Monday, November 30, 2009

Making people feel comfortable in church

I went to a wedding on Saturday. It was superb, representative of the outstanding qualities the bride and groom brought to their marriage, and I could, but will not wax eloquent about the food at the reception, and the speeches which were, simply, outstanding.

Here I simply observe that the minister at the wedding, himself a relaxed leader of worship and minister of the Word, made the guests feel comfortable. He spoke to us twice before the service began. We received relevant directions (move to the front to allow for late arriving guests, where the toilets were), and up to date information (the bride was coming but was a little late). There was an element of humour in what he said - I think, in terms of making strangers feel at home in a church, we cannot underestimate humour as a means of drawing people together. But the humour was combined with clarity in his communication.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Portable Presentations

The use of Powerpoint and other forms of electronic illustrations of verbal communication is loathed by some, useful from time to time for some, and embraced totally by others.

For the most part internally prepared communications within parishes work okay - initial problems of inadequate or insufficient software or hardware to run presentations are sorted out and life proceeds smoothly until the day when, say, a new computer or projector is purchased, or one piece of software is upgraded. But new teething problems are sorted and life goes on!

A challenge I frequently come across is externally prepared communications which do not work. A visiting speaker comes with an embedded video or a slideshow or a Powerpoint with peculiarities and, oh dear, nothing happens when the button is pushed at the beginning of the address or sermon.

Obviously some practical solutions lie at hand in a category called 'rehearsal': visiting speakers telegraph ahead of time that what they want to present requires software X and hardware Y, or a practice run is scheduled for the Saturday night before the Sunday service. There is also the possibility that a visitor brings their own laptop (though that may incur other problems such as changing from one machine to another in the course of a service).

Nevertheless speakers on the move, with busy, compressed schedules may not be able to offer 'rehearsal', and their own laptop may not be a solution, more of a problem. What to do?

Here I admit that I am no expert on these matters and thus ask: what ways of presenting visual material are portable from one environment to another with 100% guarantee of success?

I look forward to your suggestions!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mixing genres

That is, do not mix genres in worship services.

Let me explain!

The flow of a service (the smoothness with which one part connects with another) is a key to a great service (that is, a service in which God is worshipped reverently, and worshippers feel connected with God).

Various things contribute to 'flow' (including, e.g., the words/silences used by a leader to link different parts of the service). One of those things is genres appropriate to each part of the service. ('Genres' refers to the kind of content of each part: prayers, notices, songs, sermon, confession, sharing the peace, etc).

It's not rocket science to work out that a 'Go out to the world in mission' song is not an appropriate genre for the opening song of a service, or to work out that the appropriate genre to follow the 'confession' is an 'absolution'.

But genres can get mixed up, and this we do well to avoid. Here is a current 'classic': a wide spread phenomenon in our church (in my experience) in these days of hygienic anxiety about how to receive wine at communion, and other concerns such as offering both wine and grape juice, is the issuing of instructions about reception of the elements at communion.

But where and how are these instructions to be offered? Again, in my experience, it is common practice to issue these instructions at the last possible moment before reception. I suggest this is an unfortunate 'mixing of genres'! What is the eucharistic prayer but a prayer of remembrance and thanksgiving and narrative intended to lead us to a joyful, yet solemn moment of fellowship with God. What are instructions? They are 'utilities' of the service, like domestic servants of a noble house. They should be seen and heard as little as possible, and certainly should not interrupt the important moments of a service. In this particular case their announcement (it is my personal conviction) is intrusive, disruptive, and detrimental to the flow of worship and to the experience of communion with God through reception of Christ's body and blood.

What to do? Here are two suggestions. (1) Print instructions which are not otherwise announced in the news bulletin or on a media screen (2) (Where (1) is not possible) Make announcements just before The Peace.

If this is not a problem in your local church, do not worry, there are other mixing of genres to avoid ... I may post on those another time!

Monday, November 9, 2009

John and Rodney illustration for sermons

Yesterday I had an idea for a sermon illustration involving our Prime Minister, John Key, and the leader of the ACT Party (and cabinet minister), Rodney Hide. This morning I can improve on the illustration due to a development in last night's news! In yesterday morning's sermon the initial illustration was used in a sermon on Hebrews 9:24-28 (Jesus dying once for all for our sins). Here goes ...

Our Prime Minister is definitely the most relaxed Prime Minister in our history. Nothing seems to trouble him, and he is very generous and accommodating when people make mistakes. Recently Rodney Hide, at a fund-raising breakfast for his party made some remarks about John Key which were unfair and untrue: that one year into his role, he had achieved nothing. The media got hold of these remarks and there was a bit of controversy about them. John Key himself responded by saying that Hide's remarks were no big deal, and Rodney Hide explained that they were jokey remarks not intended to be taken seriously.

I think many Kiwis are hoping God is like John Key, and our situation before God as sinners is like Rodney Hide's. On the one hand we are hoping that when we appear before God to account for our lives, God will say, 'Nothing you have done is a big deal!' On the other hand we would like to explain that nothing we have done to apparently offend God was intended to be serious.

The reality, of course, is that our sin - our rebellion against God, our behaviour to other people - is very serious and we need help ... Christ as our Saviour ... etc.

Later yesterday another twist in the tale offers an improvement and extension of the illustration, or, on second thoughts, perhaps a whole new illustration:

Rodney Hide has been involved in another media story in recent weeks, concerning claims that he inappropriately used taxpayer funds to fly his girlfriend overseas. This story has had a particular edge because Hide, when in opposition, was ruthless in exposing politician's misspending ways. Last night on national TV, Hide apologised to the nation for his actions, said he would repay the funds involved, and (I think I read this correctly) vowed never to spend taxpayer funds on overseas travel again.

In this situation New Zealand and its people are like God - the God who takes wrongdoing seriously and is intolerant of misbehaviour. Initially Hide was like a sinner who hopes God overlooks certain sins. But then the light of the Word (i.e. the media) confronted him with the reality of the need for atonement of his wrongdoing and a real repentance in which the direction of one's life is turned around with a resolve not to offend God again. In this case Hide was able to make atonement for his sin in a straightforward manner (by writing a cheque), but in our case as sinners before God, things are not so straightforward, and we need help - the help only Jesus our Saviour and High Priest can give ...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Liturgical flow

When we have not played golf or tennis for a while then our strokes may be a bit awkward at first, our rhythm unsettled, and the splayed shots will tell us and our playing companions that we have no 'flow' to our game. But flow in these sports can be achieved - through practice, working on technique and the like.

When leading services, 'flow' makes all the difference between the congregation leaving the church building feeling they have been at a 'something' or at a 'service of worship'.

One tip is to refer to God as we introduce each component part of the whole service.

Consider the difference between:

"Let's pray now. Judy is our intercessor this week. That's it Judy, come on up to the microphone."


"Let's continue in God's presence as we bring our intercessions and thanksgivings to God. As Judy comes forward let's sit or kneel to pray.'


'We have a worship bracket now. Come on everyone. Let's stand as the music group leads us in the first song. Is that song up on the screen? What? Yes? Oh, good.'


'What a wonderful God we serve. Let's worship God in song now by standing and singing, "Oh, for a thousand tongues to sing".'