Tag Archives: ministry

Have church people stopped singing?

It seems to me that church people don’t sing like they used to.

First, a few caveats:

  1. I really don’t know about churches aside from the ones we visit and when we visit we generally visit Nazarenes and their kin.
  2. Of course, I don’t know about YOUR church – maybe people there sing to the top of their lungs.
  3. And, of course, I’m not talking about YOU.  You may be on the Praise Team with a microphone and singing loud and strong throughout the worship service.

Now, with all that out of the way, let me tell you what I’m seeing.  We are pretty much professional church visitors through most of the year.  The worship service in the vast majority of the churches we visit looks and sounds pretty much the same:

  1. There’s a Praise Band: guitar, keyboard, bass, drums – maybe other keyboard instruments (in interest of full disclosure, I play bass guitar whenever I am asked)
  2. There are singers with microphones who sing with energy
  3. The words are on the screen
  4. Everyone is standing anytime there is music being played

So far so good.  We have music being played – generally well played.  We have leaders who are singing out.  We have the words and, most often, a repeatable melody.

But very few people are singing.  Usually, the church leaders are really into it: hands and faces raised in worship.  Scattered around the congregation are others who are singing along.  However, they are the minority.  My most generous estimate is that 1 in 10 worshipers are singing.  Everyone else is just standing there.

Maybe that’s not all bad.  Maybe they are carefully listening to the words, reading them on the screen and being deeply moved by it all.  I don’t know their hearts and I understand that it’s really none of my business.  My business is to be in the moment, turning my thoughts and spirit away from the mundane things of life and focusing on the Lord.

However, my hip starts aching after a while and it starts feeling to me like we’re saying the same words over and over again.  I can’t help but wonder how much longer we’re going linger at this particular stage of worship.

So, I start looking around, being impressed by the sincerity of the folks who are, apparently, really into the worship service.  But I also note that a lot of folks are just standing there like me.

I know I’m one of the senior citizens now and the old people always complain that things used to be better – longing for the good old days.  I don’t want to be one of those people.   I think the point could be made that people just don’t sing any more.  Rather, they go to concerts, stand and listen while people on stage do the singing.  I’m convinced that the concert goers aren’t there for a show, and they really do worship.  Maybe when those concert goers go to church they treat the worship service as another Christian music concert.  They are there to worship but not to sing.

Still, I keep going back to a worship service we attended  in a large church a couple of years ago.  We were near the front, center and, yes, we were standing for the whole song service.  There was a Praise Band and singers with microphones and words on the screens.  There was also a pipe organ and grand piano.  And we were singing a 250 year old Wesley hymn.

The congregation was singing their hearts out.  At first I joined in, singing bass as best I could.  Then I became overwhelmed and had to stop singing.  I just stood there letting the sound of all the voices wash over me.

I miss being part of a congregation that sings like that.

And, by the way, my hip didn’t hurt at all that day.

Pastor, this is real commitment

2014 – Oysterville Historic Church – Near Long Beach, WA (not the church in the story)

I heard a pastor deliver a heartfelt message calling for his congregation to really commit to the church.  He told the church that he had had opportunities to go elsewhere, including a return to his home area to a previous pastorate.  However, he had turned it down because he was committed to this current church.  Then, at the conclusion of the message all those in attendance were invited to join the pastor in his commitment by coming forward as a testimony to their allegiance.

Frankly, there was nothing wrong with any of this.  However, having known many of those laypersons for over 20 years I couldn’t help but smile to myself.  If anyone was qualified to call anyone to real commitment to the local church it was several of those laypersons.  They have already proven themselves faithful.  Several, for a lifetime.  They stayed true to that church through a series of pastors who after a while had declared that the Lord was calling them elsewhere.  They hung in there through some hard times when others moved on to a church down the street.

These were the people who had financially supported the church through the years.  They gave of their time by teaching Sunday School, working in VBS, leading Bible Quiz programs, and showing up for church work days.  They showed up for choir rehearsals and took a turn mowing the church lawn.

Meanwhile, pastors had come and gone.  Some retiring and others just packing up to continue their ministry elsewhere.  Listen, I know that that happens.  I do believe that there comes a time when a person needs to move on in their ministry – often for reasons they, themselves, don’t understand.  Circumstances change and both church and pastor can benefit from a healthy change.  Also, in my own ministry, especially in my younger years, I ran out of gas way too early in more than one assignment.  Happily, and to my credit (I think) my stays got longer as I matured in my ministry.

I also understand that some church people need to make a decision and quit playing church.  Some folks have been around the church for years and are still hanging out in the shallows rather than fully committing to the Lord and his Church.  They need to be challenged to go deeper in their spiritual lives.

Still, as I watched those who are prime examples of commitment and faithfulness respond to that sermon I couldn’t help but think things were the reverse of what they should have been.  It was those people who should have been challenging the pastor to commitment.  They should have been on the platform inviting him to come forward and accept their example.

Or, maybe said better, the good pastor should have told his congregation that the example of many in the congregation had inspired him and, as a result, he was committing to them to join them in their faithfulness.  I really doubt that some of them could be more committed to their church than they already are, and have proven over the decades.

Many churches are full of dedicated people who love their church and continue to sacrifice time, talent, and treasure.  We can only hope for pastors who will join them in that commitment.

Preaching for decisions: know when to land the sermon

I heard a well-prepared, well-delivered sermon that was intended to conclude with an invitation. As the sermon was finished a sweet spirit was evident in the service and I fully expected to see several people respond. The case had been made and the Spirit of the Lord was at work.

But the preacher wouldn’t land the sermon! Instead, we heard one more story followed by yet another application. By the time people were actually given opportunity to respond the moment had faded and the response was meager.

There are two points in the sermon that especially need to be well thought through by the preacher. The first is the first part of the sermon. The other is the closing of the sermon.

I’m not saying that sermons should never include “in flight” direction of the Holy Spirit, even at crucial points (like leading to a call for decisions). However, the preacher needs to be careful to leave the Spirit room to work in the hearts of the listeners and be leery of telling “one more story.”

Contemporary Worship: things that bug me

No, I’m not going to complain about the style of music or being asked to stand through the song -er- worship service. Here are three contemporary worship services practices that I am seeing that bug me.

  1. Volume of instruments in the praise band. This may surprise you, but I’m not talking about the music being too loud. We seldom come away from a service in a church of our flavor (Church of the Nazarene) thinking the music is too loud. What I do hear fairly often, though, is unbalanced volume from the various instruments in the band. Often, even when the stage has several instruments, the only two I can hear clearly are the strumming of the worship leader on the guitar and the drummer. If you closed your eyes you would think that was all there was: no keyboard, no bass, no second guitar. Of course there are variations to that. Sometimes the music guy plays keyboard and it’s the keyboard you hear. Really, if you are going to recruit instrumentalists to your praise band and have them come to rehearsal it’s reasonable that your music and sound people work together to balance the sound. Obviously, there are exemptions – maybe you have a not-so-talented musician that you want to encourage by having them sit in. Aside from that, though, an effort needs to be made to equalize the sound.
  2. Self-serve communion. It is becoming more common to put the communion elements out and announce to the congregation that during the next song they can come and receive communion if they want. I can’t tell you what poor symbolism I think this is. Communion isn’t a self-serve event. It isn’t an “if you want it” kind of ordinance. Just continuing with the music portion of the service as though communion is just a side line misses the mark. I love communion and I think it has enough spiritual “weight” to hold it’s own in a service. I don’t mind the ritual being updated in some reasonable ways, but I want the pastor to lend his/her authority to the serving of the sacrament.  It bugs me to hear the pastor taking time to do announcements as though that is really important stuff but leaving the serving of the Lord’s Supper on automatic as though it’s just an optional part of that Sunday’s worship service.
  3. Preaching from floor level rather than the platform. I understand the desire of pastors to be informal and approachable during the sermon. I understand that in a contemporary worship service the speaker doesn’t want to appear preachy. Apparently, a lot of pastors have decided that, not only do they not want a pulpit, but they want to be down front rather than on the stage looking down on people. But let me tell you what happens out in the seats: some of us spend the whole sermon trying to look around the people in front of us. After awhile I gain a whole new appreciation for Zacchaeus of New Testament fame who climbed a tree so he could get a glimpse of Jesus. If the speaker would just stand on the platform we could all see him or her. Some pastors think they are enhancing their communication effort by staying off the platform, but I think they are shooting themselves in the foot by creating an absolutely unnecessary distraction.

Any time I see young adults in the church who are really into worship it blesses my heart and I’m happily convinced that a lot of contemporary churches are doing a lot of things right.  Still, I have to confess that these things bug me.

How about you?

Thinking about pastor appreciation

Once again we’re in October, the month set aside in many churches for pastor appreciation.  This is my first October in many years to not be appreciated!  The reason is that I retired last May.  I think this gives me a unique perspective on pastor appreciation month.

Through the years I’ve been blessed in so many wonderful and undeserved ways by the congregations I’ve led.  One of my favorite honors was being given tickets to very good seats at a ball game.  Another year we were given a DVD filled with words of appreciation by members of our congregation.  Of course gift cards and cash are always welcome gifts.

I think pastors with children are especially blessed by being given a night out, including babysitting and the cost of a nice meal together.

Thinking in more general ways about pastoral care I think many pastors need to be encouraged to take some time off.   These days most pastors have spouses who work outside the home.  That means that their household seldom, if ever, gets time off together.  Say the spouse works a Monday-Friday job.  However, the pastor’s busiest days are Saturday and Sunday.  That means they never get a morning to sleep in or enjoy some “us time” around the house.  One way to bless your pastor is to arrange for your parsonage family to enjoy a long weekend once in a while.

Finally, I’ll let you in on a little secret.  Most pastors put a great deal of work into their sermons, Bible studies, etc.  They may not openly admit it, but a lack of interest by their laypeople in this element of their ministry is rather painful.  Pastors notice when ushers receive the offering and then disappear out to the church foyer for the rest of the service (specifically, for the sermon).  They notice when people skip other services, like prayer meetings and Bible studies.  It’s one thing to give the pastor an appreciation card during the month of October and something much better to allow the pastor to minister to you, fulfilling the calling of God on their life.  One of the best ways to show appreciation for your pastor is to show an interest in their ministry.  Stated rather bluntly, if you appreciate the pastor, stop hurting him or her by displaying a lack of interest in their preaching and teaching ministry.

An old preacher’s line is “saying ‘amen’ to a preacher is like saying sik’em to a dog.”  In the context of pastor appreciation I’d say that letting your pastor minister to you and then, after the service, shaking his or her hand and telling them that you appreciated their sermon is where pastor appreciation starts.

Church Website Advice

These days Jackie and I are enjoying visiting lots of different churches.  Every week or two we are in a different place and ready to join some congregation in worship.  Being Nazarenes our first choice is one of our own tribe although I am quick to add that we’ve enjoyed fellowship in a variety of groups.

Sometimes we’ve driven past a church nearby and have stopped to check out any church sign for information, but most of the time we head for the internet.  The results are a real mixed bag.  I’ve seen church websites that looked terrific and I’ve hunted for church information only to come up empty.  I’ve found lots of good, current information and I’ve found some nice looking websites that are horribly out of date.

So here are a few words of advice concerning your church web site:

  1. If you don’t have a web site get one!  Listen, whether or not you are interested in the Internet, most people are.  Not having a website today is equal to not being in the phone book 10 years ago.  You NEED a website.
  2. If you post current events keep them current.  Listing last year’s Christmas party as current says bad things about your church.  Compare it to not having the grass mowed at the church – it speaks of not caring, not being organized, and of neglect.
  3. If you aren’t going to keep the site current then DON’T post any current events.  Turn the website into a billboard for the church with only static information including some of the things I’m about to list.
  4. Post your service times and make them easy to find.
  5. Post your church address and include directions.  It’s amazing how many church websites never bother to name their state.  Put complete directions, and make them easy to find.
  6. If you want to do more, a really nice thing to do is include some photos, especially of the church in worship.  My wife often wonders what the ladies wear to church.  She knows that we will be welcome even if we don’t quite meet the local dress code, but she wants to fit in.  Photos of people in a regular worship service help a lot.

Remember, people DO look you up on the Internet.  Don’t just have a Facebook page – not everyone can see it.  DON’T let someone’s nephew who is a whizbang at doing fancy webpages do yours.  It needs to look on purpose and grown up.  Simple with relevant information is better than impressive and out of date because no one who actually cares about the church’s image has a clue as to how to update the page and the nephew is long gone.  You can have a reasonable, easy to maintain, easy to Google website for very little money.  Really, trust me, you NEED a website that meets at least certain minimum standards.

 

I’m glad Peter said Sarah called Abraham “Master”

1 Peter 3:5-6 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6  like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

I’m glad Peter said Sarah called Abraham “Master.”  Before you start laughing at me let me explain why. Peter is obviously writing to his own culture here. No preacher in his right mind would suggest that this is God’s mandate for women everywhere and for all time.  You see the writers of the Bible often apply principles to their on their own culture and that’s what’s happening here.  I have to be careful that I don’t fall into the “The Bible says it and that settles it” trap.  Remember that Paul tells Timothy that we’re to be good students, rightly applying the Word of God to our lives

This “Master” business highlights how important that is.  Am I to take this statement literally, and insist that all wives must, from now on call heir husbands “Master” or do I look at the culture of the Bible, the culture today, and find the principle in play here?  I think “the principle” approach is the one we want, so what is it?  That makes things easy: it’s a beautiful thing when a wife loves and respects her husband – that’s it!  Easy!

Let’s take it one step farther.  It’s my belief that the few passages of the N.T. in which women are limited in some way (be silent, don’t teach, wear long hair) are based on good principles being applied to local cultural concerns.  That principle is that people aren’t to demand their rights if their doing so somehow hinders the spread of the gospel.  Otherwise, there’s a broader Christian principle to apply: Galatians 3:28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

God works in the lives of women the same as he does in the lives of men, using them for his purposes – for the advancement of his Kingdom on earth

Peter also tells women “do not give way to fear.”  I think these words are especially meaningful in our society today.  On one hand, Christian women hear the call of what might be labeled radical feminism – “claim your rights” — “you’re just as capable, or even more capable than men, don’t let them walk all over you.”

On the other hand, Christian women hear the call of Christian fundamentalists: “the Bible says for you to keep quiet.”  Women of God find themselves in the middle.  On one hand it’s not about our “rights.”  On the other hand we want to be careful to read and understand the principles behind what the Bible says.

So we take hits from both sides.  Without joining the battles and not being afraid of what people say or think and we focus on getting the Good News of the Gospel preached.