ancient/future

Contemporary worship and tract homes

Recently I have been asked about the difference in the contemporary worship and what might be called "ancient/future".  I will take a couple of posts to tackle this.

There are a great number of faith communities in our area (and in the U.S.A) that "do" contemporary worship and "do it well".  The flow is unique in each setting but generally it has these elements more or less in this order:
  • Open with 2-4 "praise and worship" songs that are upbeat.  One song must be a "slow down" song.
  • What I call the opening "Salad prayer" - this is the prayer in which the worship leader prays something like, "Father God, just 'let us' give thanks to you. Father God, 'let us' be center our lives upon you and just 'let us'..."
  • Community announcements given in a casual/comical way 
  • Stand and greet your neighbor time
  • Scripture reading
  • Sermon
  • Offering (with a song sung by band at the front)
  • 1-2 closing songs
  • Benediction 
This is not a "bad" order of worship, it can however feel generic.  If you attend a contemporary worship Mississippi then the next week you attend contemporary worship in Washington, then they feel very similar.  This sort of "removal" of uniqueness is much like tract homes.  They are quick to build and they are great homes, but they all look the same.  There is little room for character or local charm.  Efficient yes, but not very original.  

Please hear me I have nothing against tract homes they are great in that they empower many people to have a home of their own.  Likewise, contemporary worship is great for many people to feel empowered to connect with a faith community.  The rub is that the "creative class" and the "Millennials" are people who value uniqueness, local and grassroots more than big box, conglomerate, and generic.  For instance, the Millennial lifestyle is more inclined to fuel the knitting revival than the generation before them (Gen X).  

If we are interested in creating worship opportunities for these growing demographics, then why would we look to create another 'tract worship' in our area?  Should we not instead look to create a local, homemade, authentic, unique worship expression for this context?  What would a worship revival look like if the Millennials fueled it? 

The next post will explore that question more.



Remove or reclaim shepherd metaphor?

In a book the bishop asked several people (including my wife) to read for the realignment committee there is an argument which states the church needs to remove from its language and mind the idea that pastors are shepherds. The author states the metaphor of pastor as shepherd "is ultimately destructive to effectiveness in ministry".

The author makes a good argument to remove the metaphor in our churches. One point which I thought particularly interesting is "Shepherds were entrepreneurs who raised sheep for their livelihood, for food and clothing. Good shepherds lead their sheep into green pastures and by still waters in order to obtain three results." Shepherds used the sheep for personal gain; for cloth, food and/or reproduction. Pastors should not been seen as shepherds because we do not own people and we do not use people for personal gain (or at least we should not!!).

I know every metaphor breaks at some point, and this book is saying we have a broken metaphor of pastor as shepherd because we have a romantic idea of what shepherds do.

I am curious to know if it is really a good thing to remove the metaphor from our theological imagination or if it would be better if we reclaim it?

There are many metaphors which are destructive and we continue to use them (such as God is only a male). And like I said, all metaphors break at some point (such as atonement metaphors). So should we purge all metaphors which are either destructive or those which have been stretched beyond their limits, as though we are metaphor iconoclasts?

I wonder if instead of taking such a black/white stance on this metaphor if there could be a third way. The way of reclaiming?

What if pastors across the UMC lived out the metaphor of shepherd only in those ways which the metaphor was intended?

For that matter, what if Christians across the world lived out all the metaphors of God in only the ways in which those metaphors were intended?

What would it mean if we only took the metaphor of God as male to the proper limits?
What would it mean if we only took Jesus as lamb to the proper limits?
What would it mean if we only took God is good to the proper limits?
What would it mean if we only took God is love to the proper limits?