Renewal of Church Critiquing
Renewal of Church Critiquing (or More and Less Haloes)
For reasons boring to repeat I effectively stopped critiquing church services four years ago. For reasons equally boring to recount, I have decided to renew my earlier adventures in peripatetic samplings of worship services in Central Connecticut and beyond.
But with a difference. Shorter, for sure. And limiting the items under careful scrutiny to: sermon, prayers, music, ambience, and noting any anomalous factor which begs for comment.
The earlier disclaimers will still be in effect… you know, about critiquing not being cranky, and one hour does not a church’s value make in the sight of God.
I’ll rate each of the five abovementioned factors on the same halo scale. And each of these aspects of worship will be measured according to the following standards:
1. Sermons: relevance, Scriptural honesty, simplicity and directness, appropriateness and believability of illustration, and, only lastly, rhetorical skill. And, oh yes, length, meaning brevity or lack thereof.
2. Prayers: one issue above all others, suggested here as a question, “Is the prayer really a prayer, or a sermon?”
3. Music: thematic appropriateness of hymns and anthems; and catholicity (meaning inclusivity of genres) of selections.
4. Ambience: the “vibrations” issuing from greeters, fellow worshipers and fellowship at coffee hour.
5. Anomalies: whatever, if anything, strikes me as noteworthy.
Recently I was invited to provide a professional evaluation of a congregation. By the pastor! At first, I accepted the invitation; but as the time drew near to do the deed I had second thoughts. I withdrew. Whether it was cowardice or wisdom I leave it to you to decide. I blamed my hesitation on my age and the thought, occasionally expressed to me, that I was out of the swim of things liturgical and could no longer fairly make judgments based as they would be on convictions developed in an earlier century. No, I really don’t think that about me; but it sounds good.
I can frame my “irrelevance” another way. I believe, deeply, that the church’s first mission is to be faithful. Faithful to God. Faithful to Jesus. Faithful to the very best in the long traditions of the church. I suspect every Christian in every church will endorse that mission. Where we diverge is on another thrust: to be successful. By which we usually mean numbers. That is crowds and dollars, lots of each.
They – faithfulness and success – are not necessarily in opposition. I labored for fifty years in the sandy vineyard of Long Island (and I don’t mean winery, I mean church) and I know that bringing in new members and paying the bills is essential to the continued existence of any congregation. But I also know, from that sandy vineyard, that faithfulness to the Gospel will in God’s providence supply enough, even if never too much as to make pastor and congregation dream of competing with The Crystal Cathedral (!).
That is, I shall be looking at churches with an eye to what the worship tells me about the seriousness with which it follows in the footsteps of the Galilean rabbi with whom the whole enterprise called Christian began.
My mode of operation will be the same as previously. Like a thief in the night. I’ll slip in and out without divulging my mission. Nor will I notify the church subsequent to the visit. Google, which has a habit of picking up on my postings within a day or two of their appearance, will provide such notification as any internet surfer might want.
All in the interest of making the most sacred hour of the week more… well, sacred.