Reflection #23 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 23 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 #23: There is a slew of very good communicators pastoring churches large, small, and in between these days–men and women who really preach well.  Are we praying for them with any semblance of regularity?

Sometimes these kinds of things are wholly coincidence; then sometimes they’re holy coincidence.  To wit, I’m two days late with this post due to busyness.  And the next-in-line reflection, observed well over a year ago, concerns the general excellence of pulpit communication in the contemporary American church and the need for us to be praying for our pastors.  And my (trying-to-be) daily devotions found me in Proverbs 11 today: verse 2, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”; verse 14, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.”

And then the news broke this morning that another famous Chicagoland pastor has finally fallen . . . after years of allegations by wounded former members intensified in recent months, culminating in a media outing that, if the details reported by several independent and reputable sources are accurate, defies the imagination.  And this came on the heels of the horrific report from the Houston Chronicle a few days back about 20 years’ worth of sexual abuse by ministers in the Southern Baptist Convention, actions elmer_gantry_burt_lancaster[1]brought to light enough times in other religious arenas that they don’t, distressingly enough, defy the imagination anymore.  A casual historian of the 22nd century, surveying the landscape of American Christendom of the current era, might conclude that our pulpits are filled with nothing but Elmer Gantrys.

In the year or so since the #ChurchToo movement gained national prominence, the blogosphere has exploded with socio-cultural examinations of how we got here–what mistakes, especially the lack of meaningful oversight, paved this road to destruction and what sins came to flourish in celebrity pastors’ incubators of isolation fostered by the absence of accountability.  These explorations will prove beneficial, no doubt, in the years to come, as elder boards craft better checks and balances for their ministry leaders.  What can we do to help in the meantime and well beyond?

We can pray, and a lot more than most of us (myself included) do, specifically for our pastors.  Although I never was a senior pastor, I worked closely and on staff with six, and I saw the toll–physical, emotional, and spiritual–it took on each.  Simply put, being a pastor can be, and often is, a brutal and thankless gig.  Even ministry among folks who are on track in their spiritual walks can be tough, given our human sin nature (“prone to wander, Lord, [we] feel it”), but how often are any congregations collectively clicking on all cylinders, en masse?  You don’t for a second have to condone any of the behavior alluded to above to recognize, also, that all our pastors face serious spiritual opposition.  The enemy hates the work of all Christian-ministry leaders, and his forces are strong.  So I am saddened but not surprised when pastors fall or leave the Church burned out beyond recognition; I am most saddened to recognize the woeful insufficiency of my prayers for my pastors over the years.

Worship leaders, all of this makes your role so much more critical than it might otherwise appear.  I close by reprising a thought I had a while ago in this space, like Bach, borrowing from myself when what you created before can be utilized equally well at the moment:

The thought comes from Andy Crouch, itinerant speaker and author of a slew of books, including Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.  My wife and I have of late found Crouch’s words to be prophetic for our times.  I commend his entire Q talk (Andy Crouch on power) to you, but the phrase that stopped me in my tracks the first time I heard it was this:  “[Power], if left unchecked by worship, [will] destroy me, my marriage, and anything I have to give to the world.”

No one goes into Christian service of any kind assuming the allure of whatever power eventually accompanies the position will inevitably bring down the ministry . . . but to assume said allure won’t, at least, prove problematic and need to be brought into check at regular points in the process denies the reality of human nature.  May all of us in positions of leadership in the Church Universal align ourselves with wise counselors who can–graciously but forcefully–keep us rooted and, especially, humble.  And may we pursue authentic worship with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength . . . for all kinds of holy and righteous reasons, but, for the purposes of this topic, because doing so is our best defense against our abuse of power.

Church, let’s covenant to pray more effectively and fervently for our pastors.  Worship leaders, help keep us all in check with your prayerful and focused facilitation of our worship.  The Lord be with us all!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Holy expectation (or the lack thereof) in contemporary worship.

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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