Friday, December 30, 2016

Disappointing Christmas Worship Services

I am curious about your Christmas worship experience at your church. Churches today have different philosophies and styles concerning Christmas and I'm wondering if I am out of touch with my expectations.  My wife and I were invited to a friend's church for worship the week before Christmas. We went with high expectations because the church is a traditional large main line denomination with a solid reputation. We were looking forward to singing some Christmas carols which our church, a small satellite church, was not singing in their morning worship services. 
We sat through the worship service, literally, and left very disappointed, trying to make sense of what we had just watched.  

The service started with a choir singing a somewhat different rendition of a familiar Christmas carol. Dancers with flags came on stage and moved around the stage in sync to the song. This was followed by a couple of songs that we had not ever heard before sung by a praise team with more dancers.  We were given candles and during the third song and had a lighting ceremony.  The song ended and we kept holding the candles awkwardly not knowing what to do with them.  There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason for the candles except that we needed to have a candle lighting time during the service. 

The two traditional hymns were altered with different arrangements as if the soloists were singing on The Voice and were changing a well-known tune to make it their own. All the songs were performed well enough.  But it was definitely a performance. We never stood or sang along with the choir or praise team. The only participation was the candle lighting ceremony.  The pastor preached his sermon and we sat and listened to two more Christmas songs, including a solo of another odd arrangement of Silent Night.  My wife said it should be illegal to mess with Silent Night!

After the service I realized we had sat through the entire service and never sang along to any of the songs. We were never prompted to sing. I'm not sure I've ever gone to a worship service and did not participate at all. My friend who had invited us, was also confounded over the service. Later in the week during the same church's Christmas Eve service, my friend who is a 40 something former pastor, texted me to let me know that the church was consistent in this service also, singing mostly secular Christmas songs. He texted, "you won't believe their first song, "Feliz Navidad"! Then later said they had another candle lighting ceremony to a rock in roll version of Joy To The World. He was beside himself, wondering just who was in charge.  

To me it seemed as if the church was trying a little too hard to be cool or culturally relevant. I'm not sure how others perceived the services but when a somewhat traditional church does this, it can come across as pretentious and contrived, even hokey. This church has a new pastor, (middle age) so I'm guessing they are trying to reach younger generations. But it reminded me of the a 70's style traditional church trying to be contemporary by playing 80's music. It doesn't work and can turn off not only your older members but the younger ones you are trying to reach as well.  

I feel for my friend who attends the church. My advice to him was to talk to the pastor and share in a loving way your feelings. He needs the input of experienced leaders.  He doesn't need to hear complaints and whining but constructive critique that will help going forward. 

Also, I received this post from church leaders.com after I had written this blog as if God was speaking to me. Ironically it is also titled Disappointing Worship Services. The final paragraph is great advice:

As we worship Christ together this week, may he give us this expectation. May he rewire our hearts so that our joy and goal would be found in honoring him. The Father is working the entire universe toward that glorious end. May we relinquish our selfish expectations for our church’s surroundings, people and future, and instead take up the expectation that Christ will be honored in our worship service, and in lives of worship. Place your hope in that invincible purpose, and you will never be disappointed.

1 comment:

David Honaker said...

Sounds like the church you visited is more focused on having a production and check some boxes rather than leading people in actual worship of God. IMO it's becoming more common as the american church becomes more apostate/man-centered.

For the last 2-3 years we've intentionally focused on less hustle&bustle during the holidays. One small aspect of this has been participating in the Christmas service at a church near our house instead of going to our home church. They've had the most worshipful Christmas service I've experienced...yes they have several classic carols but they're done in a worshipful way instead of check-box, there's no hokey ceremonies that seem out of place to visitors like us, and this year the pastor's message led the congregation through authentic repentance in light of the Christmas season (it wasn't a stereotypical alter call for the twice-a-year church visitors but rather aimed at professing Christians in various practical aspects of life).
I commend this church (and all other faithful churches) on honoring God and leading worship at a "worship service" as opposed to having a "production service" or a "checkbox service". So back to your opening paragraph: no, your expectations are not off!

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