Life as I know it… plus commentary

At your service…

with 8 comments

Got a chance to do a little guerilla bass playing this weekend.  The scheduled band player couldn’t make it and none of the other players were available.  I like playing with Brian when he leads so I said I’d play.  (This unfortunately meant no surfing today but that’s life, eh? By the way, I snapped that picture from the stage while no one was looking.)  I had fun playing and during the non music portions of the service, I spent laying on the carpet in the library in a half doze/half internet surfing haze.  I did manage to catch the message though and it got me to thinking about church services in general.*

The service I was at today had a shorter message time (around 25 minutes), a few baptisms (complete with movable font with warmed water), an artist drawing out front and a person “telling” their testimony without words but through solo musical performance.  You can read about other church services along the emergent vein that include clay sculpting, dramas, Gregorian chant, candles, incense, mimes, sign language and any number of other venues God is reached/experienced/sought/ignored/worshiped.  At Gnu Song they’re doing the Bible in a year.  Most churches do this in two and three years, otherwise you end up talking about an entire book in the space of 30 minutes. Even pastors can vary as much as service elements… some are academicians, some seem like they’re sharing what they learned that week.  Some are visionary, some specialize in calls to repentance others thrive on testimony sharing.  And there are book studies and topic serieses and books studies that are really topic studies in disguise.  

I’ll get into my preferences after I hear from you guys but I’l start off by saying I like things simple. I think all the things some churches are doing today, while highly entertaining, end up drawing focus from what you’re actually at church for.   So I’m curious…  those of you who read this blog, share with me your idea of a great service; the elements, the speaking style, the added extras, etc.  The purpose here is not to try and convince one another that our particular preference is the right way but rather to see the differences in what all kinds (and believe me, all kinds of different types of people read this blog) of people like.

*You’ll notice I said church services in general.  This post is not a critique of how Gnu Song does church, nor is it an analysis of the actual service I was at, though certain aspects were presented as examples of certain genres and ideas in the post.  Yes, I needed to add this so I don’t get in trouble with anyone at Gnu Song. 


Written by arnold

May 18, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Posted in Religion

8 Responses

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  1. Well, I like some music, some preaching, some baptisms if anyone has accepted Christ that week, and a chance to hang around afterward and talk to my friends.
    I like the sermon to make some sense out of everyday life–show how Scripture is still relevant to what we live today.

    I understand the arts-driven services, but I’m not particularly drawn to them (aside from music, obviously.) And since I’m not a New Song member, I’m not in any particular danger of angering anyone. Still, I’m not trying to rail against those sorts of services, yet I know that from my perspective, they don’t seem to do much for anyone who themselves don’t participate in that activity.

    For example: Dance. I don’t dance, but I appreciate the artistry that is involved in it. I can see why someone who IS a dancer would want to use that gift/skill to give back to the Lord. However, EVERYONE in my circle (and I do mean EVERYONE) absolutely hates watching interpretive dance. If they had to sit through that in a church service, they would be so frustrated by the end that they would not focus on the message.

    I feel like music may transcend that because everyone hums or claps–they all have a personal experience of music in their lives, so even if they themselves are not musicians, they have an appreciation for music and at least a tolerance of it in a service. My brother HATES worship music–grew up with “good old fashioned” hymns, and wants nothing to do with more “modern” music at church. Which is kind of surprising, because he’s very open to most musical styles in any other venue. But anything except hymns doesn’t “feel” like church to him.

    Ultimately, I have always felt that the church would remain forever divided because of these sorts of “taste” issues. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing–“I have become all things to all men so that I may by all means save some.” (not an exact quote)

    Peggy C

    May 24, 2008 at 2:00 pm

  2. Poor interpretive dance. I think that maybe a universal fact that no one likes it. I thnk you hit the nail on the head though when you make the distinction between one of the performing arts where you simply observe someone else doing something as an act of service versus something else that allows you to enter in, like music. Luckily (for musicians like me) music is a more universal art form that a large percentage of people can feel like actively participate in… it’s like the people who sing along at concerts. They’re not on stage but they can clap and sing the words and take part in the energy created by good music.

    By the same token, I don’t really like message topics that are merely some list of topics some committee came up with. My very good friend Dustin returned from a conference where they talked on the need to be fast, fluid and flexible. Their main illustration was how the church responded quickly to the post 9/11 days… how they changed the service, the message topics for the next several weeks and even how the local ministries ran. The church I was attending decided to stick to the same series they had already planned out and even went as far as to not put out extra chairs. As a result, people seeking solace and and answers from the church ended up getting a sermon on Colossians and sitting on the floor.

    While I find tremendous value in book studies (when they’re actual studies on the book listed, and not just a launching place to talk about service, fellowship or tithing), there is also a value on responding to what concerns the congregation (and more importantly, unchurched visitors) are worried about.

    That’s my main complaint about church services today. They seem to be more concerned about providing entertainment, looking like they’re emergent (or some other new movement) or some other facet that ultimately draws focus away from God (no matter how entertaining that facet may be).


    May 24, 2008 at 3:46 pm

  3. It does seem strange to me that a group would stick to their plans, when circumstances are obviously changing. No extra chairs, even???? Paul to me seems to be the epitome of thinking on your feet–he walked through a city, saw that they had a statue dedicated to an “unknown god” and proceeded to preach about that. Nothing scripted, nothing planned out weeks in advance.

    Not to say that planning is useless, because it’s not. But the ability to respond to real needs, real questions–a lot of people could use a lesson in that.

    The church I was attending did a study on the DaVinci Code controversy at the time the movie came out, because so many of the people in our congregation wondered about it. Not the most pressing issue, I know–but they listened to what the congregants were uncertain about and addressed it.

    I agree that church services are pretty entertainment based–I understand why you need to do that with youth services, etc. But as adults, shouldn’t we be able to handle a little more mature attitude? I guess they’re so worried about the bottom line that the message sometimes gets lost in the delivery. The “glossier” the services got at my church, the less connected I felt.

    It reminds me of that Robert Smigel skit on SNL years ago–all the video clips of pastors spewing comments as Jesus walks by them, and their vitriol punches him and slaps him around (literally, if I recall correctly). Finally, he comes across Linus reading the advent passage, and overjoyed by it, Jesus does a little Peanuts dance.

    It’s like we’re afraid that the truth of the gospel has lost its attractiveness.

    Peggy C

    May 25, 2008 at 4:36 pm

  4. Well, I won’t write all of my thoughts down here, but maybe I’ll do it in a later post. I will say a couple of things that are interesting (by which I mean, “really need to be looked at critically”) about church today.

    The biggest thing that I don’t understand is why 90% (at least) of churches today hang their hat on a mass medium (speaking) that is shown to be LEAST effective at being memorable. Unless I sit there and take copious notes, on my best day I’m liable to remember no more than 10% of what was said in the sermon. So why do so many of our church services today revolve around that?

    I’m also confused as to how we think we can build community in our churches today when, not only do we build auditoriums that can fit hundreds of people, but we don’t equip our congregation members to truly love people outside the doors of the building (and many times not even inside the doors of the building).

    The more churches I attend, the more I’m feeling like the best way to go is small and organic. Strip away the lights and the paraments, and instead drape your lives in relationships – meaningful relationships that are transparent and wrestle with the stuff that goes on in our day-to-day lives. I know that sounds completely idealistic (at least that’s what I’m told by church members), but there’s got to be something else out there.

    I just hope we find it soon, whatever it looks like…

  5. Wow, Cubby just touched on something that has been bothering me for years: The church has all but abdicated its role in shaping society.

    We choose to legislate morality–to tell the country what is “right” or “wrong” instead of guiding them into the light via a loving relationship that makes them want what we have.

    People were drawn to Christ, and eventually to His followers, because they had something different going on, something that the people wanted to experience for themselves.

    I am NOT saying that we shouldn’t have laws to protect people, etc. But when we turn to the legislative system to do the job that WE should be doing (helping people to clean up their lives and live right by God), then we cannot expect a reward from God for our “service”.

    For example, I have a LOT of Christian friends who are “pro-life” (anti-abortion). I have said to the most vocal ones that they need to put their money where there mouth is–ADOPT!!! Until there are NO unwanted children left to be adopted or fostered, then the church has failed to meet the need and cannot expect the world to listen to her when she says “Choose life!”

    If, however, we took in the unwanted, made a place in our homes for them, THEN we could say “Don’t have an abortion,” and a pregnant girl would know that there was a solid home waiting for her child.

    Unfortunately, we like our comfort and our perfectly planned out little lives, and the discomfort and sacrifice that it requires to actually impact the lives of other people is too much for us.

    For the record, I DO plan to adopt some kids within the next few years–I am not a viable candidate at the moment because I don’t have my own place (I rent a room). In the interim, I am working with Big Brothers/Big Sisters to mentor a little girl whose life is in turmoil. She’s awesome, and I’m not just waiting until my life is “perfect” to get involved in the lives of those whom I can influence.

    To all the men reading this–JOIN UP! They ALWAYS look for men to mentor boys–so few men ever volunteer. It only takes a few hours out of your month, and it means so much to the “Little”. They ask for 3-6 hours per encounter, 2-4 times per month.

    You KNOW you all goof off that much–use that time for something eternal instead. And the good thing is, you can still goof off, you just add a kid as your play partner–play games, go to movies, ride skateboards, surf–you know, stuff you’re already good at!

    Sorry–soapbox time is over now. 🙂

    Peggy C

    May 26, 2008 at 11:28 am

  6. I should add to what Cubby said that my most memorable times at my most recent church home were NOT the sermons, and (sorry, Arnold!) not the music (though I loved both).

    What I remember are the small group times–sitting with clusters of people of like mind and heart, learning and loving and realizing what “community” is all about.

    I should say that our pastor was ALWAYS trying to find ways to make the message more than just talking–he knew that stuff doesn’t “stick” as well if you only hear it. He was constantly trying to find ways to make it “doable”–something active that the people did for themselves so it really hit home.

    Peggy C

    May 26, 2008 at 11:31 am

  7. I have a lot to say, but right now, I’ll just say: “It is time to kill the sermon.”

    There is very little to redeem in the concept of sermonizing when the culture at large is concerned. How many human beings (other than Protestants) sit around listening to one person talk for 30-50 min. on a weekly basis? Most don’t. People watch videos, T.V., news clips, the radio – all of which are strategically structured with no one person talking for more than 5 min. at a time.

    It is true that students definitely attend lectures, but how many of them flourish in this kind of learning environment?

    What has become known as “preaching” in churches today is a concept that evolved in the Renaissance and later Enlightenment traditions. Why do we still practice something that was created for another time and place?

    We (the global church) are still in the grasp of modernity while the rest of the world has moved on.


    June 27, 2008 at 8:55 pm

  8. Good stuff. Let me see if I understand your main point here… the main purpose of the church service is not knowledge. Or perhaps you’re saying the maner of conveying knowledge is outdated.

    On a different note, let me ask you this, if a child has ADD do we teach the child in an ADD friendly manner or do we teach the child discipline in order to survive in a non ADD world?


    June 28, 2008 at 8:26 am

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