of a coordinated evangelism effort to which people are inviting their friends and the pastor will indeed deliver a short challenge.

Often the concert is actually a set-up for a pitch from a relief and development organization.

My wife finds this a rather consumerist mentality. People will come to be entertained. She also wonders why the people in the band want to miss participating in their own church’s worship service that morning. Many of these same people, if asked to work at their job on Sunday morning, would tell their boss they cannot because they attend church.

It’s also worth noting that this year with November 11th falling on a Sunday, many churches in our area are rearranging their worship service time to accommodate attending the service at the local war memorial or cenotaph. In Canada, we don’t have both Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, so our Remembrance Day takes on greater importance.

One church, which normally has two services is only doing the early one. Another church has shifted their worship to a 12 noon “Café Service.”

I don’t recall any Evangelical church rearranging their schedule when this day was also a Sunday, but admittedly it takes anywhere between 5 and 13 years (because of Leap Years) for this type of thing to repeat, and by then the memory isn’t as accurate.

And don’t get me started about what happens when Christmas Day is a Sunday. (Relax, it’s a Tuesday this year.)

December 21, 2015

Church Policies: What to do in the Middle of a Service When…

Filed under: Church — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 10:35 am

disruption in church service

Last week blogger Jayson D. Bradley asked the question Does Your Church Have a Shooter Policy? (Stop reading here, and click the picture above if you think this is something your church needs to consider.)

While potential gun violence is definitely a concern in the United States right now, it raises the question of whether or not churches, which are open to the public, have contingency plans in the event of various scenarios. Such as:

Does your church have a lock-down policy if a child is missing? We experienced something similar to this first-hand when we returned to pick up our oldest in the church we were visiting and were told, “We never had a child that looked like that here.” We found him wandering the building on his own, though he could have easily wandered outside into a busy street. (We only returned to that church for another visit when the kids were much, much older.) Churches should be just as proactive on this as schools and daycare centers.

Do people leading the service know what to do if someone starts speaking in tongues? So here I’m assuming your congregation is not Charismatic or Pentecostal, because if they are, this isn’t a problem. But in a mainline Protestant church, or mainstream Evangelical churches, this is a potential issue. Fortunately, when I served as a worship leader under various pastors, those churches were in the “open, but cautious” or “seek not, forbid not” category on tongues and prophecies, so we were prepared to roll with it. But sometimes someone may offer a prophetic word that isn’t necessarily from God, and you need a back up plan. (Also, this already-classic sermon interruption comes to mind.)

What if during the music someone starts dancing? This actually happened in one very conservative church I grew up. The woman moved into the aisle and started doing a simple two-step. That was too much. At that point, my mind blurs trying to think of what happened next, but refocuses for the memory of her being carried out sideways as rigid as a board. As Dave Barry would say, ‘I am not making this up.’ There was one man at one end, and one at the other, and she was like a piece of lumber. Just yesterday, Bill Hybels told the story of a Christmas service where people were asked to “show some love” to someone they came with, and a couple started making out.

What do you do if a baby is fussing/crying really loudly? I’ve seen this handled well, but one memory is seared into my brain of it handled badly. The family — which we learned later had never been to church before — sat on the front row of a packed inter-denominational service, and the little girl was quite animated. Finally the guest speaker stopped talking and said, “I’m not going to continue until this problem is fixed.” I’m not even sure that the mom, who wouldn’t know what’s normal in church, even realized the remark was directed at her. The ushers did nothing. (Who’s really in charge when it’s an inter-church service anyway?) And so he went on to say, “It’s still not fixed.” (To make matters worse, I was one of about 40 people on the platform and witnessed this train wreck all too closely.)  Jesus no doubt had kids running all over the place when he spoke informally, and even told the disciples not to stop them from coming. On the other hand, many of our services today are recorded for podcast and video distribution and a kid can make it really hard to hear.

What if it’s noticed that someone has quietly scooped some cash from the offering? I also witnessed this first-hand as a teenager, and have been mostly donating by check (that’s cheque for my British and Canadian readers) ever since. As someone who has worked in retail, I know that even there confronting someone who is shoplifting is difficult enough, and in that situation you actually have to wait until they leave. I think some confrontation is necessary; regardless of the resolution you seek, they need to know that you saw it and God saw it. Are they facing some need where the church could help more directly? The two guys — yes it happened more than once — in my story were looking for cash to buy cigarettes. One was the son of a prominent church leader. I was too young at the time to stand up to them, though years later I asked the sister of the second one if her brother had ever paid all that money he took back to the church. She just looked at me quizzically, and I decided to leave it there.


You be the writer: What other types of situations do you think your church should have a contingency plan for, when it comes to weekend services?

October 25, 2010

Traditions that Don’t Make Sense

Tradition Bible Church is probably the most well-named church we’ve visited.   It had everything you want in a 1930s church service:   Women in long dresses and hats, King James English, classic hymns and a large church kitchen that was regularly employed for what one person called “all day dinner on the grounds.”

It was also a dying church; we didn’t see any young couples and there were no children, to speak of, anywhere in sight.   Most people seemed to be at or near retirement age.

But there were a few middle aged couples and curiously, a row of teens in the back row; their presence explained to me later by the couple who invited for lunch being due to the fact the nearest ‘contemporary’ service was at least a 25-minute drive, and that church was looked on with suspicion.  These teens had all grown up in TBC, and regarded each other as family.

So when a woman who I think was maybe 80+ years old announced it was “time for the children to come forward for their story;”  I looked around again to see who exactly she had in mind.

“C’mon, Taylor; come up Melissa… where is Justine?” she beckoned; and one-by-one the teenagers — average age approximately 16 — arose from the comfort of the back pew and sauntered up to the front.

I learned later from our lunch hosts that the youngest among them — two boys 12 and 13 — were the ‘last’ kids that had been born in that church, and that there was a time when all of them had simply refused to come forward after Mildred would issue her summons from the platform, feeling they had reached a point in life where being asked questions like, “Do you think you could hit a giant with a slingshot?” were a bit beneath them.

But Mildred would not be denied the chance to tell her story; she had been doing so for 48 years; and so a few years back she started calling the teens by name, and rather than suffer that embarrassment, they returned to going forward and being dismissed to their service, which also got them out of having to sit through the sermon, and granted access to the aforementioned large kitchen.

It probably looked like this once; but that was then...

Phillip and Mark, the two youngest boys, simply sat on the far right of the platform sharing some kind of portable game console with the volume off.    Derek, who was about 16 occupied the other end of the platform and simply stared at the back wall of the sanctuary as though caught in some kind of mystic vision.   I turned around to see if whatever he was seeing might be of interest to all of us, but saw only a wall.

In the middle was Melissa, chewing gum loudly and whispering to a girl who looked 18 or 19, whose name I didn’t get; who laughed at something Melissa said, but then started a contagious yawn which I noticed spread to the adults.

Brianna, the niece of our lunch contacts, sat texting during the entire story and at one point her phone erupted with a loud chime that caught everyone by surprise except Mildred, who didn’t miss a beat telling the story of Samson and his long hair; a story which brought a question from the rather shaggy Nicholas, who looked about 17, and who asked as to whether Samson’s story indicated that he should not need a haircut; a question that Mildred apparently hadn’t anticipated and didn’t answer.

I think Kayla, who introduced herself to me personally after the service, just before trying to sell me a $5 chocolate bar to raise funds for the cheerleading squad, spent the whole story time rummaging through her bag in search of lost treasure.   This is just a guess, but I would say that, like so many of the ten of teens up there, she didn’t hear a word, but I couldn’t pay much attention to her because — and this is also a guess — I’ll bet her cheerleading skirt is longer than whatever it was she was wearing sitting on the platform.

Amber had a pair of ear buds attached to an mp3 device which we couldn’t hear until she decided to scratch an ear itch, and then we heard a few bars of a rapper saying, “I’ve got what you need;” which caused Amber to blush and quickly return the offending bud to her ear.  Near the end of the story there was also a shorter few seconds of drums when she pulled out the other ear bud and simply jammed it in Melissa’s ear and loudly whispered, “Check this out.”

And then there was Cody, the nephew of our lunch hosts, who simply read a comic book while sitting on the floor in front of the platform, kicking the communion table every 30 seconds or so, and never once looked up.

I really appreciated the fact the teens didn’t feel the need to feign interest in anything being said.   At least there was no pretense.

At one point Mildred interrupted herself and noticed that Justine still hadn’t come forward.   “Is Justine back there?” she asked, looking toward the back pew.

“No;” the kids replied as one, with Melissa adding, “She went into labor on Saturday afternoon.”

So maybe, finally, Tradition Bible Church will get a child to add to its cradle roll; the first in a dozen years; and maybe that will justify the continuation of the children’s story as part of the Sunday morning service there.  Justine is 16 and says she really wants her child to grow up in church like she did and Mildred says she really wants to say she’s done the children’s story for 50 years, and she’s only got a couple of years to go.

August 13, 2010

AMTO: Modern Worship Hits Mainstream Culture

It was the crossword puzzle clue seen around the world.

The New York Times Sunday Crossword…
Sunday May 2nd, 2010…
22 across…
Here I ____ Worship (contemporary hymn)

It’s hard to believe in such a short time modern worship has become so entrenched in U.S. culture that a song by Tim Hughes should become a crossword puzzle clue in the nation’s largest newspaper.

Modern worship grew out of the contemporary Christian music movement of the 1970s and early 1980s.   (You can read a short history of it, here.)  But while many of the songs are simply the next generation of hymns, there are some who feel that the current worship trends will eventually fade and be replaced by something else.

Here’s a comment from a discussion my son had with other staff members at the Christian camp where he’s serving:

Yesterday I had a very long discussion about what’s appropriate to sing as worship, and what isn’t.  We all have little-known artists we like and can connect with, and everyone I talked to is fed up with contemporary worship music and other mainstream Christian music.  One guy thinks otherwise-good bands are being ruined by recording labels who force them to write more music than they actually want to.  I think that after the music leaves the composer, it’s up to God to decide who to use it towards.  Earlier in the summer we had a staff time where several people shared songs God has spoken to them thru, even though they aren’t explicitly Christian songs or even written by Christians.

I’m not surprised to see a rejection of the worship industry.   (I was about to call it corporate worship, which would be a suitable term if it didn’t already mean something else.)

Kim Gentes writes on worship and technology and on May 9th wrote:

…No sooner had the “old” vs “new” fight subsided, than we began to hear rumblings about the “corruption” of modern worship. After 30 years of infancy, its growth into adolescence was met by some amount of disdain by a good group of its progenitors. The original “guard” that was around when praise and worship burst on the church was now becoming vocal about the ongoing change that continued to propel the stylistic growth of the music. But more than just that, there was a “we told you so” attitude developing that began to expound the idea that the community of practitioners was now becoming enamored with the commercialization of the musical genre that had grown up around the music. In other words you could hear this said in a thousand different ways from some people- “this modern worship isn’t as pure and humble as the original stuff”. Also there is the idea that “worship leaders are just trying to become artists with record deals”.

Back in 2006, John Ellis of the group Tree63 said:

The commercialization of modern worship has led to a glut of participants… Modern worship has become a unit-shifting genre of contemporary Christian music, and now everyone’s in on it. As a result, that worship music becomes diluted….The songs become insipid and lame, and hey, is Jesus really honored by that song after all?

In a discussion on Wednesday with a pastor and worship leader, I lamented the loss of songs of proclamation and testimony.   I like vertical worship, but at the same time that evening services and “testimony times” disappeared from our churches, so also did the hymns that told a personal salvation story.

History tells us that things will change again.   I just wish I had a crystal ball to see what the next major force in worship will look like.   Of course, I’d be happy to be able to come close to finishing this crossword puzzle.

If you don’t know Here I Am To Worship, you can link here; and I’ll also put it in the comments section on Friday morning.

Blog at