Worship Old and New…What Were We Thinking?

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Worship practices evolve. What may have initially seemed like a good idea didn’t always turn out that way when it was actually implemented or time tested. Consider the following practices and feel free to add to them since this is not an exhaustive list.

Special Music: The person who originated the moniker Special Music probably lifted the idea from 1950’s movie theatres that used subliminal suggestions of popcorn and coke in previews to encourage moviegoers to buy more concessions. It was obvious in many of our churches that just continuing to suggest the choir song or instrumental/vocal solo right before the sermon was special did not automatically make it so. Maybe if we had referred to all other music in the service as ordinary or common or defined special as different or peculiar we could have lengthened its shelf life.

Baptism: Whoever determined white baptismal attire inspired thoughts of purity should have market tested them for transparency in water first.

Offering: Passing the offering plate as a communal act of worship has devolved into the church version of the 7th inning stretch. Although many are faithful stewards, they have exercised the option of giving by monthly check, direct deposit, pre-pay, or on-line credit card. Creative giving options have proven to be successful but even so have contributed to the passivity of this element as a corporate worship act. Consequently, children and youth no longer get to observe or even know if their parents are faithful in financially sacrificing as a spiritual act of worship unless those parents somehow involve them during the week. Is it time to stop passing the plate or has your congregation developed a strategy for participatory worship during the designated offering time that would benefit us all?

Call to Worship: This service element is the spiritual version of the Indy 500 announcement, Gentlemen Start Your Engines! If Christian worship actually starts at the beginning of the service when we call it to start and stops at the end of the service when we call it to stop…is that an indication no worship occurs the other 167 hours of the week?

Hymns: In what setting was the Charles Wesley hymn text, To me, to all, Thy Bowels Move ever appropriate? Now that was Special Music.

Announcements: Have we added up the number of minutes spent in the worship service promoting the women’s Zumba class and the men’s Shoot to Grill Wild Game Dinner; and then compared that with the number of minutes spent in Scripture and prayer in the same service? Maybe announcements could contribute to rather than detract from worship if we spent as much time praying over and rehearsing them as we spend praying over and rehearsing songs.

Ordinances: The two ordinances prescribed by Jesus and practiced by the church are often forgotten in-between observances because the icons symbolizing those ordinances (baptismal font and communion table) have been completely removed or at least hidden with curtains/screens or cornucopias/memorial flower sprays. It is obvious we are not averse to all symbolism since we use props and stage sets to symbolize and remind the congregation of our current sermon series. Could it be that removing those two symbols which visually remind believers not only of what God has done in their lives but what He promised to continue to do has contributed to the monotony of those ordinances when they are actually observed?

We would all benefit from your responses to these comments and additions from your own experiences and cultures. To respond, left click the COMMENTS link at the end of the Posted by section under the post title.

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13 Responses to “Worship Old and New…What Were We Thinking?”

  • Corey Says:

    Yeah, for years I’ve been referring to it in our Ministry Guides as “An Offering of Song.” I’ve never really liked that term “Special Music.”

  • David Manner Says:

    Alden, great comments. Your response sounds like a great post for the Schoeneblog! As far as what to call the “special music” time I have used “vocal” or “instrumental” praise, reflection, encouragement, dedication, etc. depending on the text and nature of the song.

  • Alden Schoeneberg (@alden_t910) Says:

    I’m a little behind on my reading but needed to respond. I share the dissatisfaction with the title “special music.” Always wondered how that made the other music feel. if the other music is not special, then why are we doing them? Our worship practices need to be reformed, but it is a slow transition. I can’t wait for the day when the whole church will ask with me “How does God want to be worshiped?” rather than asking “When can so-and-so sing my favorite song?”

    It seems that our churches still have a mindset of being “touched” by a song or “moved” by a special. If worship is our response to God, then being “touched” shouldn’t be the result of worship, but the reminder that God deserves our worship. When someone says that they were “moved” does this mean they changed seats? May we be moved to our knees – to fall on our faces before a God whose greatness and grace demand our life our soul our all. May we stand in awe that we are so treasured by the Father that sent his only Son to die in our place.

    Speaking of “special music,” have you come up with another name or title? I’d sure like to change the language we use here. I’ve only labeled it “song” in the bulletin for 8 years, but everyone else still refers to the solo as “special music.”

  • Corey Says:

    David,

    I agree! If history has taught us anything about the church that is constant is that the church moves slowly. I’m not sure any major paradigm shift like what we are talking about can be done with less than a 3-5 if not 10 yr. time commitment. My last church I was at for 5 years and worked from the beginning just to get a projector and screen in the sanctuary for worship, and it wasn’t until a year after I left there that it finally happened! I guess it’s just one of those areas that can only be done through the wisdom, grace, and patience that only the Holy Spirit can give!

    I am going online to buy Best’s book you mentioned right now! I can’t wait to glean the pearls of wisdom and insight he so often lavishes upon us!!! Thanks for the encouragement!!! I love your blogs, and read them every week…even forward them to my worship team in my weekly newsletters! Keep ’em coming!

  • David Manner Says:

    Corey,

    I love Harold Best’s books. Have you read his newest, “Dumbfounded Praying?” Wow! It may be the richest one yet.

    I think the key to making a difference is trust and time. I, like you, get impatient when I see elements that just do not seem biblically or doctrinally sound. For some, however, those practices are so embedded in their worship DNA because of decades of practicing them, they have become their theology. To change embedded theology requires a profound level of trust in the one (s) who are initiating change. Trust is developed when we make numerous deposits before ever considering making huge withdrawals like what you are talking about. Your dilemma is a universal one. Sometimes the root issue is different but the process is the same. It often takes years to make those transitions. Some leaders never get to see the fruit of their labor because they don’t stay long enough.

    What some congregations (initiated by leaders like yourself) have done to accommodate both groups and to facilitate change is to offer a patriotic presentation to the community as a gift from the congregation. This can be done at the church sometime outside of regular service times or in a central location like a park or public venue.

    I appreciate your thoughts and concerns for worship renewal. Good wisdom.

  • David Manner Says:

    Luke, probably some of both. The names and practices should evolve. How would you determine if one music selection in a particular service is special? Would that mean the other music selections are not special, or not as special. If all solos, choir numbers, etc. are given the designation “special music” just because we don’t know what else to call them or just because that is what we have always called them…would that indicate congregational singing is not special?

    As far as the Call to Worship…if you help your congregation understand that it isn’t a call to worship for the first time this week as you indicated then you are right on target. What many congregations practice, however, is that when the first note begins (either as an organ introit or a guitar riff) worship has been called to begin…indicating no worship has happened before that first note. Maybe we should call it “The Reminder to Continue Worshiping”…tongue in cheek of course.

    Music isn’t what has minimized the Offering as an act of worship. So many people choose other options to give at other times so not many actually participate in giving while the plate is being passed. It becomes that last breath of fresh air before the sermon begins rather than a corporate act. Some congregations have asked congregants to give $1 each or whatever pocket change they have every Sunday even if they give their tithe and offerings at other times. This becomes a communal act where everyone participates. That money is then used for a designated ministry or mission opportunity.

  • Corey Says:

    part 2….. I honestly do not mean that as young and immature as it sounds. But my experience has been that many times it’s something that gets overlooked by Worship Leaders, Pastors, etc., because……”there’s bigger battles.” While that may be true, I’m not sure why it has to be so. We have strong, faithful, godly members of the senior demographic that are simply unmoving on some areas……do you fight the battle or overlook? Because more times than not, I have walked away feeling as if I were wasting breath. Not in a mean spirited way at all, just feeling the conversation (not argument or confrontation) were futile. Make sense?

  • Corey Says:

    David, I love the quote from Best! His “Unceasing Worship” is a great book! In fact, I took our staff through it. I think he hits the nail on the head. I don’t really know if there is an answer to the dilemma we face around patriotism vs. Christ-centered worship. I always thought it was just one of those things to chock up to generational differences. But if so, how do we reconcile to 2? Do our senior generations get a free pass for essentially committing idolatry simply because “that’s the way we’ve always done it?”

  • Luke Says:

    Dr. Manner – I’m confused by some of your elements here. On “Special Music” and “Call-to-Worship”, is your point that the names of these elements should evolve or the practices themselves? Specifically, the “Call-to-Worship” shouldn’t be a call to worship for the first time this week…in our church, it is a call to corporate worship (i.e., stop your gossiping out in the hall and get in the sanctuary…). What are some practical ways of making the Offering more worshipful? We either have a piano solo, a “special music”, or a video promotion of an event (which is a form of an Announcement – not worship!).

    Great post!

  • David Manner Says:

    Corey,
    Yes, that is one we often overlook. I would be curious to see when that practice began. Do they include the state flag on stage in Texas churches? I wrote a post last year the week before Independence Day related to the topic you suggested. Here is a link: http://kncsb.org/blogs/dmanner/patriotic-worship-services-what-is-being-worshiped/ Thanks for the response.

  • Corey Says:

    How about the flags on the stage every week……American flag, the Christian flag….or doing the pledges do them and the pledge to the Bible at VBS every year?

    Great post!

  • Brett Yohn Says:

    David,
    Loved it. LOL

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