“You realize," he said, "that in your churches the worship service is based on performance. It's based on the performace of the preacher. It's the preacher’s job to generate the emotions that the congregation seeks. If they feel something — an emotion or an intellectual ‘aha’ moment during the delivery — the sermon is a success. The worship service stands or fails on the performance of the preacher."
Let's stop a moment and think. Have you ever thought about preaching and worship this way? How many times have you congratulated a preacher for a job well done? (Or thought about and wanted to congratulate a preacher.) How many times have you wanted to express disappointment because the message was boring or didn’t resonate with you that week?
Maybe you judge the success of the worship service on something else? Perhaps you do not look at the sermon as the centerpiece of worship but instead you look at what happens during the "praise and worship" segment. Do you find yourself pondering whether or not the praise band seemed 'anointed' this Sunday? Have you ever left deflated because the music fall flat?
Maybe you look at both the preaching and praise and worship experience. If both are “off” one week, the whole experience may feel like a waste of time.
My Baptist critic suggested in his church the focus of the worship differs dramatically from most Protestant churches. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was at least partly right. He said other things that seemed to ring true and peeked my interest and curiousity.
On another day he might say, “The Reformation came in the church, it broke all the staturary, tore down the altar, broke all the stained glass windows, white-washed the walls with paint and covered the floor in red carpet,” and this statement really got my attention. Whitewashed walls, clear windows, and red carpet described 90% of Southern Baptist Churches at that point in time.
His words really caused me to feel torn but I wasn’t sure why.
Several of us, ministry students at Mercer Atlanta, frequently attended state-wide youth ministry and Sunday School clinics at the First Baptist Church in Macon, Georgia. During breaks in the meetings several of us would “sneak” across the street to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. St. Jo’s is amazing; it’s like a small cathedral.
I loved going across the street where the beauty of the place beaconed us to visit again and again. We’d walk over and walk around the sanctuary in awe. Keep in mind, however, we were early twenty year old youth ministers and we were revolted by the thought of people actually bowing and praying to the statuary. Especially alarming was the one of Mary, the one on the side. I stop thought how shameful — the Catholic Church diefies her like a goddess. And yet, there was something about the place that felt holy. I was torn and confused by these visits.
We’d return to our seminar across the street, laughing, joking, crossing ourselves, mimicking, and mispronuncing the Latin trinitarian formula as we ran back to the safety of the Baptist church. Underneath it all, I knew something really had been lost, left behind, or rejected. I couldn’t understand what it was at the time, but I knew we needed, wanted, and desired it.
My professor was right: the Reformation went too far. Worship relied far too much on individual human performance. Something wasn’t right. These were the first two clues.
What was missing? How could it be recovered and restored?
This question haunted me for years. Have you ever wondered about this? Have you ever taken in the grandeur of a cathedral, or simply watched a ceremony in a liturgical church and wondered what it is all about and why doesn’t it exist in my church? Does it ever feel like something is missing? It felt that way to me for many years until I discovered what it was.
Perhaps the Reformation went too far?
We’ll continue this inquiry later . . .
Thanks for reading.