This is post number 41 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 #41: Now that I no longer receive a paycheck to go to church, I understand the desire to keep contemporary worship services to 75 minutes or fewer.
When I was a paid staff member at six different churches for most of my adult life, I never in a million years would have written the above statement without the dependent clause that begins the sentence. I knew enough about church history to assert that many believers in bygone eras devoted great swaths of their entire Sundays to corporate worship. The Sundays of my childhood and youth were spent in church most of the day–by the time you factored in Sunday School, morning worship, late-afternoon youth group, and evening worship. And some worshiping communities still today make corporate worship the focal point of lengthy and sustained time spent together each weekend as the Body of Christ (many African-American churches, for example).
I confess that when I was the staff member primarily in charge of worship service orders, I bristled internally whenever lay leaders (usually elders or deacons) raised concerns about service length. To my shame, I shamed them with unvoiced-but-deeply-felt holier-than-thou sentiments that equated the fervency of their faith walks with their willingness to support corporate worship that, on occasion, lasted for for an hour and a half or a bit longer. Now that I am a “mere” parishioner, I find myself looking at my watch with much greater frequency when services stray beyond the 75 minutes that seem to represent the de facto time limit for contemporary worship in evangelical America. I think more about how to get to the parking lot most efficiently, about where we might go out to lunch when the service concludes, about all kinds of other things that rarely crossed my mind when I was leading worship and wanting to emphasize one kernel of truth from the pastor’s sermon in my spoken introduction to the closing song.
In other words, now that I’m no longer praying about, laboring over, and rehearsing through worship services–when I’m, frankly, just showing up on Sunday morning in various stages of unpreparedness like the vast majority of lay congregants–I find (surprise) that my knee-jerk expectations for what transpires and (for the purposes of this post) how long it will all take have changed. In theory, my doctoral studies in worship inform each worship experience I attend, and not insignificantly; in practice, now that I’m not leading worship for a living each weekend, the degree doesn’t factor in all the time–and, when it does, it sometimes is the lens through which I justify a critical spirit.
I confess this here because I guess, especially as I started my grad-school worship studies, I wish somebody had taken me aside with greater regularity and reminded me that shepherds generally have much more success when they guide graciously, and not much when they push indignantly (or while smiling through gritted teeth). Dr. Darrell Harris, founding chaplain of the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, warned my classmates and me in the summer of 2003 that the education upon which we would soon embark would “ruin” us for ministry if we weren’t careful. He was right, and I wish I had sought his counsel a lot more than I did re: how to deal with that.
Worship leaders, it’s so hard to put ourselves in the mindset of our church family members (who, if we’re brutally honest, usually do not–and can not–care about corporate worship as much as we do). I would encourage you to try to do so much more often than I did when I was a worship leader.
Blessings for the starts of your ministry years this weekend. The Lord be with you!