Worship That Makes Me Nuts

Toppled SteepleI am a judgmental person, especially about church.  A former parishioner once told me that she had a hard time sitting through worship without judging the experience:  “The choir was off.  The sermon was boring.  The children’s story was about the adults not the kids.”  

It was actually comforting to hear this.  I also find myself distracted sometimes.

I want to worship God when I gather together with a congregation on Sundays.  I want it to be real.  I want to make a connection with God and other people.  But certain things distract me and the worship experience then morphs into something less than holy.

I confess before you and God that my snarky judgement rears its ugly head when:

  • Someone – anyone – refers to God as “The Man Upstairs.”
  • Nobody smiles.
  • The pastor reads the sermon.
  • Everybody’s white, although the neighborhood is not.
  • There is an assortment of “sermon illustrations” (baseball, Mt. Everest, a guy with one leg, a story heard on NPR)  but nothing about anybody’s real life.
  • The language is gender exclusive – as if only men are in the room.
  • There’s an American flag in the sanctuary. (Or a Canadian flag.  Or a Swiss flag, for that matter.)
  • There’s no reference during any part of worship that anything’s happening in the world outside the congregation’s life. (Blood on the streets in Egypt.  A verdict in Florida.  Multiple kids have been shot in Chicago over the past 24 hours.)
  • During the time of sharing prayer concerns, people are identified by first names, as if we all know these people.  (“Bob’s recovering well after the kidney surgery.  But Cathy’s cousin is still having migraines.“)
  • The children’s story is way over their heads and a waste of time.  (“Repeat after me, children:  Sanctification.”
  • The preacher seems to think we are stupid.  (e.g. A reference to “Paris, which is in France.“)
  • And, at the same time, there is the assumption that we are smart about particular church rituals (e.g. A bowl is passed around throughout the worship time and nobody’s explains why.)

Apparently nobody knows where Paris is but everybody knows about the bowl.

See?  I can be pretty snarky.

Worship’s not always like this.  All it takes is somebody – even one person – being real.

One of the reasons that Nadia Bolz Weber is such a popular speaker and her church enjoys a steady flow of visitors/tourists, is because she is authentic and when talking about her church, she describes something authentic.  At Wild Goose recently, she said that her church – A House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver –   is “anti-excellence/pro-participation.”  They don’t do perfection.  (AHFASS fondly calls itself “Half Ass.”)

Let’s not waste that precious time when the people of God gather – whether it’s Sunday mornings or Tuesday nights – forgetting to connect with each other and our Creator/Redeemer/Sustainer, rather than going through the motions.  With a flag.  While somebody is passing around a bowl.

Image is a steeple we always see on vacation.  It blew off a church building a few years ago, and it’s still lying in the yard.  I always wonder what’s going on over there.


12 responses to “Worship That Makes Me Nuts

  1. Do you not like when preachers use manuscripts at all, or is it more a matter of how they use them?

  2. I have a bit of a problem with non-excellence, because all of your (excellent) examples seem to be examples of it. I’ve seen such dopey things happen when people who haven’t practiced and haven’t received coaching are in worship leadership roles.

    • I’m a fan of excellence but the issue is WHAT we hope will be excellent: The community? The wallpaper? The bulletin cover? The exposition of scripture? The ambiance created so we can hear God?

      • Excellence in presentation that creates the environment of mystery where we can hear God. That said, I have found myself distracted by errors of spelling, grammar, and layout in the bulletin. I am distracted by exclusively-gendered language, especially for God. I am distracted by an overly personal presider or preacher. (Once heard/saw a Christmas Eve sermon introduced by a showing off of the preacher’s red socks. Really?) One goal of excellence, for me, is to remove distractions that get between me and God.

  3. I think there’s an important distinction between reading from a manuscript and practicing your sermon. I’m with Joann on that one. There’s got to be some sort of preparation. The last time I heard a sermon from someone without any prep work (he used notecards), he used the word “um” over 78 times. His sermon was only 10 minutes long and made no sense.

    • It’s not only the sermon. I once heard a liturgist read the lyrical poetry of the only lectionary passage from Song of Solomon as if it were an engineering text. Others read the call to worship with their faces in the text and no sense of praise and delight, or the declaration of forgiveness as if it were the phone book and with no eye contact. This is not the way to convey the presence of God. There’s a reason for “excellence.” One aspect of excellence, I believe, is the ability (from practice and coaching) to get out of the text and use the whole body–“re-membering” the body in worship, to use the Wild Goose theme. One doesn’t have to dance, of course, but it’s hard to integrate reading and body without some assisted practice.

      • I agree wholeheartedly with joann. More often than not we do not work with liturgists – everyone is just happy they volunteered to do it!

  4. I find that while some can speak completely off the cuff many cannot and will lose the message. I find that using the manuscript keeps me on track however I have always practiced it both in my head and out loud (sometimes in the sanctuary or similar location) to get the feel for where I am going. Much like any public speaking, practice makes me better at really understanding how I feel – And that is conveyed to the listener. While I look at the congregation more than the manuscript, there are what I call the “moments” (i.e. more emphasis) when looking directly at the congregation while delivering the message is critical. It is in those moments where our emotion and clear feelings are shared openly with those in the congregation.

  5. Last time I checked, “liturgy” still meant work of the people. While striving for excellence is important, and that work is ongoing, there is still the work that the person in the pew must do…. distractions can be holy spots —but the distractee has to be in it to win it, as they say. Otherwise, we buy into a consumer oriented worship service trying to meet the needs of an impossible number of people and never really connecting with God. That being said, don’t know what the bowl is all about…and to manuscript or not is always going to be the divide between those are naturally eloquent on their feet and those who love words so much they would never dream of “winging it”. Seems to me the real issue is authenticity. Worship, the work of the people, that goes on week in and out, 52 times a year is a beautiful dance between congregation and facilitators, that sometimes is silly, sometimes messes up, sometimes is unexpectantly brilliant, but all times holy when all partners come to church to work. The faithful work of the people, who are committed to the community and the discipline of worship, will find the spot where excellence and fallibility collide and God will smile. That’s the point, right?

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