Traveling as we do we see different approaches to the elements of worship. That’s especially true when we visit churches outside our own Zion, but often even different churches of our own denomination have approaches to things that are new to us.
We visited one church in which the bulletin directed us to receive the elements whenever we wanted upon receiving them. They passed the trays and most everyone received them immediately. Those in the front of the church got theirs first, received them, and then waited for the service to continue. I didn’t like that very much because it seemed to take the “union” out of comm-union for me.
Other churches may instruct people to wait for further instructions but they have a congregational song going throughout the distribution of elements. At one place the minister was almost shouting over the praise band, instructing us to “take and eat.” I found myself wanting to say “hush!” to the singers so I could not only contemplate what the Lord did and is doing for me but also hear what the minister was saying.
Since I believe this sacrament is, indeed, “a means of grace” I want to be given a bit of spiritual space when I receive it. Time spent holding the symbols of our Lord’s broken body and shed blood while others are being served is one way that can happen. Also, some quiet time, maybe with just some soft instrumental music, helps me listen to the “still, small voice” of God.
There are a lot of great Easter songs, both old and new. However, I think my all time favorite is Robert Lowry’s “Christ Arose.” “Up from the grave he arose” never fails to get my spiritual heart to pumping! This old song, to me, captures the resurrection with powerful words and a simple melody that the congregation can sing with joyful abandon.
But many churches don’t know how to sing it!
The song is supposed to contrast between “low in the grave he lay” and “up from the grave he arose.” The verse is “in the grave.” It’s a funeral song. The chorus is Easter resurrection: victory over the grave. It’s exciting and joyful – maybe even a little giddy.
The verse and chorus aren’t supposed to be sung at the same speed. Stated simply, sing the chorus at twice the speed of the verse. Don’t over think it – sing the chorus like you are four years old at a birthday party and having the time of your life.
Then, Lowry ingeniously puts the brakes on with the final lines of the chorus, preparing the singers to slow down again for the next verse.
Please share this with every worship leader you know who, having never heard this song sung right before, are destroying (yes, it’s an over-statement) an awesome Easter hymn!
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?