Posted tagged ‘Worship’

Sixth Grade Church Fidgeting

August 27, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                August 27, 2019

                    

My grandson, Jesse, is a great kid. More energy than General Electric, more creativity than a box of 120 Crayola crayon colors. He’s also a sixth grader who can’t sit still, except when he’s reading or watching TV.

Last Sunday he sat beside me in church. It was his first Sunday not in the special gathering for children, the setting where active energy is expected, even planned for. The sanctuary of adults is a bit more laid back and placid in its journey. 

Jesse fidgeted, slithered down in his seat a few times like a snake moving down a hill, set off his multi-functioning watch a couple of times, and even curled his legs up and sat still for a few moments. I chuckled a few times for several reasons. 

I saw the shadow of myself in him! 54 years removed, mind you, but I could see myself. I had that kind of energy once…a long, long time ago!

It’s different these days, though. In my childhood years our church, Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, didn’t have a special program for kids to go to during the worship service. If you were of school age you went to the worship service in the sanctuary. it wasn’t even called “the adult service”. It just was! 

Every Sunday I would be positioned between my mom and dad, singing the hymns and snoozing during Pastor Zachary’s sermon. It was the one place each week where I knew my parents were captive. They couldn’t get up to go fix dinner or mow the lawn or go to work. They were my flanks for a good hour or longer. My dad’s arm often functioned as my pillow and my mom’s stern look as the controller of my movement. 

By the sixth grade I had been present for roughly 500 sermons, since we were “two-a-dayers” (Sunday morning and Sunday evening). My brother, sister, and I knew that good behavior translated into popcorn and The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday night when we returned home from the evening service. 

But times have changed. Attention spans are shorter, TV commercials are now snippets, and things move faster. 

Patience is an ancient virtue. Just have a slow internet experience. It feels like you’re waiting in a long restroom line at a Broncos game. 

So I don’t blame Jesse for his hyper-ness. I don’t blame anyone. In some ways his restlessness in worship is the result of adults who don’t want to be annoyed by active kids. I remember a few years ago someone at the church I pastored complained about how disruptive it was to have kids in church. On that Sunday a mom had kept her children with her, instead of having them go to the special gathering for children.

I responded that it was nice to actually have children in our church. It was not the response that was wanted. Children, it seemed, were to be banished to the basement so the adults could learn a couple of spiritual pointers for the week ahead. 

So adults have gotten used to the little ones not being with us as we worship, and the young ones have gotten used to doing their own thing with their own mannerisms, methods, and activity level. 

It’s how it is, and Jesse is who I once was!

Yelping The Church

July 1, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    June 30, 2019

 

My wife is a “yelpster”! She uses Yelp to see what people have said about restaurants, hotels, tourist attractions, and businesses. On vacation we choose the eating establishment on the basis of what the Yelp reviews tell us. Sometimes we’ve been thankful for what the review has said and we’ve experienced. Other times we’ve wondered if the reviewer was at a different restaurant than the one we went to.

It’s amazing how one customer can talk about a restaurant in such glowing terms and another person can give a review that makes it less appealing than the school cafeteria. One gives it five stars and the other one star. Amazing the difference!

I noticed that people can now give church reviews on Yelp. The Bible refers to the followers of Jesus being “the salt of the earth”, but a person needs to take the Yelp church reviews with a grain of salt. One review talks about how friendly and welcoming a church is and that they have coffee and snacks available. Another talks about the biblical application to everyday living that the sermon emphasized. Still another talked about how great the music was, almost like being at a concert.

OR there were reviews that criticized the music, trashed the sermon, made fun of the pastor, lambasted the greeters for not greeting. And these were reviews of the same churches where reviewers had experienced almost divine encounters. 

Yelp is the new proclaimer! So when you invite your new neighbors to come to Sunday worship with you they may very well say that they will talk it over and get back to you…and then bring your church up on Yelp for the decision. (Church strategy: Have its members flood Yelp with great reviews!)

Here’s the thing! Yelp is all about the customer…where she can get the best service, where the best steak is served, where a trustworthy mechanic is located…it’s all about the buyer, the customer. How many times can I write that word…customer?

The church is all about the Christ. For many of us our “custom” has been to worship on Sunday morning as a part of a congregation where the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and worshiped. That’s our custom, but we aren’t customers.

It’s a sign of how the proclamation of the gospel has been altered when we get the idea that we’re looking for the best deal, the best music, the greatest preacher.

I get murmurings and open admissions from so many people- followers of Jesus, mind you- who talk about swapping churches, changing churches, trying a different church, as if they are changing their bed linens. There’s no connecting commitment, no sense of being a part of a spiritual community. In fact, “community” is seen more and more as existing in other places and other groups- the school they teach at, their softball team, the Starbucks they hang out at, the folks they watch the football game with. 

Perhaps Yelp is just another analyzing method for showing what the church no longer is. 

What I Like About Church

March 18, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2019

                                 

I admit that it’s ingrained in me. Sunday mornings have always meant one word: Church! And since our family attended Central Baptist Church in Winchester, Kentucky, it meant Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 

I was always a bit jealous of the kids at the Methodist church across the street from Central Baptist. They didn’t have Sunday evening services and, therefore, got to stay home and watch “Walt Disney” on TV. For my two siblings and me, our exposure to Walt Disney had to happen at Leed’s Theatre in downtown Winchester. That’s where we discovered “Old Yeller” and “Big Red”, not on TV!

But I liked church! It was like a warm blanket on a blizzard night. It felt good and right. 

And now 55 years since Central Baptist, and a career as an American Baptist pastor, I still feel right when I sit in a pew, or a sanctuary chair. It makes me wonder though…why? It’s got to be more than just the mark made by a family tradition. Why do I think about being a part of a worship service when Sunday morning rolls around?

I could get all spiritual on you and say right away that it’s because of the grace of God for such a sinner as me, and the forgiveness of Christ exacted by the shedding of his blood…and that’s true! The foundation for being a life-long church participant IS rooted in the gospel of Christ, but that’s not what gets me out of bed on Sunday morning.

It’s not the lure of donuts and Danish’s either, or weak coffee brewed by someone who’s taste was destroyed by drinking watered-down Maxwell House.

I like church because of the intimacy and the memories of intimacy. Not the youth group hay rides we used to go on…not that kind of intimacy, although the memories of them still bring a smile to my face!

The intimacy I’m thinking of was being able to lean up against my mom or dad’s arm and know that neither or them was going anywhere for the next hour or so. There was a closeness to family in those moments. 

A few weeks ago a picture popped up on my Facebook page from seven years ago. It was from Christmas Day, 2011. I stood in the aisle of the sanctuary with a dear man named Rex Davis. I had my arm around his shoulders and he had his arm around my waist. Rex was around 90 at the time. I like church because of moments like that, when the bond of Christ draws us together in an embrace of deep love and connected humanity. 

I like church because of the moments of revelation. Once again, I need to clarify about that term, because it’s been associated with suspect snake oil salesmen. For me, the moments of revelation come as I sit in silence and ponder, or as a scripture verse is read for the umpteenth time, or as I gaze at a stained glass window. Things get revealed to me about myself, or about the One I’m encountering. I live in a world that is so noisy I’m blasted with false revelations every day. I’m told my life needs certain things- products and services and such. Snake oil now comes in a variety of cultural flavors. In church, true revelation is hinted at if I desire to follow its path.

I like the hope of church and the hope experienced in church. Weary souls stumble through the doors and then a short while later leave rested and reassured. The hurting share their wounds and are carried back to healing. The lonely and broken-hearted are able to be embraced and held in place. A world of trouble is put into perspective by the message of the God who draws near.

I don’t go to church to be impressed by the perfection of the pastor, or the performance of the participants. There’s something that leaves a bad taste in my mouth- like sweet cream gone bad- when church tries to outdo the other places of worship in the same zip code, something fake and foreign to my senses.

And so I go each Sunday, ready to receive and willing to give. I’ve long since stopped using my mom and dad’s arms as a pillow for my head, but I still have others who I know I can lean on, if and when I need them!

The Rigid New Worship

March 12, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 12, 2019

                                  

A few months ago my wife and I attended a mega-church that had grown incredibly fast…numbers-wise! It wasn’t my cup of tea. The pastor’s message was okay, although it had a not-so-subtle hint of “Look at us now!” to it! But the striking…er, deafening aspect was the performance upfront that was referred to as “worship music.” I usually enjoy singing, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I closed my mouth. Obviously, where I was in my parameters of worship was different than the masses.

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s there were battles in churches across the country that were known as “the worship wars.” Some churches had broken away from hymns and began singing praise music. Others put one foot in the hymnbook and one foot on the praise choruses sheet music. Generally speaking, the elder generation saw praise music as a step away from Jesus and a step closer to fallenness. The younger generation wanted the parking brake taken off of the organ! Few were happy. The Deceiver used music about Jesus to bring division into the church.

I was an “in-betweener”, singing “The Old Rugged Cross” in morning worship and then “Pass It On” at youth group that night. We never sang “Pass It On” in the church service, but, of course, we never sang “The Old Rugged Cross” in youth group.

And then when I was a student at Judson College things started changing. Keith Green came to campus and did a concert and I was “wowed” by the depth of the lyrics and the sound of the music. And then there was a lady known as “Honeytree”, and Rich Mullins, and a three siblings group known as The Second  Chapter of Acts. I still remember when our hymns-only church sang “Easter Song” by Second Chapter…but it was deemed okay since it was about Jesus, the resurrection, and it was Easter Sunday!

I remember the consternation about having someone play the drums in church, let alone the bass and electric guitars. Gradually, there was a softening of the hearts, or, perhaps, a turning down of the hearing aids, and we trudged to a worship wars truce. A suspicious spirit, however, emerged in a number of churches. I remember a man in my church who would leave the sanctuary every time a praise song was sung. If an organ was good enough for Jesus it was good enough for him. Anyone who liked those new praise songs was suspect in his mind, and, on the other hand, other people were suspicious of him!

But now we’ve come to a new day where the worship wars have ended…sorta’! Congregations were seeing their young people leaving the church and using adjectives such as “irrelevant” and “boring” to describe it. So…they surrendered to contemporary Christian music!

Once in a while they still sing a hymn…a revised, updated, hymn that is! One that has the same words, but a better beat in case anyone wants to dance in the aisles!

It’s amazing the flip that has happened! Just as there was a rigid loyalty in the older generation to singing the old familiar hymns, it seems there is now a rigidity in the new worship about not just singing the new music, but to making worship into a performance. The voice of the lead singer needs to be so amazing that the congregation thinks they are in the “American Idol” audience. The lyrics, more often than not, have to be so simple that the audience doesn’t even need to look at the mega-sized screen up front. The music so moving or soothing that it causes the audience to either jump or sway. 

Just as our old traditional congregations were steadfast about having the hymnal in hand the new worship is uncompromising about having the audience’s hands free.

I don’t believe we are headed back to the worship wars again, and that’s a good thing! But we do have a new crisis that we’re walking through. I’ll call it “The Worship Wows!”

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

Church Going To The Dogs

December 12, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    February 13, 2017

                                 

A few decades ago I remember being on the front steps of our church, First Baptist Church of Ironton, Ohio. An elderly man was coming up the steps just as a dog bounded up the steps past him. The man stopped for a moment and I heard him mutt-er “Dogs going to church!” He climbed a couple more steps and paused once again, and with a grin on his face he said, “Church going to the dogs!”

Recently we discovered a church where people can bring their dogs. The worship service is transmitted on an AM radio station to the cars parked in the parking lot. Some of the cars are occupied with people who have difficulties with crowds or allergic reactions to perfume scents. But many of them are occupied with canines brought to church by their owners. Attenders never have to get out of their car, unless Fido has to relieve himself!

Unique, yes! It’s not my cup of tea, but for some people it obviously works. After all, there was a film a few years ago entitled “All Dogs Go to Heaven!” So, perhaps, going to church is the prequel!

Staying in the car with the pooch has a downside and an upside. The downside is that the attender never enters into “community.” Church is about much more than an order of worship to go through, message to hear, and the offering plate to pass. Being the community of believers is the oft-forgotten part of it. It’s the meshing of lives in the progression of the journey.

The upside is that the dog-loving attender can escape the drama of church that often focuses on the petty and ridiculous. Stay in the car and get spared from the stupid! Let’s face it! Some church folk are more concerned about keeping the carpet clean than they are about people being cleansed!

So…I’m not sold on the dogs-going-to-church idea, but, of course, I don’t have a dog! I might feel differently if Lassie came home to live with me.

What do you think?Church

Feeling My Worship Age

September 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              September 27, 2017

                                   

It was a bad sign! In the Sunday announcement sheet under informational items there was that blurb that was probably intended to be a forewarning of what was about to come!

“Ear plugs are available at the Information Booth for anyone who needs them.”

It’s a bad sign when they care about your hearing! When I was pastoring we cared also, but it was for those who had diminished hearing so they borrowed a hearing device that helped amplify the sound of the speaker or music. This was the other direction. This was: “We’re going to turn up the volume so much that you’re going to be thinking you’re standing by a jet engine on steroids! So you might want to put these in your ears!”

I’m 63 and I realize I’m sneaking up on crotchety! I’m becoming like a dear saintly lady from the church I pastored in Mason, Michigan. Grace Ankney was  a great lady who couldn’t hear squat! And she would let the speaker know that by yelling from her third row seat, “I can’t hear you!” I don’t remember what Grace’s spiritual gifts were, but she scored low on hospitality!

And here I was about to shout “I can’t hear myself!” But, of course, I couldn’t hear myself so I didn’t say it.

I realize the church I was attending last Sunday is designed for a younger crowd…soon to be younger deaf crowd…and there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. I’m a person of grace who is fairly tolerant about circumstances and situations. I remember the “worship wars” of the 1980’s when that period’s older generation fought hard against the new worship music that was settling upon the hearts of congregations. Our leadership council had several hours of discussion about it. We did planning retreats where we sought to figure out the direction we were going in worship, while being sensitive to those who liked it the way it had been…for fifty years!

I remember one young man from my church asking me if the lady who played the organ could take the parking brake off! On the other side, an older couple left for greener, hymnier, pastures because we had sung a couple of praise songs that had produced clapping, albeit Baptist clapping, which sounds kind of like the light patter of rain on the driveway.

And now I was that couple…longing for a calmer sanctuary of praise music. Just to be fair, the songs we sang last Sunday were all familiar to me. I knew the words to three of them, but since I couldn’t hear my own voice I never sang any of them. It wasn’t that I was being vain. Although people say I have a good voice I’m not infatuated by the sound of it. I just like to know that I can hear the words that I’m speaking or singing!

And now I’m starting to type kind of crotchety!

I’m a “has been” who is still being. This Sunday I’ll travel back out to the little congregation of twenty in a town forty-five minutes from where we live and give the Sunday message. We’ll sing some songs together in a sanctuary with great acoustics, and I’ll get a bag of fresh produce from a couple of farmers who bring in their excess each week. It will be totally different from my experience from last week where we had to park a few hundred yards away. This Sunday at Simla everyone can park right next to the building.

Perhaps that’s who I am now…a participant of a small congregation journeying together in a slow walk. At Simla this Sunday we won’t need ear plugs. Two sixth grade boys will take up the offering. There will be a Sunday bulletin, which we really won’t need because the order of worship is almost always the same. And after church people will grab a cup of weak coffee, a cookie, and stand around talking for a good 20 to 30 minutes.

That’s now where I feel at home, it’s where I sense the closeness of God and the struggles of his saints, and I’m okay with that!