Again, Mehta nails us.
One would think the adults would be role models, listening to the pastor, maybe even taking notes. Instead, what I saw especially in some of the smaller churches were adults who were obviously bored. They were looking through the program, looking around the room, even looking at their watches. Part of the blame rests on the pastors of those churches (they were among the less-interesting speakers). Regardless, I wonder why these adults come to church in the first place.
Can anyone deny the truth in this? Yes, preachers can be boring. Yes, songs can be horribly led. But how we act affects our children’s perception of church. Moreover, if the services are that bad, why don’t we do something about it?
Now, the other side of the coin is the difficulty small churches have in attracting preaching and song leading talent. I’d like to offer a few partial solutions (they won’t work for everyone) —
* Merge! Many churches can’t hire the talent they need and many don’t have the singing voices they need because they obstinately refuse to merge with similar churches in the area.
* Get training. We have very few resources available for the training of worship leaders, despite the importance the Churches of Christ place on singing. But training can be had. Get your worship leaders to attend the Zoe conferences. Better yet, ask a capable worship leader in another church to train your leaders. Offer to pay.
* The same holds true for preachers. We do a lot of training on theology and leadership, primarily at lectureships, but next to none on how to deliver an effective sermon. But there are Church-affiliated universities that can help, and I’m sure many highly skilled preachers would be glad to listen to your preacher’s tapes and make some suggestions. You see, we often fail to even seek help from each other, and so we often fail.
* Get rid of all vestiges of legalism. Legalism destroys worship. Grace compels worship.
Distracting behavior during worship
Mehta points out that his ability to listen to the sermon was often interfered with by members of the church “moving or speaking while the pastor spoke or while the choir was performing. … They mumbled to themselves, or they raised their hands and blocked my view of the stage.”
All churches have members who interfere with the worship of others. Some of this is due to unruly children. In some churches, members enjoy raising their hands toward God, which is fine, even Biblical, but they do so at inappropriate times. In some charismatic churches, people speak in tongues during the worship. In some churches, people just talk to each other.
Every church has its own personality and own style of worship. However, consideration for the other worshipers is always the order of the day, and yet most churches are reluctant to tell a mother to take her crying baby out or to ask a worshiper who is out of order to tone it down. We are nice, kind people who hate to give offense. But for the sake of visiting seekers, we really need to insist that our members refrain from all kinds of rude behavior — but what is rude will vary greatly from church to church.
Some very effective megachurches are quite stern on this point. For example, some insist that babies be in the nursery, not the auditorium, for this very reason. Many churches train their ushers to kindly but firmly deal with distracting behavior.
Obviously, we want to grant great freedom in how we worship. But rudeness has no place in the assembly.
Lack of opportunities to ask questions
Mehta sees the sermon as central to the service, and he sees sermons as educational. Therefore, he wonders why it’s so rare to have the opportunity to ask questions. He understands why a large church would not allow questions during the sermon, but would love to have that opportunity by speaking to the preacher after worship.
Of course, in Churches of Christ it’s customary for the preacher to meet with the members after services, which allows some time for questions — or at least the opportunity to set a time to meet with the preacher later. Evidently, this was not so at many churches Mehta visited.
And many churches use the sermon as the basis for questions and answers at small groups, which would often give the visitor a great chance to discuss the sermon — if he’s invited to a suitable small group.