Monday, November 29, 2010

Worship Grumbling

I've often thought about making a list of pet peeves I have about working in a church.  Shortly thereafter, I realize that the publication of such a list will (likely) result in unemployment.  So instead of unleashing a 700-page "church gripes manifesto" I'll share one of my biggest complaints:

Age-specific or Gender-specific Worship.

When did the act of Christian worship become a "program" that needs to be compartmentalized?  What components of a youth worship service are only germane to young people?  Which aspects of a women's worship service are considered unfit for men?

My armchair sociological analysis is that these kinds of worship gatherings were helpful in a time when certain groups of people (women, youth, etc.) were unable to fully participate in worship.  The only way these folks could elbow their way onto the worship scene was to have a service for "their people"...and to do it really well.

By and large, those days are behind us.  The ELCA has been ordaining women for 40+ years.  Young people serve as liturgists, preachers, musicians, lectors, communion assistants, ushers -- everything their adult lay counterparts can do.  Why do we continue to hang onto these antiquated practices?

From my perspective, every time we place parameters on church events (age, gender, race, etc.) we remind everyone around us of our differences.  If we are truly one in the Body of Christ, why do we spend our time and effort declaring the ways in which we are separated?

With all rants, it's highly possible that the ranter is missing the point...a possibility I fully concede.  What do you think?  Are age/gender specific worship services helpful...important...necessary?  I'd love a little dialogue on this topic, because I think it points to something embedded much deeper in church culture.


  1. I believe that if we ignore the differences among us, it can get to a point of being condescending. "It doesn't matter that you're young/old and that you appreciate tradition/contemporary elements of worship." But then again, if we highlight our differences beyond what is appropriate, we being our own segregation. "That's for the youth." "That's an old-folks service."

    There is still a need to have respective elements of church community that collects people of similarities together. But there needs to be a common element that brings us all together, and I believe that is Worship. We can engage in Worship wars and throw mud at one another about what is right and salutary versus what is inappropriate - but at least we're coming together at the shadow of the cross, for that is where Christ's ministry is shared to all, regardless of our differences. We are no longer "those people", but "God's people."

  2. i love your grumblings. thanks for your writing on antiquated worship practices. i remember when we had a youth sunday beacuse it was the only time each year we could be up front. we need to recognize that times have changed. and coming from a youth guy, maybe someone will listen.

  3. Lunchtime thoughts:
    1.Music styles unite and divide people. 2.Communication absorption and delivery methods have drastically changed in the last 10 years. 3.Facebook is the townhall that church once was. 4.For curious people, the internet has more knowledge than the seminary graduate. He hasn't much to offer in comparison to YouTube.

    What does this mean for worship?
    Worship is the act of creation. (creation as both noun and verb). If none are creating, they are only consuming, or remaining static.

    What does this mean for age/gender specific worship? Creativity is cycle of divergent and convergent processes. Your end result is only as good as your diversity of thought. A more diverse mix will yield a richer experience.

    Q:Does this mean we are measuring the results of worship? A:Only if time or money are involved.

  4. Rethinking what we've grown to accept face value is a good thing. I enjoy mixing things up, it keeps worship fresh. Jesus was about inclusion, not division.


  5. There is also a difference between a "youth worship service" and "youth who worship." A community that gathers together and worships as a part of its liturgical life is different than saying "here's a worship experience for this particular group exclusively."

    I've always said that we would do a youth worship service when we also do a service for women's ministry...for our church bowling team...and every other group in the place.

  6. I think perhaps that "worship" (i.e. Weekly Large-group Services, WLS) has become way too important to us. We have over-invested our faith life into that one hour that it's no wonder people will have "worship wars" over the contested territory on the calendar.

    It's as if I built a lifestyle where I only spent one hour a week with my wife. In that scenario, you can be sure I'd care a lot about having that hour go the way I like it. But thankfully, we live together and have plenty of time to be together in all kinds of different ways... alone; with the kids; eating; sleeping; working & walking. So it's really not that much of an issue if I have to listen to "her" music part of the time.

    I suspect that the fighting, and even the grumbling around "worship" is a symptom of a deeply unbalanced faith-lifestyle that has become normative for all of us.

    After all, "worship" can't be crammed into one hour per week. It isn't even really a service, or an event anyway. I'm thinking here of what Paul says in Romans 12:1 "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship"


Thank you for taking the time to be a part of "koinonia"