Monday, September 27, 2010

Spare, constrained, concise?

What makes a 'great' worship leader? I think there is certainly a place in the life of the church for a worship leader who imbues a service with their personality (hopefully, of course, a warm, lively, loving, inspiring, God-connected and God-centred personality). I know that in some places such worship leaders - if we speak honestly and frankly - are liked for how they lead services by many of the congregation but not by all. As a Kiwi I have never quite worked out whether the 'but not by all' is largely a cultural phenomenon - something about the  reserved, serious, modest aspects of our culture resents the leadership which is overly enthusiastic!

I am also intrigued by leadership of worship which seeks to minimise the personality of the leader with a style of leadership which is spare, constrained, concise: minimal directions, for instance, offers less opportunity for the leader to impose themselves on the service. Sometimes moving in this direction is not 'great worship leadership': if so few directions are given, for instance, that people get lost in the prayer book, or, in a different kind of service, get caught out standing when everyone else is sitting, then some in the congregation may feel strongly that they have not been well led!

As we lead services, hopefully doing so often enough to get a sense of what our personal style of leading is, and then leading some more so that we can experiment with a different style, let's keep reflecting on what we are doing and why we are doing it. All with the aim of becoming a great worship leader!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Messy Church

Messy Church could refer to the state of some Christchurch churches after the earthquakes - masonry and stone chips littering the floors; or it could refer to some Sunday morning services which are not intended to be disorderly, but with sound system breaking down, and Powerpoint via projector subject to gremlins, give the impression of messiness; but here I am referring to a new(-ish) phenomenon in which churches intentionally plan a service called 'Messy Church', picking up on a UK model (see here), in which a service for all ages and stages of life, in a flexible arena (such as a church hall, or a complex in which both hall and church are utilised), takes place.

Just this weekend past I was involved with the first NZ national conference on Messy Church, held at St John's Woolston in Christchurch. Interest in Messy Church is picking up. We even had two attending from Oz!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Balanced preaching

Recently an observation was made to me which suggested that preachers often do not get the timing of sermons right - specifically, not knowing when to stop. In other words, do preachers say too much? This issue is the same whether one is preaching short, medium or long sermons. Let me explain: suppose that the timing of a particular service (e.g. an 8 am service which needs to finish around 8.45 am - 8.50 am because another service begins at 9.15 am) requires the sermon to be of 6 - 8 minutes duration. If, under these circumstances, the preacher has delivered the message (introduction, argument, illustration, application) in 5 minutes but continues talking for another 90 seconds, even though the whole falls within the accepted time limit, the congregation has heard the message-plus-flim-and-flam! Ditto a service in which it is accepted that a longer, expository sermon will be delivered between 30 and 40 minutes in length: if the message with all its points, illustrations, exegetical wrestling with the passage, and applications has been delivered in 32 minutes, but continues for another 3 minutes, the congregation may have drifted well away from the sermon by the time of its conclusion!

Balanced preaching from this perspective is getting the balance between content, duration, and expectation of duration re the character of the service. In particular it means both knowing when to stop and have the discipline to actually stop.

Some say it is good to leave the congregation wishing to hear more from the preacher ...

Monday, September 6, 2010

When all are shaken

Normally I am not a fan of the preacher asking people to turn to those nearest to them and discuss matter X or question Y. But yesterday, 24 hours or so after 'the earthquake' here in Christchurch, with after shocks still happening, including two during the service itself, the preacher began the sermon by asking us to turn to one another and share our experiences of the earthquake. I think that in this instance the preacher did the right thing. As he himself explained, a previous experience of a different disaster had taught him that in the immediate aftermath of trauma, people do not remember what you say to them!

I also thought it was a good idea because talking with each other is therapeutic, and I found talking at this time was a good thing.

One of the reasons why I am not a fan of this being done 'normally' is that it makes lots of presumptions. One presumption is that everyone in the conversational group has something to say about X or Y. Often this is not the case. But yesterday was different. The preacher rightly presumed that everyone having shared the experience of the earthquake had something to say.

Abnormal times can call for abnormal methods of communication!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

It can be done

If there is one thing I really admire about the Roman Catholic church it is the ability to have a full mass with hundreds of people present and participating in under an hour. Having experienced this on different occasions in different parishes in different dioceses I assume this is not merely about the efficiency of one or two priests but about a culture and a custom. True, the brevity of such services, relative to Anglican/Protestant equivalents, owes much to brief homilies, and another occasion could discuss the merits of short versus longer sermons. But brief homilies is not the only explanation. It is rare, in my experience, to sing long songs/hymns (let alone turgid ones) in Roman services. We Anglicans could consider whether we are insufficiently vigilant about the length of songs/hymns, especially ones set to unattractive tunes. Prayers of the faithful are normally pretty crisp too. And, not to put too fine a point on the matter, there is rarely fluffing about with flicking through pages of prayer books and the like, or longish directions about this or that.

It is not so much that I think God is better served by shorter worship services than longer ones: one day the whole of everlasting life will be a (timeless) worship service! And I have experienced plenty of great services that last longer than an hour but which are superbly led on the basis of great preparation. But having also participated in some services which seem to 'drag' as they 'meander' through bits and bobs of service items, I do wonder if God is better served by his people being able to attend fully to all that constitutes a worship service because nothing makes our finite, all too earthbound bodies and brains tired, wearied, or simply distracted.