As he does so often, Steve Scott posted about something that has been troubling me, this time the centrality of the sermon in worship services (http://fromthepew.blogspot.com/2009/06/sermon-centered-life.html). I'm not a big fan of the sermon. They're too long if you ask me. You have to have three points and in our church at least two 1970s cultural references and this takes 30-40 minutes. And considering that the preacher has already done a welcome and announcements and will do a benediction and several prayers, the service begins to look a tad like the Pastor X Show.
I'm not saying our preachers' sermons aren't edifying. They're as edifying as any preaching I've ever heard. We have a couple of fine sermonizers on the staff. It's just that sermons seem to disrupt the mood set by other aspects of the service and make it even more of a spectator sport than I reckon it should be. What I'd like to see is a service without any preaching (except for those aspects of public prayer leading that are actually kind of preachy) and for the preachers to give talks on weekday evenings for as many as want to come out for some edification, admonishment, encouragement, prophecy, what have you. The public worship service could be devoted to music and prayer and fellowship instead of sitting through a lecture.
While I'm griping about worship services, let me say that I really hate it when the flow of the service is interrupted by unnecessary announcements of what we are about to do. It's all scripted in the bulletin. Everyone knows that when the liturgist starts the responsive reading, the congregation is supposed to respond by reciting the part in the bulletin where it is indicated. When the liturgist starts the group prayer, everybody already knows to read along aloud what's printed in the bulletin. When the liturgist reads the Scripture, he should just start reading. The reference is given in the bulletin, and everybody knows that they can follow along in the bulletin or the Bibles in the pews. If we didn't constantly interrupt the flow of the service, newcomers would present an opportunity for oldtimers to help them and to introduce themseves.
We already have a couple of occasions where there is no announcement as when the pastor concludes a prayer "in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray.." whereupon we recite the Lord's Prayer. The preacher doesn' stop and say "And now join with me in the Lord's Prayer as printed in your bulletins." That would ruin the moment. And when the organist or pianist starts the Doxology, nobody has to say "Now please stand and join me in singing the Doxology, the lyrics of which are printed in your bulletin." Everybody knows to stand and knows the words. (It's usually right after the choir's big offertory anthem, so I reckon it's a way to get a cheap standing ovation.)
There's no need to announce the hymns, either, but often the pastor feels obliged to say "Please turn to hymn number x in your hymnals and join me in singing." Pastors can't stand it when they're not talking. Maybe it's one of the few occasions where they get to tell people what to do following which they do it. In any event, the hymn numbers are in the bulletin and the placement of the hymns in the service is set out in the program. Moreover, the numbers are on a placard in front of the church.
What should we do with the time saved by cutting gratuitous announcements and long sermons? More participation and interaction by the congregation would be nice. Maybe some little dramas or a little more music would be nice. Maybe we could just get out on time for a change.
Another beef I have is the false dichotomy between "contemporary" and "traditional" worship. Why are we compelled to choose between a service consisting of sermon plus mindlessly repetitive praise songs flashed on a screen and a service consisting of sermon plus other more complex musical perfomances and dragging old hymns? Can't there be some common ground? Why can't the "contemporary" service feature a really impressive choral number once in a while and why can't the traditionalists be exposed to some interactive singing now and then? Let's get out of the box a little.
Finally, can we do something about the Lord's Supper? Once a month, the consistory serves up croutons and thimbles of grape juice in a really solemn ceremony that I can't help feeling is a pale exercise compared to what it might be. And stay away from the gluten free host if you don't have a problem with gluten. It's so dry that you need ten thimbles of juice to quench it. The consistory frowns on taking more than one thimble.