- Troy Hatfield
A few thoughts about church services.
Many local churches are once again starting their new ministry years. I frequently think of these two Annie Dillard passages around this time of year. Here are the quotes and a couple of thoughts for those who attend churches and those who lead them.
“A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since year one. In two thousand years, we have not worked out the kinks…Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty he can stifle his own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week Christ washes the disciples’ dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, ‘It is all right–believe it or not–to be people.’”
Relax attenders. Give those who are leading a little slack. It’s ok if the preacher is a little boring today or if the music is too loud or out of tune (or both, Lord have mercy!) or if the prayers were too long or the line for the Eucharist elements moved too slowly. Everyone is mostly making it up as we go along. And yet, God is extremely merciful.
Relax preacher/Worship Leader/Sunday School teacher/Cantor. Do your best and give yourself some grace. Trust that, God willing, you will have another Sunday to lead and screw up a little less than the previous week. God knows your “dancing bear act” might be the best you can do. So give yourself faithfully to this calling and remember it’s ok to be imperfect.
“Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
Take cover attenders. Let’s not forget what a crazy thing we’re attempting : to speak and sing to and about God and then ask God to address us as well. Remember those smoking Old Testament mountains and trembling Israelites? Maybe nothing should be uttered louder than a whisper. We should probably be cautious about speaking our prayers while also putting together a shopping list in our heads. The words we are singing might need to be considered more than the mediocre organ or too-short skirt one row over.
Take cover preacher/Worship Leader/Sunday School teacher/Cantor. Remember these are dangerous invitations you’re extending. Inviting people to pray for God’s will to be done or to sing “You give and take away” and to read the Beatitudes – it will take courage for people to follow you into these places. Have grace and compassion on those you’re leading – their hesitations might display a knowledge of the power of these prayers and words. And it’s not simply the congregation being implicated in these invitations. You’re one of us. You are also asked to put on your crash helmet.
So which is it – relax or take cover? My growing sense is that we need both in equal measure. We need to be the kind of people and communities that can say, “It’s just a rehearsal and a dancing bear act” and also “God, please be gentle with us.” It’s ok to be shrugging and wearing a life preserver, to be “at ease and awed.”
God help us.
Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter@tr0yisbald.