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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Friday, March 20, 2009

Berating Worshippers

A student asked me yesterday about something she had heard from a pulpit. The preacher was saying that people who did not answer back to the preacher must not know how to answer because they don't know God's Word when they hear it.

He had many other things to say about the conversation of preaching and worship. He was critical of the trend toward worship as a show, with an audience who comes to be entertained. He said that the call and response of preaching demonstrates that preaching is not the task of only one person. About these things he was right.

But otherwise, he took up a refrain that I have heard many times from clergy and laity both. If a person is not making noise, he or she is not worshipping appropriately. It seems to me to be a kind of spiritual bullying. It uses the pedagogical manipulation of shame to tell people that they are not showing their love to God. It comes in many forms. Some of the common phrasings include

  • Don't sit down on God!
  • Aren't you thankful? Don't you want to praise God?
  • You don't like this kind of preaching!
  • Can't you even clap your hands to show you love God?
  • Doesn't anyone even have a hallelujah to offer to God?
  • Don't let a rock cry out in your place!
Having spent much of my life in churches where people would not dare make noise, move, or speak to express their praise, I am sympathetic with the need to encourage people to become actively engaged and share the task of worship with the worship leaders. But it is a fallacy to say that unless you at this moment are worshipping in the same manner that the worship leader is worshipping, you are not worshipping, or you are being ungrateful to God.

There are many postures of worship, and many worshipful responses. The Scriptures also say "Be still," and "Let all the earth keep silence before him." There are times when a proper response to God is to shut up and contemplate our relation to God.

On the other hand, worship is not a show. People who remain too timid to participate vocally and responsively in worship need to evaluate their role when they come to church. Worship is not merely something to come and observe. It is not primarily a filling station for getting a recharge. It is definitely not for being impressed by the music or the oratory. It is not a place to get worked up and happy. Those four things may happen, and can be good results. But worship's purpose is union with God. It is a performance, not by a preacher or choir, but by a congregation. As Kierkegaard said, God is the one who is watching, and the congregation is the cast on the stage. We all have roles. We are not an audience or observers. We are the performers.

But don't try to bully people into doing what you are doing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was in attendance at this same preaching engagement and I do not want to take away from the good points the minister made but wanted to voice some concerns with how "judgment" is rendered in many church services. I agree Worship comes in many forms and to state that if you are not doing XYZ then you are not worshipping God, it limits a God who is limitless. We must be careful not to degrade the sincerity in which a person worships, whether it is a quite still moment or a clapping of the hands. We are making a judgment on the sincerity of a worship experience, whether it is a crying out to the Lord, or through a joyous celebratory laugh. I do understand the importance of communal worship and individual worship

In "some" cases we ask for these AMEN'S and claps for us not for God, it is to boost our ego. One aspect I would like to raise regarding the scripture text used, as the minister stated when the Word of God went forth, their was activity from the congregation, it could be that the reason the congregation has no activity because what is being preached is a distorted Gospel and not God's Word. Just a thought.

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