We were on holidays and decided to go to a “contemporary service” in a CRC with nearly 100 years of history. Now, I LIKE to be critical—part of the "old man" still kicking around, I guess. But my wife is a kind and gentle and just woman. So, imagine my surprise the next day when she energetically called it a “dipstick” service. Yikes. How come?
OK, we’re both old folks—early 60s. But we’re not anti-contemporary stuff in life or worship. I’m a right up-to-date guy with my road bike drive-train (Shimano Dura-Ace, just so you know.) Overhead projection in worship often works well for singing, movie clips, readings, announcements. Wonderful music produced by splendid musicians comes from more than organ and violins.
But our collective spiritual blood pressures rose that holiday Sunday morning not because the event was contemporary. Rather, I truly wondered if that carefully planned, but thoroughly disjointed hour was a service of any kind.
The worship leader started with a simple “Good morning” greeting. Then the well-prepared praise team led five stand-up songs. So few folks knew any of the songs that congregational participation was difficult to gauge or experience. None of the songs mentioned God, Lord, Jesus, Saviour, Holy Spirit or made any clear biblical reference or allusion to the Persons of God as revealed in Scripture. “You” was the only word approaching a personal address to God, but this “you” could just as well have been a casual acquaintance across the street who treated you nice last week.
The worship leader made some announcements about VBS during the offering, with only a brief reference to what the gifts were for. The preaching pastor read an Old Testament narrative and then preached a dandy 30 minute sermon. (So, I’m glad I went; I just might do some cribbing on that message—and I WILL give credit! Happily, the congregation was attentive till the “Amen.”) As we sang one slightly familiar song, the pastor walked to the back to greet people. Then a musician said a brief prayer and hoped everyone would have a good week.
I think something is really wrong with that service. There was no greeting or parting blessing from God--only the barest acknowledgement that we were indeed in God’s presence, under God’s care. There was no congregational prayer, no linkage to community life except for the sermon, no acknowledgement of sin, salvation or service in the (lack of) liturgy. The various parts of the service seemed like parachutes falling from nowhere, which is exactly where they landed.
What graveled me most about this whole event was that it was so carefully planned, almost deliberately, it seems, to exclude any transparent historical or biblical reference to the faith that goes all the way back to creation. If this was for seekers, what might they have found? If it was for folks tired of traditional spiritual worship food, well, this service was mighty thin gruel.
I have attended or led contemporary worship services in which every element is carefully linked together to reveal what God is doing in our world and lives. God can be worshiped in any kind of style, but where there is intentional thoughtlessness . . . well, I guess I just really wanna wonder.