Dan and the First Church of the Slap-Happy

Dan Phillips cracks me up. Often. (Edit: Evidently, he cracks himself up, too, which is a vice, I think.) He also makes me think. This is a funny post, but it’s also tragic. It’s a description of his recent visit to a church apparently designed to entertain customers rather than exalt the Lord or edify the body. Sadly, that doesn’t narrow it down much; it seems that this sort of experience is becoming the norm and not the exception.

We must do better, friends, and it’s not just about slower music or instrumentation. Our services must be reverent, never clever or cute. They must be intentional, meaning (among other things) that hymns and Scripture readings should be chosen based on doctrinal content, hopefully following a particular theme. They must be Christ-focused, meaning (among other things) that we must avoid switching the attention of worshipers to ourselves (via corny jokes or throwaway comments) or to mere calendar issues (via announcements). This last issue has become a particular frustration to me lately. Following up a song about Christ’s suffering for our sins with an invitation to a church potluck just isn’t right. Don’t do it. Don’t tell those who are gazing on Christ to shift their thoughts to next week’s ice cream social. Find another way, whether making the bulletin more useful, using email, making the announcements before the service starts, or whatever. They must also be participatory. Encourage the congregation to be engaged, to worship in spirit and in truth themselves rather than merely watching or checking out. Lead them to Christ. Teach them to worship.

Irreverent, thoughtless “worship”—a breaking of the 3rd commandment as grievous as any profane exclamation—doesn’t just happen “out there.” There are plenty of fundamental churches with silly, slap-happy services. Again, we must do better.

Prayerfully and thoughtfully point people Christ-ward, then get and stay out of the way.

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22 Responses

  1. Amen, my friend. It should be constant, on-purpose worship. A couple other things that I find disconcerting are 1) offering time has become “visiting with the person next to you” time; and 2) the way that many churches treat times of prayer as transition: ushers moving, choir departing, etc.

    Offering and prayer are just as much a time of worship as the message. We would not think of allowing a bunch of talking going on or people moving around during the message. Yet, it is all worship. Through it all, we should have our attention focused directly upon the Lord.

  2. Hey, Andrew. Good thoughts. We don’t have the offering problem, as we use a box in the back. You’re right that it needs to be seen as an act of worship, though, and a time of giving during the service can highlight that fact. As for moving during prayer or hymns, we’re trying to get away from that, too. Even having the choir move during the last verse of a hymn is distracting, I think.

    Part of our problem is, as Dan said, people are afraid of silence in church. Why is that?

    One more concern: I’ve been in services in which a pianist has ministered to the body by playing appropriate, Christ-honoring hymns during the Lord’s Table. But I’ve also been in services in which I think the pianist’s goal was to impress us with his/her ability to improvise. What a dreadful thing to do, and at the worst possible time! I’ve thought absolute silence might be the best thing during that sacred time. Thoughts?

  3. I agree. No music at all is much better than music played to impress. We still have the piano playing during the Lord’s Supper, but that is because our pianist does a great job of not allowing it to become about her. I think that we need to get with all of our musicians and train them in worship.

    This can also be very distracting during an invitation. We generally have no piano playing during the invitation. That is a time to respond in prayer (in conversion, confession, and consecration) to the preaching of the Word. I do not want anything to distract from that.

    Needless to say, nobody comes to our church for the entertainment value :)

  4. Hi Chris,

    I have never bought the argument against announcements. The main worship service is the main gathering of the body, so we use that time to make announcements. We do it after an opening song and a prayer. Whatever. I know I am not ‘hip’ to the latest trends but I can’t remember ever caring about that.

    Now if you were talking about the “turn around and greet everybody and turn the service into five minutes of pandemonium”, I’d be right with you. There is nothing I dislike in the typical worship service more than that.

    Regards
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. Don,

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with making announcements. You are right about the main worship service being the main gathering of the people and the best time to have everyone there together. But why not do it before you begin the corporate worship? Why break in after you have already begun to turn everyone’s focus on to the Lord in prayer and an opening song to speak of more trivial matters?

  6. (Edit: Evidently, he cracks himself up, too, which is a vice, I think.)

    One which you don’t share, right?

  7. Here’s why I don’t do announcements first. People aren’t paying attention first. After the first song and the opening prayer, we have their attention (mostly).

    And there is no difference between secular and sacred, all things the church does in keeping with its ministry are sacred things, even announcements.

    That’s just my view, I don’t think it is a matter of right and wrong.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. Everybody has to make announcements at some point. I get that. My preference is to not direct people Christ-ward, then direct them toward things much more mundane. A deacon pointed it out to me years ago. We had people meditating on Christ’s death through the Scripture reading and hymns, then I step up and ask them to think about our fall fellowship. It just wasn’t done well. Anyway, designing a service to intentionally keep people’s attention on Christ is hardly new-fangled or trendy.

    And one more thing: that whole “secular and sacred” thing—that “every bush is a burning bush”—drives me nuts. The implications of that reasoning for a worship service are incredible. Blech.

  9. Hey, no problem. We are not talking about a thing that the Scriptures mandate one way or another. But I am decidedly low church in my view of the body, and am happy to maintain it so. I don’t agree with the more high church notions of some regular bloggers in our ‘circle’ (i.e., the blogs where each of us seem to find each other regularly). This is one area where we will have to disagree (whether we agree to do so or not!)

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  10. I agree, Don. Not something worth fussing about. Worth thinking about, though.

    That “sacred & secular” thing still bugs me, though, regardless of who said it. ;-)

  11. Don, your reasoning troubles me. It is not clear how the secular/sacred principle is relevant here. No one is asserting that getting information to the congregation is somehow secular and forbidden. The issue is how and when it should occur, which the secular/sacred principle does not seem to address. Moreover, were the principle applicable, your argument seems to imply to much, e.g., suggesting that it would be equally acceptable to put the announcements in the midst of the sermon or between the sermon and the invitation. I am not suggesting that you would agree with this result, just that this is where the reasoning goes.

    Even more, however, I am concerned with the implied emphasis in your argument. You indicate that you are delaying announcements because folks are not paying attention at first and that you are instead having announcements after the first song and prayer when you have the attention of most. Such a choice seems to attach a greater importance, at least implicitly, on folks’ attention to the announcements than on their attention to the first song and the prayer. I am not saying that is what you consciously think or espouse, but that is what the actions suggest.

  12. I thought the same things as Brent. (Which should probably scare Brent.)

  13. Ok, let’s first of all acknowledge that we are making arguments, which means that we tend to overstate our cases. I would generally not make an announcement in the middle of the message, but I am not totally opposed to it in principle. I can think of some scenarios where it would be completely appropriate.

    Secondly, my statement on sacred/secular is not to say that those I am arguing against are saying announcements are secular, but rather to point out that everything a Christian (or church) does is, or should be, holy. Including announcements. Now it may be that we could do a better job at holiness in announcement time. And announcement time can be repetitive, uninteresting and a negative in a service, no doubt about it. But… I don’t think that it has to be. And I think a lot of the dissatisfaction with servicer order with respect to announcements is a good deal overblown.

    It does seem to me that some of the anxiety over service order and component parts is part and parcel of a desire to ‘feel worship’. I am not much on feeling. If feelings come, I am not against them, but I am not trying to manufacture a feeling per se. I am conducting worship. I think every part of the service is worship – songs, prayer, announcements, offering, preaching.

    My brother’s church practices the box in the back thing you mentioned, Chris, but he readily admits that the act of worship in giving the offering loses something. (He inherited the practice and hasn’t bothered to change it.) I was in a very large church this summer that follows this practice. The thing that impressed me the most about the service was how often they mentioned the boxes in the back. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed to add a fairly carnal flavour to the proceedings. When you pass the plate, you just pray and pass it. Everyone knows what it is for.

    So… my point in this is that I think some people make too much of the order of service. While it shouldn’t be just the pastor scratching out a few hymn numbers on the back of an envelope before he steps in the pulpit (at least, not all of the time!), I think you can err on the other extreme as well.

    I am not in favour of chaos, but I don’t find announcements to be the anathema that some seem to. I can remember when churches began to change that — it was the trendy thing to do. So was the handshaking bit, my pet peeve. I think that a lot of the reasons we have for making changes like this is not so much because of any real conviction one way or another, but because it is the latest trend. But that is not to say things must always be done a certain way. Some churches don’t do announcements at all, just leave them in the bulletin. Personally, I think that is crazy, knowing group dynamics. How many people actually read bulletins? At least if you have it both in the bulletin and in a verbal announcement time, you have a maybe 50/50 shot the people might remember it. Maybe.

    I hope that adds a little more insight into what I am trying to say.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  14. I am not sure the relevance to the argument whether to announce or not to announce in the morning service. CBC will have some sort of announcement if it is of a serious nature (i.e. sudden illness, death, etc.). Sometimes there will be an announcement left out of the bulletin (i.e. an unscheduled elder meeting / trustee meeting / WMF meeting), and someone will make sure it is announced from the pulpit. However, there is no scheduled Sunday morning “announcement” time in the order of service at CBC. Our announcements are made in the evening service.

    FWIW!

  15. Chris: Not scared at all. :)

    Don, I do not know who the “we” group is, but I do not share the notion that a tendency to overstate the case is implicit in argument–that sounds more like poor argument to me. Christians, of all people, need to think well, reason well, and argue well.

    As to whether dissatisfaction about announcements is overblown, should we not consider carefully the reasoning behind the dissatisfaction? If the objection is founded largely on tradition, the “we have always done it that way” objection, I would tend to agree. But what about those who rightly approach the issue from first principles, considering carefully the person and character of God, the meaning and obligation of worship, and the key purposes of the service? Are their concerns overblown?

    I was just looking at my notes from a sermon on worship that I preached early this year, and it brought to my mind the following statement of A.W. Tozer:

    In my opinion, the great single need of the moment is that light-hearted superficial religionists be struck down with a vision of God high and lifted up, with His train filling the temple. The holy art of worship seems to have passed away like the Shekinah glory from the tabernacle. As a result, we are left to our own devices and forced to make up the lack of spontaneous worship by bringing in countless cheap and tawdry activities to hold the attention of the church people. (Tozer, Keys to the Deeper Life (Zondervan, 1957), pp. 87-88.)

    As to feelings, I do not want to manufacture feelings, either. However, I am convinced that feelings will naturally follow when Christians get a vision of God and of proper worship.

  16. But what about those who rightly approach the issue from first principles, considering carefully the person and character of God, the meaning and obligation of worship, and the key purposes of the service? Are their concerns overblown?

    But who is to say that these are right approaches? Yes, I do think that these concerns are mostly overblown.

    Basically, it gets down to this: it is one thing to state that “we do/don’t do something in our services for the following reasons….” but it is quite another thing to say that what you do [i.e., include the announcements within the service, etc] is not right.

    Those who include announcements [or whatever particular practice you don’t like] may have a serious reason for doing so. They may have thought about the issues and made their own decisions.

    I will grant you that my criticism of the handshaking bit may make me seem like the pot calling the kettle black… I repent! But I still don’t care for it and haven’t ever used it in our services. We do have a coffee fellowship between our AM service and Sunday School and lunch every Sunday between our Sunday School and afternoon service. Coffee and food [the Baptist sacraments!!] are far superior to interrupting the service with handshaking, it seems to me! (But others may not think so).

    As I think about our discussion on this thread, I am wondering if we should really be defining worship solely as that which approaches Isaiahic visions. I wonder if that is the message of the NT. (That is not to say I endorse superficial Christianity.)

    Ok, I’ll quit. It’s late. Just got back from the mainland attending a wonderful ordination council and fellowshipping with some good men at the meeting. Time to quit. Not sure if any of the above makes sense!

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  17. But who is to say that these are right approaches?

  18. I have no idea what happened to my last comment. It just decided to post before I was done. Obviously I was highlighting something that Don wrote. My questions are: What could possibly be wrong with the approach set forth by Brent? If it could possibly be the wrong approach, what would be the right approach?

  19. Is there anything wrong with the approach Brent sets forth? Not necessarily. I think this is an area where we have soul liberty and certainly autonomous churches may practice what they like.

    But let me point out that Chris began the discussion with

    Following up a song about Christ’s suffering for our sins with an invitation to a church potluck just isn’t right. Don’t do it. Don’t tell those who are gazing on Christ to shift their thoughts to next week’s ice cream social.

    Is a potluck [for example] not part of the life of the body? Is Christ pleased or not pleased by such activities? How is such body life not part of worship?

    Each one of us has to approach the question of service order and content for ourselves. I am mainly trying to point out that serious believers can make differing decisions on the question, since we have no mandate from the New Testament concerning our liturgy.

    Regards,
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  20. Don,

    Thanks for the profitable discussion. Have a wonderful Lord’s Day tomorrow.

  21. I agree that Scripture does not mandate a precise form and order of service. However, I understand Scripture to teach principles that will guide what we should do, and I do not see that we have liberty to ignore these principles — I think this is a key point on which we differ.

    I pray that the Lord will guide us all in these areas. May you each have a blessed Lord’s Day.

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