Script vs. liturgy

My family has recently begun visiting an Anglican gathering — a very new and different experience for us. I’m still wrestling through liturgy and ritual, and the appropriate place for it in the Church. On the one hand, ritual is everywhere — our morning routines, business meetings, social gatherings. Ritual gives us structure — a baseline that we can then use to branch out of. It’s much like Jazz — it cannot be random, otherwise it would be chaos and cacophony. Instead it has a basic structure that allows the musicians to try variations. Individuality comes out — yet in harmony with the group.

On the other extreme is lip-syncing — you are just playing a part and are making no contribution to the music in any way.

So which is liturgy? Some people certainly see it as dead ritual. But I am also seeing how a “contemporary” church service can become dead ritual. Worse, it becomes manipulative and false. The choice of songs just before the sermon about tithing? Scripted. That emotional music that plays over the final heartfelt plea of the preacher? Scripted.

With a true liturgy, we are all — leaders and congregation — focused on the words and meaning. We are having a shared experience, not passively consuming. Any emotions I feel are my own, they are genuine.

And we need a church that is genuine.

The rise of the dones

I read this post with a growing feeling of “This is me!” My current church — like many others — has become scripted and manipulative.

It isn’t deliberate. It’s the result of a thousand small choices combined with a few basic philosophies. For example: The “everything is in support of the sermon” philosophy. Everything from the choice of music to the emotional plea at the end is to hammer home how important it is to take this sermon seriously and to repent and change our ways this week. And then next week it’s a different thing we are doing wrong. I’m sure it’s well-intentioned, but it’s exhausting.

It also contributes to a very passive “The senior pastor preaches, we listen” mentality. Our pastor occasionally says, “This is a dialogue!” — but all it means is he wants an “Amen!” at the right time. Would he welcome the clarification of a point or someone questioning his conclusion? Unthinkable.

I don’t mean to bash the senior pastor. He is under a lot of pressure. He’s basically the CEO of a business. And businesses tend to be concerned about the bottom line. Not necessarily profits, but vision statements and alignment and staff meetings.

The church should be a family, not a business. And that’s why we’re leaving.