Worship as Homeroom

Worship as Homeroom October 4, 2018

A golden oldie from Recovering Mother Kirk:

The strategy of many churches that want to grow and make an impact (or “transform the culture,” in Reformed lingo) is to sponsor a variety of programs designed to meet the felt needs of residents in the vicinity. This way of growing the local church has had a profound effect upon worship and says volumes about the way evangelicals regard the task of the church. If the real work of the church is the ministry that all the saints perform for each other throughout the week, whether in Christian aerobics class, story hour for pre-schoolers, classes on parenting for first-time fathers and mothers, or even the more legitimate evening Bible study, then the weekly gathering of the saints on the Lord’s Day takes on a much different character and purpose. Word, sacrament and prayer, the traditional marks and purposes of the church and as the Westminster Shorter Catechism describes them, “the outward and ordinary means whereby God communicates to us the benefits of redemption,” become less important. Ministry is no longer defined by these means of grace but rather shifts to all of the things that believers do in times of fellowship and support groups. (This is not to say that fellowship and support are unimportant, but only to note that fellowship and support are things that spheres such as the family and neighborhood also provide and may not be at the heart but more the fruit of the church’s ministry.) In the process, worship becomes not a time for the proclamation of the word in preaching and sacrament, but rather a time to rally support for all of the programs of the church. In other words, worship in the “successful” church becomes homeroom.

Homeroom, as all graduates of public high schools know, is that time usually at the beginning of the school day where the logistics of the educational enterprise are addressed. The teacher takes attendance, pupils say the Pledge of Allegiance, administrators or teachers make announcements about upcoming school events and programs, and the time provides an opportunity for other record-keeping activities. In many churches this is exactly what worship has become. The attendance pads at the end of pews provide a record of individuals present for church. Praise songs projected overhead become the equivalent of the Pledge of Allegiance. And the announcements that come in a variety of forms perform the function of — well — announcements. It is interesting to note the many ways in which announcements come in evangelical worship. Not only do ministers or various heads of committees talk about upcoming events in the church. But testimonies, or people talking about the work of God in their lives, also become plugs for a specific program in the congregation. Then there is the time for recognizing or even commissioning various workers in the church, whether Sunday School or Vacation Bible School teachers, which also serves to draw attention to church programs and the need for more laborers.

The significant difference between evangelical worship and public high school homeroom is the collection of the offering and the pastor’s message. Public schools have real estate taxes to rely upon and so have no need to pass the plate in homeroom unless, of course, a field trip is planned not covered by the annual budget. Public schools also have the sense to put lectures in real class time, not having it mixed up with the details of operating the school. But the message in evangelical worship does provide a valuable vehicle by allowing the pastor to give a pep talk which will inspire church members to become involved in the weekly activities of the congregation. In the process, the means of grace become the means of motivation. Rather than regarding the proclamation of the word, again as the Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it, as the way of “convincing and converting sinners and of building them up in holiness and comfort,” preaching has become a tool for inspiring believers to become involved in the real work of the church, that is, all of the activities and programs throughout the week. As a result, preaching and the other elements of worship, indeed, the whole liturgy suffer. People no longer see them as the means of being nurtured in the faith but instead perceive “special ministries” as the way of reaching out, growing the church, and making members more devout. (212-13)

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