Religious Life and Leadership 2

After the too lengthy “Religious Life and Leadership 1” post, I feel like I can be relatively concise here. 

I agree with my mother who says “variety is the spice of life,” but religious services are amazingly predictable. On some level, routines are comforting, but more than that, they probably contribute to a nostalgia for years gone by. But religious leaders and organizations don’t seem terribly reflective about how the exact same traditions that long-standing members find value in, may not resonate as much with younger, more diverse visitors.

I’m curious as to why there’s not more experimentation, especially with forms that promote interaction between religious leaders and members and between members themselves.

One of the most consistent routines is a mid-service sermon or homily by a religious leader or pastor. He or she typically speaks somewhere between 10-40 minutes depending on denominational traditions. Within my Lutheran denomination, you could go from church to church, and pastor to pastor, and find quite a few commonalities.

In contrast to Baptist or Pentecostal preachers, Lutheran pastors are much more subdued. More like a poet at a public reading than a union organizer at a large rally. I was reminded of this while visiting a Baptist church on MLK day. As the visiting Pentecostal pastor grew increasingly animated, I wondered why on earth he was using a microphone. Maybe Lutheran pastors would get more worked up if Lutherans threw a “call and response” switch which is about as likely as the Phoenix Cardinals making it to the Super Bowl.

Lutheran pastors tend to focus their sermons on the biblical excerpt for the day. Their exegesis is more historical than contemporary in nature. The classic Lutheran style is literary, my poetry reading reference was intentional. It’s rarely clear what the implications of the scripture might be for young people at school on Monday morning, middle-aged people in their respective families and workplaces, and the elderly in the various contexts in which they live. The pastor reveals relatively little about his or her spiritual struggles and probably to keep the political peace, pressing controversial issues are tip-toed around.

I’m not even sure if “good” sermons are remembered from one Sunday to the next.

I’m not sure I’d like to see more passionate, applicable, authentic sermons as much as a complete rethinking of the model where the same person communicates a few insights each week with little to no participation from anyone else. Imagine a pastor finishing her sermon and instead of moving straight to the offertory music, saying, “So what do you think? Let’s take some time to hear a few reflections, questions, or even differing perspectives.” My guess is the 50+ set would say “What the heck, I don’t want to have to participate in the service. Isn’t it written somewhere in the bible that ‘Thou shall go from the sermon to the offertory music?!” 

I’ve attended churches where a more informal, alternative, interactive, hippy service has been introduced only to be poorly attended and then given up on. So I suspect I’m in the minority.

I just wonder, if religious leaders were more reflective about the outline of their services and found ways to promote interactivity, if more people would engage.

3 thoughts on “Religious Life and Leadership 2

  1. Ron, you’ve got a great series going! I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    As a preacher, I would love to ask those questions at the end of the sermon. Some would respond as you suggest. I think there’s a general mindset that believes the preacher’s job is to speak and the job of the people is to listen. Do your job on a Sunday morning, go home and live the rest of the week unaffected by the 20 minute interlude of poetic preaching. What a tragic arrangement.

    Maybe that’s why more and more people today describe themselves as ‘post church’ Christians. We need to rethink the arrangement. Now is the time for more courageous preaching. Not in churchy-fashion but stuff that really makes a difference. If it’s not engaging, why listen?

    So what do you think the sermon should achieve? 52 weeks a year? Is it realistic to expect one person to do the job? What about controversial topics? What topics are you thinking of? Does the sermon ever piss you off, I mean, tick you off ? Why the heck are pastors so committed to keeping the peace? I guess I’m the one to answer that last question. Why indeed. Perhaps more than ever, now is the time to provoke.

    Keep me in touch. I’ll be reading with interest.

  2. My Grandfather was a German Lutheran Minister. When I was two my Grandma took me to a German service since I was awake and my parents wanted to sleep in while we were visiting. Apparently right in the middle of his sermon my little mind understood that this was a different language, and I yelled out the German word my dad used to say to me when we played “Dummkopf!” (Dumb head). I guess my Grandpa looked up surprised, smiled, and continued. I like to say I expressed my skepticism of organized religion at a young age :-)

    (And I’m going to come back to your blog and read old posts now and then and comment now and then, even if the comments dissipate into the ether…so please, at least don’t delete your blog!)

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