The Chicken and the Egg: Part 4, Consumerism and Worship

When churches consider spiritual formation efforts, one of the levers they can pull is Sunday morning worship. This is the time when the whole church is gathered and leaders have everyone's attention.

And yet, these desires and efforts frequently face the chicken and egg problem.

Let me describe two problems that often come up in my work with churches.

The first concerns hospitality in the space. For example, I've worked with a few churches who do an amazing job welcoming the mentally ill into their worship services. Looking at that example, many other churches wish they could do the same. Trouble is, welcoming the mentally ill into your space creates some challenges. Those struggling with mental illness can wander around or be noisy. They can seem scary to those who lack experiences with these populations. Consequently, many churches will lack the skills, virtues and experiences necessary to practice this sort of welcome. The mentally ill in the space would be too "disruptive." 

We're back to a chicken and egg problem. The only way you gain skill and experience in welcoming the mentally ill is by getting that experience. But lacking this experience, churches will struggle early on in extending this sort of welcome and, in the face of that discomfort, back off, never acquiring the needed skills and capacities.

A second problem concerns giftedness and sharing the stage on Sunday. Specifically, in many churches those who are on the stage tend to be the talented. In the praise band are good musicians. The vocalists can sing. And the preacher is a good speaker. These are their gifts. And yet, consistently spotlighting talent can spiritually malform a church. Church isn't a show, church isn't a performance. But that's what happens if we only put talent on the stage.

Consequently, many churches would like to share the stage more with all the members. But if they do that the quality of the service, from a performative aspect, will suffer. By definition. Giving the sermon to a less gifted speaker means, of course, that the sermon will be less interesting. The audience will become bored. Same goes for a praise band and vocalists. If more people get to participate in leading worship the quality of the music will suffer some.

I know many church leaders would love to go in this direction, sharing the stage more and decentering talent. Trouble is, these leaders are terrified to make this move as their churches don't possess the virtues needed to sit through boring sermons and praise music that isn't top notch. Our people are too consumeristic in how they experience worship. Thus, anything that lacks quality--off notes or snoozer sermons--will push the congregation toward other churches were the worship and sermons are consistently amazing. 

Chicken and egg again. We'd like to make worship less a show, but consumers are sitting in the pews. So how do you shape those consumers without causing them to leave in search of a better product? You'll have to form a different vision of worship, a vision that creates tolerances for a diversity of gifts, a people willing to sit through sermons and praise experiences that prioritize inclusion over quality. But that demands a degree of charity and maturity most consumers do not possess. Knowing this, churches become paralyzed and take the path of least resistance: Keep the talent on the stage and make quality an anxious priority.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply