Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Preachers aren't usually interested in worship

Today, at lunchtime, I spoke to a ACT3 forum (a mission for advancing the Christian tradition in the third millennium). I sounded out my latest passion - that too many preachers are marginalizing worship.

That quote: "Preachers aren't usually interested in worship" came from a worship conference I attended. It shocked me. Do you think it's true? But, perhaps, preachers do see worship as:
less important,
an extra burden in a busy life,
a specialism they are not trained for,
too controversial and best left alone,
an enthusiasm best left to those who are keen
a personal pain because of poor relationships between pastors and worship leaders.

Whatever the reason (can you think of more?), I fear that preachers who belittle worship end up as tuneless preachers - preachers who "just don't get worship." I identified ten characteristics of such tuneless preachers. In rapid fire:
1. A faulty definition of worship, such as music only, or pragmatics only....
2. A thin theology of worship, that is often "practical unitarianism" rather than trinitarian.
3. Scripture fails to direct the whole of worship.
4. Patchy liturgy has little appreciation of the past - no interest in the Christian year, or patterns of worship.
5. No awareness of worship's community formation - the sermon is all that matters!
6. Sacraments or ordinances - just add-ons.
7. Culture - all too easy compromise, going after "what people want" rather than "what God desires to develop his mature people in Christ."
8. Narrative - living God's big story of creation, incarnation, and new creation is lost in bits and pieces of sermons.
9. Teaching on worship - neglected.
10. Preparation of sermons and worship - solo, with preachers isolated from worship leaders.

There were several immediate responses - John Armstrong, President and Founder of Act 3, remembered asking a mega church leader what his theology of worship was. His reply: "I didn't know there was a theology of worship!" What? An Orthodox pastor said he was writing a book in his liturgical tradition about the role of preaching - the opposite problem, he said! Another pastor said he thought that non-liturgical churches were in a good position to deepen worship experience, provided there is good teaching and collaboration. Others commented on the gap between preachers and worship leaders in churches they know.

I look forward to further comments. Please, let's keep dialogue going.


Anonymous said...

I think one problem that makes the whole situation worse is the confusion between worship and praise. All too often we narrowly define worship in our church practice as that which happens before the sermon. A time of emotional venting that makes us "feel better." What I have seen in churches is that this leads to a sense of tiredness in the leaders and the congregation because all emotions get wearisome after awhile. I would think this is true for preachers as well.

My solution, and I know this isn't perfect, would be to clearly identify the activity we do before the sermon as praise. Clearly identify this as focusing on God and some attribute or quality or activity of His. Using song, prayer, and the Word to accompish this. At the same time I would clearly teach to the body that worship isn't what we do on a Sunday morning in a service. It is as the bible defines it, a laying down of our very being to God for his service on a daily basis. That's not an emotional experience at it's core. Rather, it is an act of the will, one of rational obedience.

Anonymous said...

Too often, pastors and congregants think of a service as the combination of several discrete parts, of which the message is one. The bulletin seperates the morning's activities into its constituent parts and labels each one. You can tick them off as you go through the service. A preacher who is willing to spend the time to draw these elements together into a cohesive, singular experience understands that it is all worship, all praise. Perhaps some preachers just don't view this as their job or maybe some are not equipped to carry it out. For me the best sermons are the culmination of a worship/priase process. The service builds to a proclamation of God's Word. When this happens, the pieces are lesser than the whole.

Anonymous said...

I think you have identified a real issue .Your next book perhaps.