Creative Leadership

The Casual Church Part II

When I wrote my earlier post on the good versus bad trends toward casual church services, I think we spent too much time on the issue of clothes. While torn jeans and exposed shirt-tails are certainly a visual indicator of the trend, for me it’s much more than the way we (or a pastor) dresses. I’m looking at the overall experience. When the worship experience becomes too casual, where is the mystery? I really think there should be a place for the transcendent in worship, and to be honest, I don’t see much of it in churches today.

The Catholic Church has continued their traditions right down to the incense, and I find that somewhat appealing (and so do thousands of Christians moving to a more liturgical tradition.) Certainly the ultimate goal is a powerful encounter with the divine, and playing “dress up” doesn’t accomplish that. But are we missing something in contemporary worship?

A few years ago, theologian and pastor Eugene Peterson said, “I don’t think a whole lot of people care about what kind of music you have or how you shape a service. They want a place where God is taken seriously, and where they are taken seriously.”

People are saved and ministered to in all kinds of situations – from a high church experience to prison cells or nightclubs. But should pastors and church leaders at least aim for a more transcendent experience? Should church be the same look and feel we can find at the mall?

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15 Comments

  1. Who is the audience in Church?

    If it's the congregants, then casual and comfortable is what you'll get.

    If it's God, then the congregants are there to participate.

    There's plenty of room and overlap in terms of the activities, but again, heart attitude on the part of the worshippers is going to be the determining factor.

  2. I think what we are legitimately missing is letting the Holy Spirit do what He does. There are a LOT of churches out there that get wrapped up in the music, the lighting, the video, the HYPE, thinking that THAT's what draws people, but it's not.  It's the POWER of the Holy Spirit working in His people.

    I'm a bass player, and when I lived in Tulsa, there was this push towards contemporary services, which meant I was in high demand. I used to joke that if a bassist could form the word "Jesus" in his mouth, he could get a church gig in Tulsa! But what I found was that churches wanted the (Pentecostal) experience without the (Pentecostal) Holy Spirit Himself!

    That's where we're missing it. I've been to several of the relevance churches, and I feel the same way about most of them. I'm not saying "be Pentecostal," but I am saying, without reservation, that the ONLY way to capture the hearts of those in attendance is to let the Holy Spirit do His thing.

    You want mystery? Let the Holy Spirit work, and you'll have it by the bucketloads. 

  3. I think Richard Gaspard is hitting on something important. And Phil, normally I agree with you but I think you are missing something here. Just like the type of clothing does not necessarily indicate transcendance (sp?), neither does incense, or music, or architecture. All of these things are tools designed (hopefully) to help people focus on the object of our worship (I’m pretty sure we agree that to be God.) The liturgy of traditional services accomplishes it using certain techniques, but so does the liturgy of contemporary services (they are all liturgies btw).

    The problem is not so much the liturgy (any kind of service and liturgy in any kind of church can be “dead” or “alive” or have an element of transcendance (what we often refer to as “God showing up.”)). The problem is often an apathy or spiritual lethargy of the people (sometimes including the worship leader(s) and the preacher.)

    Should we aim for a transcendant experience? No. Our aim should be to help people worship God appropriately (in spirit and in truth). Our worship does not need to make us feel anything in particular. What does God want from us? Our hearts and our lives. Liturgies (both old and new) are, or should be, designed to help us give Him that.

  4. For me, personally, the music, the videos, the trappings – if you will – are the icing on the cake. What keeps me from returning to a church is when relationships are shallow. With the illness I have, I can be there regularly, involved, on-time, in the midst of what is going on, but then I disappear for days to weeks because I have a flare-up. I am amazed at how often I don't receive a call, a card, a note, or even an acknowledgment when I return that I was missed.

    For me, church is about God – first and foremost – but it is also about relationships. All the trappings in the world don't foster relationships. There is a study that shows a person will only stay in a church for a long time if they have formed 7 strong relationships.

    I attended a great church here in Phoenix with a membership of 30,000 and all the technological extras you can imagine. However, in 6 months I was unable to form 1 relationship. People were just too busy.

    I don't think the problem lies in the casualness of the church. Jesus held church outside on a hill. I think it has to do with the motivation we have when we go to church. Why are we really there? For me I go 1) to meet and be in God's presence , 2) to build relationships with others, and 3) to be a vessel for God to use to minister to others.

    No matter how "good" a church is, if these things are missing, what does it matter if it is casual or liturgical. [Perhaps the reason the liturgical church is working is because everyone is working towards the same goal, with the same purpose and are on the same page. It creates a bonding if you will.]

    Another problem we have, I think, is we don't fix what is wrong within our church. We are so outside focused that we miss those within our "family" who are struggling financially, physically, emotionally, etc. What does that say to those outside? If we can't take care of our own and be a vessel of ministering to them, how can we affect positive change in those on the outside looking in?

     

  5. Great posts…..Richard, Christian, Breaklight, Walrus, Dominique…..and insight!

    "When we move aside and let the Holy Spirit have free reign."
    Sounds like the upper room of Acts. 

    "Churches want the look and the feel without the Holy Spirit, himself."  Good point, Richard.

    Ever been to a Catholic charismatic service?   They have the liturgy with the Holy Spirit.

    God "inhabits the praises of His people."  Spiritual hunger is what pulls at the heart of God…maybe we're too content and not hungry enough to pay the price to be in and experience His presence.  He "will draw nigh to us, if we will draw nigh to Him."  Perhaps that is what they did in the Welsh revival and now, Florida.  Visions of Heaven by H.A. Baker showed what hungry little boys in a China orphanage experienced when they set their sights on "seeking God."

      

  6. Phil, I’m currently reading and would recommend Warren Wiersbe’s book “Real Worship” to give some insight and clarification to the transcendance and myster to be found in worship.

  7. Unfortunately we have the same issues in Australian churches.  I say unfortunately because we seem to spend so much time arguing over the music/clothes/style/etc that we are distracted from our calling.

    The casualisation of church is partly a reflection of Western society.  I remember when I started working in corporations over 20 years ago there were very strict rules about business attire – one US firm I worked for even prohibited women wearing pant suits to work.  Now we see people wearing collared tshirts with suits and having casual attire policies for days depending on client meetings.

    Recently I have been having conversations with various people from many church backgrounds about issues surrounding how much we appeal to the unchurched through our services' music and structure.  There is a wide spread of opinions matching this blog.  More and more I am convinced that we should not be matching the unchurched but showing them something different – even sacred.  This does not mean incense and robes but a real connection and reconciliation to God through Christ.  Too often I find the reason churches are becoming more casual is their belief they need to appeal to unchurched people.  Where is the room for God to work in them?

    Also can we all try to stop copying each other?   As someone said earlier there should be a church for everyone.

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