Tag Archives: liturgy

Confessions of a High Church Millennial – 10 Ways I am grounded by Ritual, Liturgy and Tradition

I haven’t confessed this to you in a while, but I am still a High Church Millennial. Just because I often wear jeans on office days, have tattoos and an apple music subscription on my iPhone… doesn’t mean I don’t love old things. And not looms, vinyl played by a gramophone and artisanal vegetables as the caricature of a millennial hipster goes.  I love ancients things like ritual, liturgy and the traditions of Christianity.

So recently, as I went about my normal perusal of social media, I came across the post of a pastor friend. The Rev. Steven Sabin serves in San Francisco, and he thoughtfully wrote the post pictured below:

Screen Shot 2018-01-16 at 11.27.18

I love the way Pastor Sabin describes his experience of a high church faith. I can see my own experience in his post. And as many churches search for ways to get “the young people back” with the newest and flashiest toys, gadgets, fads and entertainment…. let me tell the story of why this millennial would rather have the old things and the deeper meaning.

*Note: I skipped a few of Pastor Sabin’s points.

1 Tradition was taught to me as a loving mentor, not as a censorious schoolmarm.

I grew up in a world where tradition was shunned and Lutheran liturgy was like eating vegetables… you did it but no one liked it. Our worship was often treated as if it was a list chores to do every Sunday morning. And then our church hired some musicians to help plan our liturgy and music. And for the most part, the congregation continued to feel the same way about liturgy. But as a teenager, I noticed that suddenly worship became a more cohesive experience. The list of chores transformed into the script and stage directions of a beautiful play. There was movement, there was purpose to our worship, the music connected to the prayers, the prayers connected to scripture, the biblical texts connected to the eucharist and so on and so on.

When I went to seminary, I was finally taught the finer and detailed points of the ritual I had been enraptured by. Liturgy for me now is not a burdensome set of rules to follow and chores to do, but a ground to stand on in worship, guiding the assembly into deeper meaning and a deeper experience of the divine… proclaiming the gospel and inviting us into the body of Christ in a way that no other worship form can do.

2 Hallmark makes a fortune because we don’t always know how to say it.

One of the things I cling to as a preacher and presider is that when the words of my sermon fail, then the words of the liturgy say what needs to be said. And knowing that Christians around the world and through the centuries have used these same words gives them a sense holiness and authority that spontaneous and unprepared words lack.

3 I’m usually more moved by a poem than by a tweet.

There are such things as twitter poets, yet even they recognize the limitations of the medium.

A tweet is an ephemeral abstract thing. Most tweets rarely have a long life, they come at us quickly and in high volume. Great for breaking news, but lacking the deliberately slow and considered words of a good poem. Poetry is intentional and reflective. Poetry is an economy of words not because there are only 140 (or 280) characters, but because every word matters. The same goes for the liturgy.

4 It’s easier to learn a new dance step when I already know how to dance.

I recently moved from leading worship in 1 congregation to 5. While each congregation has its own particularities, it is the commonality of the liturgy that makes it possible smoothly step in to preach and preside each week. The order, the movement, the rhythm is all familiar, even if a few steps are different.

6 Technology changes rapidly; people, not so much.

There are a lot of things that are rapidly changing in my millennial world. Social media flies by rapidly each day. The way people communicate with me has changed dramatically over the years. 65 year olds used to phone my landline but now text me when planning a funeral for the parents, 30 something colleagues let me know about job opportunities in facebook groups, even my 96 year old grandmother talks to my kids on FaceTime now and then.

But worship, the familiar words, patterns, seasons, texts and emphasis is one of the grounding forces of my life. I more easily associate significant memories with the liturgical season they occurred in rather than with date and month. Each week, I find my grounding and footing again in the familiar and stabilizing experience of the liturgy in the assembly.

7 I probably didn’t get the Faith right last week, so there’s no harm (or shame) in giving it another go this week.

I am coming on 9 years of ordained ministry. I probably surpassed 500 times presiding in worship recently, and I still feel like I am just starting to scratch the surface or the depth of the faith. Maybe 40 more years and I will feel like I got it right… but I doubt it.

10 Boring liturgy is like boring Shakespeare, the adjective is probably misplaced.

Being bored is usually a sign of not understanding what is going on. I grant that the church and pastors have not always been very good a teaching the liturgy and tradition of the church. But the best way to learn is to experience. We live in a world that says we are all experts before we begin… or should be. The liturgy is rich and deep and complex and beautiful. And it can be confusing if it is unfamiliar. But what form of unfamiliar worship wouldn’t be confusing? The best way to learn is through repetition. Try worshipping in a liturgical church every week for a year, and then how liturgy feels. If you find yourself bored, perhaps it is because there is learning that needs to happen. Talk to your pastor, they might be able to help.

Now, make no mistake Liturgy, ritual and tradition are not the newest (or oldest) gimmicks to get millennials back to church. Rather they are just servants of the gospel, the vehicles through which we regularly encounter God as people of faith. And it is meeting and following Jesus that is the most important thing – the most important thing that we do, and that worship helps us to do, as people of faith.

So as I said, I am still a High Church millennial. And it is these ancient things of liturgy, ritual and tradition – and how they so clearly proclaim Christ crucified and risen – that are the reasons I am still in the church.


*Thanks again to The Rev. Steven Sabin for allowing me to annotate his great post.

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Confessions of a High Church Millennial – Is Liturgy a Fad?

A few days ago a news story came out that McDonald’s is slumping because of upstart restaurants like Chipotle or Freshii or Shake Shack are appealing to the desire of millennials to customize, rather than standardize their food.

The church can probably learn something from this, but if anything the message is millennials are not opting for the things the world expects.

So imagine my surprise this past week when I read two articles about the movement of evangelical millennials leaving their mega-church roots for boring old traditions and liturgy found in Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran varieties.

Actually, this is not new, but has been an underground trend for a while.

Popular writer and blogger, Rachel Held Evans is about to come out with a book on her journey from Evangelicalism to the Anglican/Episcopalian fold. Nadia Bolz-Weber embodies millennial culture and is succeeding at navigating the cultural commute from hipsters to the Eucharist. The Barna Group even recently released data on millennial preferences of church architecture, which suggested that churches that looked like traditional churches were preferred over auditorium style buildings.

Christian millennials seem to live in this multi-layered world of reading the bible on their iPhone and tweeting in church, while singing ancient plainsong and praying prayers spoken by saints of centuries past.

And maybe this makes sense in the context of the hipster trends that have even infected my millennial hair and eyewear. My generation is instagraming photos of our knitting projects and writing our first draft blog posts on typewriters (see blog tagline above).

Yet all of this makes we wonder. Is Liturgy just another version of a millennial hipster fad? Are looms, vinyl record players and vespers things we are going to commit to for a lifetime?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know if Liturgy is going to be the Christian fad of the late 2010s like Power Point was the fad of the early 2000s.

At the same time, I think there is something deeper going on when it comes to millennials and liturgy. Particularly, when it comes to evangelical millennials finding liturgy and jumping in with two feet.

Now as a High Churchly Millennial myself, I should confess that I have not actually been a pastor to more than a handful of folks my age. The vast majority of my parishioners have been boomers or older. In fact, one of the concerns of Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans is how to retain our own “young” people.

So for evangelical millennials to begin wandering into our spaces is surprising, but I have a few theories about this trend. Evangelical churches are doing something with their people that many mainliners have mostly given up on decades ago – evangelicals are creating biblically literate Christians.

I have been teaching confirmation (two years of Lutheran indoctrination for 12 and 13-year-olds) classes for a decade in some form or another. And while I love reading the bible with students and talking about issues of faith, it is clear that we are not introducing our children to the bible beyond once a week classes with the pastor. When I ask kids if they know the basic details of many of biblical stories, including the life and ministry of Jesus they rarely come up with any.

What’s worse is that this biblical illiteracy is not limited to teenagers… it is rampant among mainliners. Evangelicals, on the other hand, have much more established cultures of bible reading. Evangelicals are encouraged to read the bible daily and to engage in group bible study more rigorously than many mainliners.

And this is where the experience of Liturgy comes in.

Liturgy is scripturally rich. The prayers and music texts are full of biblical images… images that come and go fast. A Eucharistic prayer might reference creation, Abraham and Sarah, Eljiah being fed at the river, David and Goliath, Ezekiel and the dry bones and then Jesus all in a few lines. If you can’t move quickly between stories and images, it can begin to sound like jargon and non-sense. I suspect a lot of mainline folks, especially bored teenagers, feel completely lost during a lot of liturgy.

As our need to be connected to and to understand what is happening around us increases through teenage years and into adulthood, biblically rich liturgy can become an experience of alienation. People don’t know what is going on or why the presider is yammering on about all these people with old sounding names. This is when the old trope that “Liturgy is boring” starts to get thrown around. Yet, most teachers know (and pastors should too) that kids who claim school is boring, often do so because they are not comprehending basic concepts and are struggling to keep up with what is going on. Many mainliners are in this boat.

Now imagine instead, you are a biblically literate teenager or young adult. You know your bible. You have done sword drills, and trivia. You have memorized verses and verses of the bible. And yet the worship you attend is 15 praises songs, which may or may not have a few psalm verses as lyrics, 3 extemporaneous prayers, and is concluded by some dude in a graphic t-shirt lecturing for 45 minutes on the ten principles of prayer found in Malachi chapter three.

I can see why, when biblically literate evangelicals end up in a Lutheran or Anglican worship service, they find a whole new playground of biblical worship. All of a sudden the richness of the biblical narratives come alive. Biblical images are used abundantly. Bible stories are quoted frequently. Scripture is read aloud regularly. The biblical knowledge of personal devotion and youth group becomes the new language of prayer and song, of ritual and community. You are thrown into the divine drama and you are with a community who is practicing and acting it out together.

By things we have done, and things we have failed to do” weighs heavy on our hearts as we confess these words in community, and then receive the gift of absolution and forgiveness.

Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” takes on new meaning when the acolyte processes the big bible down into the midst of the people in order to hear the gospel read.

Peace be with you” is embodied when we say it as we embrace fellow Christians around us.

This is my body, given for you” is felt when a hunk of bread is torn from a loaf and placed in our open hands and we feel flesh the of the one giving us this bread meeting our flesh, somehow bringing together earthly bread and divine body.

Liturgy has the ability to awaken the richness of the core narratives of faith in ways I have never experienced elsewhere. I can’t imagine another means of embodying the bible – embodying the Word of God – so deeply as we do in the liturgy.

Now, I am not saying that mainline millennials are not able to appreciate liturgy. Nor am I saying that evangelical millennials are about to become liturgy loving Catholics, Anglicans or Lutherans.

But rather I am trying to make some connections that point to bigger issues among Christians in North America and the West in general. The fact is many evangelicals seem to be good at keeping early church’s serious commitment to catechesis, yet have dropped many of liturgical commitments. While many mainliners have maintained the liturgical commitment of our forbearers, we have dropped much of the catechetical commitment to introduce our young and our new members to the bible and to the richness of the biblical narrative. The two dynamics play into each other in ways that none of us anticipated.

So back to my first question: Is liturgy just the latest hipster fad among millennial christians? I cannot really say. I wish and hope it isn’t. But I also know that vestments and their fabrics (all the funny robes that priests and pastors wear) excite me in the same way others of my generational cohort might be excited by bee-keeping or printing presses or growing organic gardens or listening to vinyl.

Yet, I would posit that there is something deep and more profound in liturgy, even with all its ancient adornments and traditions. Liturgy is rooted in the rich and beautiful biblical narratives that help us to make sense of the world – or perhaps show us how God is making sense of us.

Even if liturgy and vestments and ancient ritual appeals to my millennial and hipster sensibilities, I know it is a life long interest, a life long calling if you will, to continually encounter God in ways that Christians have been encountering God for centuries.

And that’s no fad.


If you want to read part 1 of Confessions of a High Church Millennial, you can find it here.

Is Liturgy just another hipster fad? Are millennials drawn to liturgy differently than previous generations? Share in the comments, or one the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Confessions of a High Church Millennial

I have a confession to make. It will probably be surprising for many to hear from a millennial:

I am a high-church liturgy nerd.

For many of my 31 years in the church, I have been told that my generation is a group of moths attracted to the glitz and glamour of projections screens showing videos in church, electric guitars and drum kits playing the music we can hear on Christian radio and cool, hip preachers who speak “authentically.” And sure, I have been to my fair share of churches, campfires, and youth services that cater to the “youth.” I have even enjoyed them greatly!

Somewhere along the way, this has led to the assumption by everyone (and no one) that my generation’s desire is only for the new. And this desire is often held up along side our narcissistic tendencies to take selfies, post our dinner plans on twitter, and live in our parent’s basements.

It just so happens that these same lazy narcissistic millennials are currently the concern of so many church members. Churches spend a lot of energy worrying about what interests us and wondering why we don’t come to church (anymore).

I know millennials are not the first generation to be the object of the church’s and society’s attention. When I was a little, churches were trying to be contemporary then too… trying to attract boomers and their young families with 70s folk music. As a child of the 80s, my church had more than a few 30-40 something guys standing behind lecterns with guitars, singing special music that sounded like an Eagle’s song with Christian lyrics.

And then Generation X got its 15 minutes of attention…During my tween and teen years, the Gen-Xers were doing Friday night youth services once a month with songs from artists like Brian Doerksen, Petra, Amy Grant, and Third Day. The Gen-Xers, we were told, would come for this. As a teen watching this unfold, I hadn’t quite processed what it meant for the church to be so concerned with making sure 20 somethings stayed in church. I didn’t understand why Friday night youth services, token 20 somethings on church council and money for expensive sound systems and projectors was going to keep the young adults, just a little older than me, in church.

Yet, despite all the catering to what the young people supposedly want, what I do remember from church of my childhood is liturgy.

image source - http://ultraspike.blogspot.ca
image source – http://ultraspike.blogspot.ca

When we were all together as a community, when we gave up as much as we could trying to cater to what will attract the youth, or appease the seniors, or keep the young families interested, or make the boomers happy, we did simple Lutheran liturgy. 

Now don’t get me wrong, it was low-churchly Lutheran liturgy.  Which is to say our worship felt a bit like eating vegetables; it was good for us, but no one really liked it. Or at least we acted like we didn’t like it.

Our worship was billed as being everything from “Bach to Rock,” but the liturgy was more of a timeless aspect of our worship. As a kid and then teen, I could feel the prayers, the liturgical songs, the actions of standing, sitting, praying, responding, receiving were starting to ingrain themselves in my very body. I remember myself starting to set the hymnbook down more and more. I would simply pray or sing or respond. The phrases like “And also with you” or “Thanks be to God” or “Amen” started to come naturally and unbidden.

Interestingly, our low church Lutheran liturgy, that felt like eating vegetables, connected our whole congregation much more deeply than any of the things that we did to attract different generations. Weirdly, we all liked it. We all shared in it. In fact, we came to the same worship service because of it. Liturgy doesn’t distinguish between generations. It’s kind of like how I don’t play Xbox with my grandma, and she doesn’t knit with me. But we both know how to sit down and share a family meal.

Liturgy ties us together, rather than emphasizing our personal or generational experiences. Liturgy is timeless and when we can get past whether we like the tunes or instruments playing them or not, we can realize that these things we do, and repeat together, are biblical, rooted in the ancient Church and are about God. In fact, liturgy at its best makes us forget it is liturgy and instead helps us see God in out midst.

In a recent blog post, Rachel Held Evans, who is an Evangelical trying out Episcopalian worship, writes:

I am folding laundry, its starched, orderly scent a sort of incense, as the hymn rises to my lips. 

“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory…”

I can’t remember the rest of the words exactly, and the tune meanders a bit, so I improvise, prompting Dan to shout from the other room, “Hon?  You okay? You crying about something?” which happens just about every time I burst into spontaneous song because, apparently, my version of a joyful noise remains indistinguishable from a sob.

Still, I sing on.

“….For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are da da da da la la la la.” 

It is a season of new songs.

(Read the rest here…)

Like me, she is a millennial and a Christian (if you haven’t discovered her blog, you are probably living under a rock). If the two of us were to sit down for coffee, I would tell her that this will only get worse (or better). Way worse.

When you become a liturgy person, all those familiar texts like the Gloria (which is what Rachel was singing) start to come to your mind like the baseball stats that so many dads seem to know – they come automatically. Worship starts to take on a rhythm and pattern that you can’t escape. You will eventually find that worship is something where you always know what is going to happen next, or that your body knows what to do next. The things that change start to rise to the surface and catch your attention. After the familiar Kyrie and Gloria, which are the same week after week, the collect and scripture readings, which change each week, stand out. Liturgy helps you to identify the new and changing things of worship, by keeping you grounded with the constants.

And still, it gets worse. When you are a liturgy person, you can show up for Anglican, Episcopalian, Roman Catholic or Lutheran worship and generally know what is going on. You might even find yourself singing songs you have never sung before because you already know the words.

In my development as a liturgy person, my low-church, eating-our-vegetables, experience of liturgy as a child and teen morphed and grew into something more as I went to university and then to seminary. As I learned more and more about the meaning and history of the symbols, I fell in love with the richness of it all. I became high-church. I became a liturgy nerd.

And I am going to make a bold claim because of this.

Liturgy can engage the young people.

I am not saying that non-liturgical worship is wrong, or won’t “attract” millennials. In fact, I know many of my generational cohort who have abandoned liturgy for praise bands. But like Rachel Held Evans shows, some are coming the other way. Contemporary worship is not something I am looking to critique, but rather I am suggesting that all those criticisms of liturgical worship is simply unfounded.

I am a millennial and I am drawn to tradition, to wrote prayers, to words passed on to me from generations before. The symbols and ritual actions point to God in ways that nothing else has in my experience, not sunsets or Christian radio, not preachers with graphic T-shirts and 45 minute sermons. I don’t think I am alone. I am not saying that every millennial wants what I want. Liturgy is what it is, it doesn’t really sell itself. And I think many of my generation are not interested in being sold faith.

So to my liturgically minded brothers and sisters in faith: Let’s stop worrying about being something we are not. Let’s not try to be contemporary like the Baptists down the street while still somehow still being us. And for heaven’s sake, lets not do liturgy like it is eating vegetables. Let’s see liturgy as the beautiful meal of diversity and rich flavours that it can be.

We will never be the mega-church contemporary worship that we think all the millennials have left for. And the narrative that we need to be that to “attract” the young people only shows them that we have an identity crisis, and that what we are, is not worthy of our youth. I am sure many millennials find that off-putting… I do, and I am a pastor in a denomination with an identity crisis.

Instead, let’s be what we are. Let’s use the tools that we know how to use. Let’s preach the Gospel and point to God at work in our world with the liturgy we have been given.

And remember, as surprising as it may be to hear that one millennial is a high church liturgy nerd… it might be even more surprising that there are a lot more out there.


Are you a liturgy nerd? Do you think liturgy can engage millennials? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

As usual, thanks to my wife, Courtenay for her edits and insight. Follow her at @ReedmanParker on Twitter.

PS

If you like what you read on The Millennial Pastor, you can vote for this blog on Christian Piatt’s list of top 25 Christian Blogs of 2014. You might have to scroll down the list a bit, but as of this post, I am in the top 50.

Liturgy: The First Social Media – In Info-graphics!

(Links to the info-graphcis below)

I just had the opportunity to present the National Worship Conference of the Anglican Church of Canada / Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. My workshop was entitled “Liturgy: The First Social Media.”

As a digital native Millennial serving in the church, social media has come to me as a relatively obvious tool to use for communication and developing networks and relationships beyond the traditional church and personal spheres.

But I understand that for some, social media can be a confusing medium to engage with.

It has been pointed out on Twitter (I think by Rev David Hansen) that being online today  is like being the phonebook in past decades. The first place that people go to find churches today is online, and if churches aren’t online people won’t find them. Yet where to start for most churches is difficult and it is hard to empirically measure the fruit social media produces.

Using social media can be a daunting undertaking.

However, the seemingly surface level interaction of social media, represents a deeper shift in the way people interact with each other in all relationships. Millennials are a collaborative, content creating generation. And this is changing politics (see the election of Barack Obama), business, the economy, workplace and of course the church.

This collaborative community driven new social ethos is nothing new to the church. We have been practicing community building social media for 2000 years: Liturgy. We have been using a medium to shape and form us into community and ties together through a common faith.

Below I am making the info-graphics that I used in the workshop available to you. There are JPEG versions (click on the pictures) or PDF versions (click on the links below the pictures).

You can check out the twitter hashtag #SMLiturgy (SM is for Social Media).

Also, you can check out the hashtag for the conference at #NWC2014

Lastly, you can follow me on Facebook at The Millennial Pastor and on Twitter: @ParkerErik

 

Liturgy and Social Media

Liturgy and Social Media

4 Shifts in Church History

4 Shifts in Church History

Millennials and Faith

Millennials and Faith

Social Media Pros and Cons

Social Media Pros and Cons

How we screw up prayer and how social media teaches us to do it right.

We have a problem with prayer. So many Christians seem to think prayer can only happen in one way. One dimensional prayer I call it.  Let me elaborate…

As a pastor, one would think that I spend most of my time in my own congregation. However, one might be surprised just how often I worship in other churches, and it is always interesting to watch how my fellow colleagues have planned and then preside at (lead) worship. I try to bring a sense of curiosity when I worship at a church other than my own. Often there are little things to learn and borrow.

prayer11However, over the years, maybe even for decades I have noticed many churches operate with an understanding of prayer that I just cannot get behind.

In Lutheran liturgy, our worship contains many different kinds of prayer. There are prayers said in silence like confession, prayers said by the presider (worship leader) like the collect/prayer of the day and eucharistic prayer, prayers said by an assistant minister like the prayers of intercession and offering prayer, and there are prayers said by the whole assembly, like the Lord’s Prayer.

Prayer is used in a variety of ways, with the understanding that there are a variety of ways to pray. This has been the way the church has done liturgy and understood prayer for hundreds, almost thousands of years.

Yet, even as a child I remember prayer being taught and spoken of largely with one understanding, and so often this one understanding is how many christians understand prayer today.

Prayer is talking to God. Specifically, it is us talking to God. More specifically, it is us saying words with our mouths to God. And there are all kinds of teaching and theories and styles to saying these words with our mouths to God.

As teen and young adult in church, I remember being sent on occasion to different workshops on prayer, and I remember all the courses that were offered that I didn’t go to. I recall thinking it was strange that learning how to pray was all about becoming more open and vulnerable in my prayers, learning how to “open my heart” to God. As if prayer was some kind of divine therapy session, and I had to learn how to say the words just right.

As a pastor, one of the chief concerns of our church, and of many of my friends and colleagues is that we aren’t spiritual enough as leaders. Specifically, that our prayer life isn’t up to snuff. When I ask more about this, it seems that many pastors worry that they don’t pray enough (translation: not enough time saying things to God). We worry that we are not spending enough time in silent meditative prayer (saying things to God in our head), or enough in morning devotions (telling God our daily plans), or enough in small group prayer (taking turns saying words to God in front of others).

So many Christians and Christian leaders seem to have the notion that prayer is saying words to God, and the better we get at saying these words, the better our faith will get, the better our “relationship with God” will be. Prayer becomes exceedingly one-dimensional in this view.  Whether praying is done alone, in a group, or in church, we seem to believe that only the one speaking is the one praying.

What this translates into is a lot of pressure to be pray in this one way. Pressure to pray at home, and pressure to pray at church. For Lutherans this has translated into a poor understanding of the worship and liturgy. We treat liturgy like vegetables. You have to eat them, but nobody likes them.

imagesPrayers that were once prayed on behalf of the assembly by one voice are now prayed by all. And pastors have this awful, awful habit of saying little phrases that betray our one-dimensional understanding of prayer:

“Let us pray the offering/collect/post-communion prayer together”

“Pray with me this prayer…”

“Let us all pray out loud.”

These phrases reinforce the idea that praying only happens when we say words with our mouths.

Liturgy is not to be understood this way. Prayer is not only prayer when we say words with our mouths.

(As a tangent: I think it interesting that we are increasingly leaving our music making to a group of experts like a band, while we are all praying out loud which has been normally done by one voice).

Before I say what I think is a healthier understanding of prayer, I think there is an example we all use regularly that would help us into a deeper and broader understanding of what prayer looks like.

0_23_ibreviary_churchSocial Media.

Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Pintrest etc…

Okay, so I know that Social media at its worst is a lot of people cyber “yelling” at each other.

But social media at it is best is conversational. It involves speaking AND listening.

In fact, most of social media is not speaking at all, it is mostly hearing. Social media wouldn’t work if most of us weren’t listening, reading, hearing, receiving.

But social media takes it a step further. With social media you can like, favourite, share, retweet and more. You can read or hear what others have said and add your approval or endorsement without adding your own words.

Likes, favourites, shares, retweets are nothing new. We have been doing them in church for 1000s of years. They are the equivalent of “Amen.”

Social media teaches us that it isn’t always about saying words with our mouths. Sometimes it is important not to say anything at all but to let the words of others speak as if they were our own. You can probably see where I am going.

As a pastor, my voice is often the one that speaks for the assembly in worship. It is my voice that voices the prayers of the whole group. And so when I worship in other churches where I get to be in the pew and the presider or worship leader says, “let’s all pray together this prayer…” I say nothing. I sometimes wonder if the people around me think I am not participating.

When we see prayer only as saying words with my mouth, we all have to mumble the unfamiliar texts of liturgical prayers in an unpracticed and monotone way. Have you ever paid attention to how a congregation prayers the Lord’s prayer versus the prayer of the day? The Lord’s Prayer is the same every week, and we learn how to pray it together. But the Prayer of the Day/Collect changes every week and so we stumble through if we try to say it out loud together.

C1010109prayerYet, when we understand that when the presider or worship leader says a prayer with one voice, and still we are all praying together (one by speaking, the rest by listening) with one voice as a group, prayer becomes deeper and broader.

When we understand that the deep breaths and moments of silence before a prayer is spoken are the moments when we can, in fact, all truly pray together (instead of all reading monotonously at the same time), prayer becomes deeper and broader.

When we understand that in the “Amens”, the “and also with yous”, the “Lord’s Prayer” that we not just praying individually at the same time with our voices, but with the voice of the whole church, with every Christian who has ever said “Amen”, with every Christian who will ever say, “Our Father in heaven”, prayer becomes deeper and broader.

When we understand that prayer is more than one dimensional, more than saying words with my mouth, prayer becomes deeper and broader. Prayer becomes something we really do together, not something that we do individually at the same time which is really what we are doing when we say those phrases like, “Pray out loud with me.”

I think a deeper and broader understanding of prayer would help us realize that sometimes saying nothing, or just “Amen” at the end is prayer just as much as saying words with our mouth. Just like we know that a like, favourite, share or retweet is using social media the same as updating a status.

So let’s start praying with our ears, likes, retweets, with our Amens, in the silences and, when it is appropriate, together with many voices.

For more on social media and liturgy read this: Social Network Liturgy: Putting down the iPhone


So, how do you see prayer? Can we learn about prayer from social media? Share in comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik 

PS I recently read that one fewer hour of sleep a night for a week gives you the equivalent mental capacity of someone with the blood alcohol level of 0.10. With a new baby in the house, that would make my mental capacity the equivalent of 0.40, I think. This has been the reason for few posts lately, but I hope to pick up the pace again soon.

PPS Twitter has been flagging my blog as spam lately. If you would like to help get it unflagged (because according to wordpress and google it is fine), file a ticket with a link to my blog here

 

 

 

I wish Mumford & Sons Would Play at My Church

So last week I wrote a post about how Praise Bands are the New Medieval Priests. Over the past few days, that particular post has been generating discussion in the comments section, on my Facebook page and on Twitter. Worship is such an emotionally loaded topic, especially when it comes to music. Music is a powerful art form and so important in Christian worship. I think somewhere along the way, readers got the sense that I was advocating one style over another – that I was saying ‘Contemporary’ worship is not as good as, or as holy as, or as faithful as ‘Traditional’ worship.

Let me be clear, I was not advocating one style over another.

Image source - blog.ncbaptist.org
Image source – blog.ncbaptist.org

This is not about Contemporary vs. Traditional.

In fact, I didn’t use the word ‘contemporary’ or the word ‘traditional’ in that post. I am no classical music / organ snob, or someone who listens only to music newer than 5 years old. If you look at my iTunes library or the presets on my satellite radio in the car, you will see that my preference is eclectic. There is bluegrass, rock, folk, pop, classical, jazz, organ, soundtrack etc… But my heart music is some kind of bluegrass, folk, pop, rock mix or in other words Mumford & Sons. If Mumford & Sons decided to become a Praise Band, I would have resumes delivered daily to the church they play at. If Mumford & Sons decided to write a liturgy… I would be running down the streets looking for Jesus, because I would be convinced of the end of the world.

So let me say it again, this is not about Contemporary vs. Traditional.

I think I failed to connect the dots in my Praise Band Medieval Priests post. I think I failed to make clear I was talking about the medium of worship. I was talking about the ‘how’ of worship, not the ‘what’.

Yes, I have a strong bias to liturgy, but not because I am a traditionalist. I am biased towards liturgy because it is the agreed-to practice of the community of the Church. It is the vehicle that, for hundreds of years, Christians have agreed says what we believe about God, and liturgy allows us to worship God in an agreed-upon way. Liturgy is strongly rooted in the bible, in the early church, and in good theology.

Now I admit, I do think lots of contemporary music has bad theology in it, and I have done my fair share of ranting about Jesus-is-my-boyfriend songs. But I am also the first to admit that a lot of traditional hymns have equally bad theology. There are Jesus-is-my-boyfriend hymns out there too, they just escape our notice because they sound a little more Pride and Prejudice than Sixteen Candles. Contemporary music doesn’t have inherently bad theology, but like hymns, the theology covers a wide spectrum.

That being said, for my evangelical readers, I think I need to explain liturgy as medium.

Liturgy is not synonymous with organ music. The word Liturgy means “work of the people.” ‘The Liturgy’ is the order of worship, the texts that are used for the songs,  the assigned bible readings for each Sunday, the prayers and responses said by the pastor and congregation, the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. Liturgy is the skeleton of worship that Christians have agreed upon for hundreds of years.

But Liturgy can be done with organs, or guitars, or string instruments, or brass instruments, or piano, or drums or a cappella. In fact, I have done liturgy with all those kinds of instruments and their styles.

The style of music in liturgy can be any style, played by all manner of instruments and ensembles. There is some great liturgical music written and played in the contemporary style out there (eg. Steve Bell’s Holy Lord).

So, when I say Praise Bands are the New Medieval Priests, I am talking about Praise Bands. And no, of course not all Praise Bands. But the medium of ‘Praise Band’.

It is not way they play, but how they play it.

221313230_640Like with Medieval Priests , the Praise Band medium has become the message.

When Medieval Priests led worship, the language, the secret prayers, the division between the laity and priesthood, the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood became the message. Those things were supposed to be the medium, the means of sharing God’s grace with the people. Instead, the Priests became the message, that only special people were required for worship, that only holy people had access to God. The liturgy of the medieval church had strayed far from the worship habits of the early church. The early church which gathered for prayer and song, to hear the Word of God, to share in the holy meal, to be sent into mission (that’s liturgy by the way).

Now this is completely anecdotal and very well my opinion, but for me the medium of the Praise Band can make the worshipper unnecessary. Just like the medieval priest who said mass by himself, often a Praise Band playing a song would sound just the same whether the congregation was present or not.

I think my objection comes from my experience over the past few years with Praise Bands. It seems like if I stopped singing, if the whole congregation stopped singing, almost nothing would change in the experience of music in worship. Praise Bands are a medium that has everything going against them when it comes to worship. They exist in an entertainment, consumer culture. They are a born of a genre of music that is performative. They even sound the best when played in concert style rather than worship style. They sound really good when the band interprets a song using the band’s own particular style, gifts and blend.

Here is where the rubber hits the road for me; despite all my best efforts to sing along, to songs that I know and that I played when I was in a Praise Band, I feel I like the music is more conducive to me listening than singing along. I am starting to enjoy listening over singing along, and I think I am not alone. I think this has become ‘worship’ for a good many people. Listening to the Praise Band, just like watching the Medieval Priest.

Does this mean I think we should give up on contemporary music in worship? Not at all. But I think, that like the liturgy of the Medieval Priests, Praise Bands will need a Reformation of sorts. I don’t know what that looks like, but some of the comments on my last post are the beginning of the discussion. Read them, see what people who have devoted their lives to music and worship are thinking. It is good stuff, it is smart, intentional and thoughtful.

Meanwhile, I am still thinking about how (maybe even if) Praise Bands are the New Medieval Priests. And wondering if Mumford & Sons will come play at my church.

So are Praise Bands a doomed medium? What needs to be done to reform them? Share in the comments, on The Millennial Pastor Facebook Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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PS. Just in case I wasn’t clear that I am aware of my own hypocrisy about this stuff, here is a video of a Praise Band playing a song that I co-wrote for the National Youth Gathering of my denomination…

Praise Bands are the New Medieval Priests

You don’t have to spend much time in a mainline congregation to overhear someone bemoaning our traditional worship and pointing to those huge evangelical churches that get all the kids to come because of their hip and cool worship. When we see Praise Bands, a lot of us get a little church envy. Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to be around Praise Bands and Evangelical style worship, which leads me to a secret about Mainliners: we all get a little envious of mega church praise and worship.

Image source - http://lauraturner.religionnews.com
Image source – http://lauraturner.religionnews.com

That being said, my experience with Praise Bands has become increasingly one of alienation. I just can’t access Praise music anymore, I don’t hear Praise songs as the music of worship. I find myself wondering why I am just standing there, in the midst of a group of people who are also not singing. As the Praise band performs song after song, I am consistently lost as to how the music goes, what verses will come next, how to follow the melody, when to start and stop singing, or when a random guitar solo will be thrown in right when I thought I had figured out when the next verse starts. Even some Praise Bands folks recognize themselves just how alienating their shtick can be:

My alienation with Praise music isn’t because I am not musical or don’t know what is going on in worship. I am a pastor after all, I have been in worship LOTS. I play a number of instruments. I had played in music ensembles, secular and church, I have even played in Praise Bands. I can sing well enough to chant, most melodies are easy enough to pick up and I prefer singing parts from sheet music.

So if I am standing there feeling alienated by Praise music because I can’t follow along, what about most other people? What about those who didn’t spend a significant portion of their childhood being musically educated and playing music in church?

Lots of Praise Bands are full of talented musicians. They often perform very well, better than some professional artists who mostly lip sync. Some of the Praise Bands I have heard could easily be found in local bars or pubs playing for young adult hipsters and no one would bat an eyelash.

Most recently, as I stood listening to a Praise band overwhelm my senses with their loud music (crap… I sound old), the lead singer’s beautiful interpretations of song melodies, and the random guitar solos, I looked around at the people in the pews with me. Most were just standing there too, not singing, not really being a part of the music at all. We are all just bystanders to the moment, we were being played at, rather than played with.

As a Lutheran, I am rooted in a tradition that advocates for the role of folks in the pews. In Medieval worship, the people had become unnecessary for worship. The priests spoke Latin, and the people didn’t. The priests had stuff to say and pray, the people just stood there. The priests often faced away from the people to the altar, ignoring the people. The priests even whispered secret prayers to themselves, and only served themselves the wine at communion, because the people might spill the blood of Christ. Sometimes priests said mass all by themselves, people weren’t even necessary for worship to happen. The priests had all special knowledge and privilege, they basically performed worship at the people.

Martin Luther, the key dude of the Reformation didn’t like this at all. He translated the bible into the language of the people. AND he also translated worship into the language of the people. Liturgy (which means ‘work of the people’, but also refers to those rote prayers, litanies, responses, music etc…) was changed so that the people could be included. No more secret prayers, no more facing away from the people, priests spoke in the language that most people understood, and worship was about participation and designed to be for the people. Worship was so that the people could hear the Gospel, instead of be bystanders to the hocus-pocus magic. The assembly, all the people gathered for worship, were now considered necessary.

Now 500 years later, despite all lessons of the Reformation that Protestants –  Mainliners and even Evangelicals – have been teaching, we are going back to non-participatory, secret language, performance worship. Just like priests who lead worship in a language that few spoke, Praise Bands are incompatible with a worship that is done by the community. Rock Bands are by design meant to overwhelm the audience with sound. They are a performative medium, not a participatory one.

Worship Bands have become new ‘Medieval Priests’. It is becoming more and more clear to me that we are unnecessary bystanders to most of what Praise Bands do. They play so loud that our singing is unnecessary, so we don’t sing. They sing in such highly interpretative ways, that we can’t follow melodies. They use screens with words intended to be easy to read, but that mean we can’t see what is coming and half the time, the screens are wrong, even in the most mega of mega churches.

What happened? When did we forget the lessons that our forebearers fought to teach us? 

I suspect it has something to do with over-emphasis on the individual in North American Christianity, particularly Evangelicalism. We don’t often worship as communities any more, we worship as a group of individuals. More like the folks in a movie theatre, than the folks playing a team sport. I also think it has something to do with our suspicion of history, of tradition, or anything old or ancient, we are obsessed by what is new.

Praise Bands have lost the worship plot. They are more about performance and than facilitation of worship. Praise Bands at their best completely exclude the Body gathered to worship.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFull disclosure: I am fully aware that when I lead worship in my ancient vestments and with ancient liturgies, many can feel alienated. But Liturgy as its best is meant to include and to reconcile. Liturgy is a team sport, where each is given a role, and where no individual can go it alone. Just like any team sport, it takes learning and practice to know what is going on and to play well.

Liturgical worship has stood the test of time, it has been around for 2000 years. You can see our liturgical roots in the writings of the early Christian church. Liturgical worship will remain as long as Christ’s church does. I don’t know if the same can be said for Praise Bands. Praise Bands just may go the way of the Medieval priest saying mass to himself in the dusty corner of a cathedral. Praise Bands are likely to become an obscure historical footnote, remembered only by those wishing to take up the ancient priestly performance.

So, are Praise Bands excluding people from worship? What is our way forward? Share in the comments, on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

UPDATE: There has been a lot of thoughtful conversation here in the comments , on Facebook and on Twitter. I written a followup post that hopefully addresses some of the comments which you can find here: I want Mumford & Sons to Play at My Church