Reflection #14 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 14 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #14: Pulpits are endangered species in the contemporary American church . . .

. . . which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The average old-school church pulpit weighs–I don’t know–500 lbs.  It’s cumbersome, hard to move.  It swallows up smaller preachers, bringing to life the phrase “talking head.”  Preachers still need a place to put their Bible, sermon notes, and, er, water bottles, though, so the modern “pulpit” across the spectrum of the contemporary American church tends to be a round, high-top table, very much like the kind you see at your trendy, neighborhood dining establishment.

What’s to like about this?  Plenty.  Basic communication theory, covered a few blog posts ago, posits that removing (or muting or lessening) physical obstacles that stand between the sender (in this case, the preacher) and the audience (here, the congregation) increases the effectiveness of that communication.  Speaking from a high-top table, as opposed to a fortress-like pulpit, gives the preacher a more direct visual line to the congregation, removing (or at least mitigating) a barrier to the successful dissemination of the sermon/homily/testimony.

What’s not to like about this?  Not much, but I do offer a caution.  Healthy worship balances God’s transcendence (His “otherworldliness”; “God of wonders, beyond our galaxy”) with His immanence (His omnipresence; “He’s only a prayer away”).  Contemporary worship already leans, hard, in the direction of promoting God’s immanence.  Churches that use high-top tables in place of pulpits would do well to find other ways to convey God’s transcendence in their worship services.


Judson University President Dr. Gene Crume with honored Professor Emeritus Dr. Stuart “Doc” Ryder, Judson University Homecoming 2018

On a completely different subject, this past weekend was Homecoming at Judson University, both my alma mater and my employer.  Academic year 2018-2019 marks the 50th year of service for one of the three father figures in my life–the other two being my own father and Dr. Ed Thompson, Judson’s first choir director (both of whom have been acknowledged at other times in this blog).  Dr. Stuart Ryder, 88, universally known and loved as “Doc” on Judson’s campus, received a special commendation for his innumerable contributions to the Kingdom and Judson University over the course of the past 50 years.

The commendation came with a proclamation, with a series of “Whereas” statements, as is common, and I thought I would cite a few of them here, concluding with an exhortation based thereupon:

Whereas Doc Ryder, having lived in the campus apartments for roughly 35 of his 50 years at Judson, quickly became a fixture at and a promoter of all manner of extra-curricular campus activities, including hosting an annual Halloween party, acting in several Judson theatre productions, lip-synching for annual talent shows (“When You Wish upon a Star” being particularly memorable), and attending all manner of concerts and recitals—thereby embodying the notion that a professor’s influence, should that professor wish it to be so, can extend well beyond the classroom;

Whereas, indeed, Doc Ryder has served as mentor to hundreds of Judson students over the years and counts missionaries, pastors, business executives, civic leaders, and educators of all stripes among his protégés;

And whereas Doc Ryder has with great regularity and generous philanthropy supported numerous Judson University causes—included among them the Harm A. Weber Academic Center, the baseball program, the Communication Arts Conference, and the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts, particularly the renovation of the space that became “Doc Ryder” Studio B. . . .

There were others, mostly related to academic initiatives and committee participation, but these three get to the core of Doc’s influence over the years–as I have witnessed it from the vantage point of student, colleague, and friend.  The willingness to give of oneself and one’s resources undergirds all three of the examples, and it motivates me to similar ministry as God gives the strength, Christ provides the ultimate example, and the Holy Spirit grants the inspiration.

Worship leaders, I encourage you, if you don’t have one already, to seek out a mentor who can speak truth and encouragement to you.  Don’t “Lone Ranger” worship ministry.  That’s a recipe for disaster, at worst, and burnout, at best.  Once you have a mentor and have worked with him/her for a while, then look for ways to “pay it forward” to a younger person who’s a member of a generation one or two behind yours.  Simultaneously being mentored and mentoring sets you up for much fruit in your ministry!

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Pastors and GQ.


About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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