Friday, September 17, 2010

Creativity in the Local Congregation

That Which Jesus First Cannot Accept:

An effort to stymie the creativity and versatility of congregations in worship

We do understand that there are appropriate expectations of what will take place in a service of Lutheran worship. As congregations understand and honor those expectations, congregations can and should use the variety of gifts that are available to them without undue criticism or judgment from others.

I stumbled across this quote the other day.  It is a quote from Jesus First, a group of theological liberals in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod who, among other things, are very much in favor of contemporary worship.  It is also a silly quote.  The reason it is a silly quote is because it presupposes that if a Christian is creative, his or her creative stuff ought to be used in the Divine Service.

Now obviously there is much creativity that takes place in the Divine Service.  For example, creativity takes place every time we sing a hymn that a musically creative mind wrote.  And having such creative treasures at our disposal is a wonderful thing.  But the reason this is such a wonderful thing is because it comes to us from the Church Universal.  It may well be that you have the greatest living hymn writer in your congregation.  I have a pretty phenomenal one in my family.  But in the offhand chance that you're not blessed with such a presence in your pews each Sunday morning, the Church Universal can say to you, "If you don't have the greatest creative hymn-writing minds in the world, that's OK.  Because here are the best hymns ever.  They were once written and are now written by simple Christians in simple congregations.  But because they were and are so beneficial to God's people through their proclamation of the Gospel, we have taken the greatest creative endeavors of those separated from you by space and time and we have given them to you."

However, I don't think this is what the Jesus First quote is talking about.  Rather, I think the quote is essentially saying that a congregation should be free to take whatever talents and creative abilities her members have and implement them into the worship service in any way the congregation sees fit.  A big problem with that idea, though, is that, out of sentimentality or the desire to make people feel appreciated and welcome, a congregation's members and/or her pastor will often times muck up a clear proclamation of the Gospel by putting ill fitting or less than quality talents and gifts on display smack dab in the middle of the service.  A few hypothetical examples:

1. Duncan, mentioned earlier and earlierer, is a fantastic guitarist.  In particular, Duncan is really good at playing the guitar really, really fast.  Like faster than this guy.  (So far this is not hypothetical.)  So his pastor suggests that Duncan use his lightning fast guitar playing for the glory of the Lord the next Sunday, thinking that this might get more young people interested in coming to church.  But while everyone in attendance that morning is very impressed by his shredding, Duncan's guitar does not talk about the Gospel.  It doesn't speak of Jesus Christ crucified for the sins of the world. And it's not exactly like people can pray with a clear mind while he's playing the thing.  So, without a clear reason for being there, without serving the proclamation of the Gospel, Duncan's awesome guitaricizing only succeeds in giving people the impression that Sunday morning worship is essentially a talent show with occasional God stuff thrown in.

2. Mrs. Schmidt likes to write songs about Jesus.  These songs are terrible and sound like rejected laundry detergent commercial jingles.  But she is an incredibly sweet woman who has served her congregation faithfully for fifty years and her pastor wants her to feel appreciated, so he asks her to play a few of her songs during the service every fifth Sunday.  But when she does this, the people in church that morning highly consider stabbing themselves in the ears with the pew pencils.  They think mean thoughts about Mrs. Schmidt while she's belting away at the piano with the boom mic half an inch from her lips.  Then, during the pastor's sermon, they repent of hating Mrs. Schmidt, but they still wonder if they're allowed to hate her terrible, terrible songs.  Then they just decide that they'll avoid the problem altogether by going out to the Waffle House on 5th Sundays from now on.  Then the pastor finishes his sermon and they realize they haven't actually heard anything about Jesus that day.

3. Pastor Dave is a nerd who was never popular in high school and thus has a raging need for people to validate him in his creative endeavors.  So, knowing that everyone has to pay attention to him on Sunday morning, he decides he's going to write his own liturgy.  He replaces the traditional Gloria with this Gloria because U2 is awesome and he's pretty sure that song is about Jesus.  He replaces the Sanctus with Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus Lord God Almighty by Michael W. Smith because he thinks people might like a change of pace.  And he also plugs in his own version of the Nunc Dimittis that he wrote on his sweet 12 string Ovation electric/acoustic on Friday night because he's always been kind of creative that way.  Many of his people are bothered by this.  They find it strange and unnecessary.  And then, when he asks them how they liked his creative liturgy after the service, he does something no pastor should ever do.  He makes Christians choose between being loyal to their liturgy and being loyal to their pastor.  He pits the Word against the Office.  And in doing so, he has prevented his sheep from clearly hearing the voice of their Shepherd.

So if you want to use the gifts of those in your local congregation during your congregation's worship service, here's my suggestion: Take it to the Church Universal.  Ask another congregation half way across the world if Duncan's superguitarfantasticalexpolision would help their people hear the Gospel.  If it won't, it won't help yours either.  Send Mrs. Schmidt's songs to a congregation that has no idea how sweet and kind she is and ask them what they think.  If their response is, "we'd never let these songs anywhere near our sanctuary," don't let them near yours either.  If Pastor Dave wants to write his own liturgy, let him hop in the DeLorean, travel back three hundred years when the same Jesus Christ was equally Lord of the same Church confessing the same Doctrine and ask a congregation back then if his liturgy makes any sense to them.  If it doesn't, it's not going to make any sense to Christ's sheep today either, no matter how creative it may be.

My name is Pastor Hans Fiene.  Thanks for reading



Maanum's Meandering Musings said...

Nice post as usual Hans... really dig the Steve Vai pic.

Pastor Praetorius said...

well said Doc. Schuldheisz, out.

Pastor Fiene said...

Thanks, guys. And yeah, that picture of Vai is E.P.I.C, isn't it?