Printed programs and spontaneity

Caveat lector: Sometimes, I have a conclusion in mind, and I write in support of that conclusion.  Often, I write when I feel (or know) something uncommon is better or right.  This time is different.  I’m really not sure what I think yet, I’m trying to think through something, and I’m not really ready to present it, but I’m presenting it anyway.  What follows may well sound confusing, and confused, because I have conflicting observations and feelings.  Some cherished, long-term experiences exist in opposition to some more recent observations.  My opinions are definitely still in development.

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Thinking recently about PowerPoint use in church gatherings, I think I came off as somewhat one-sided.  While presentation software is not the end-all, and while genuine worship is clearly possible without it, I do think PowerPoint is useful.  Such software applications, combined with projection capabilities from computers, allow for possibilities that were never previously considered.

I’ve written before about printed lists of leaders in church bulletins/programs.  I’m not sure, however, whether I’ve ever blogged on the printing of “worship set lists.”  I think these lists can definitely have value and can remember, when I was young, that a marginalized but deep-thinking leader used such printed programs in my “low” church on occasion.  I thought that was pretty cool back then, but these days, it’s old hat.  Lots of churches print orders these days.

“Set list” is terminology I first learned in jazz combos, big bands, etc., where the content is comparatively light and temporal.  As worship music gravitates more and more from “Shepherd of Tender Youth” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” to more contemporary, populistic expressions, the label “set list” seems more and more apt.  People now think in terms of their music stands and a sequence of songs all printed and ready for them to refer to when pulling music out of their “books” or folders.  While “set list” is realistic and not a bad descriptor of the status quo, it strikes me as pedestrian and shallow, not worthy of the God the music and other worship activities are supposed to be calling attention to.

Sometimes the set list is called “order of service” or “worship service.”  Blecchhh.  The term “worship service” is neither biblical nor helpful.  The observation (the “neither biblical” part) and the opinion (the “nor helpful” part) are no passing fancies for me; I’ve emphasized moving away from calling a worship gathering a service–with little to no fluctuation–for about 20 years.  “Service” connotes a ceremonious ceremony with a set order and no life.

In fact, besides the context of those horrid academic commencements (which I suppose have a hint of a promised resurrection after the death-knell of pompous processions, presumptuous presentations, and brittle boredom), a more appropriate use of “service” is in the context of funerals. Using “service” to describe what Christians should do when they are together is misled/misleading at best, and spiritually stultifying at worst.  When trained, reasonably intelligent, biblically literate leaders perpetuate labeling the assembly a “service,” it’s like force-feeding barbiturates to all the saints.¹  Okay, maybe it’s not that bad.  After all, people aren’t likely thinking about the label “worship service” when they’re in the middle of what’s going on in the assembly/gathering.  But I really hate it, and I enjoyed finding some new expressions to tell you how much I hate it.  🙂

“Prayer service” and “song service” are no better; these are just offspring-offenders … children of the offending parent “worship service.”  This terminology rubs me raw and calls me to make a run to the local Walgreens or CVS for soul salve.

Next … the intersection of “set lists” and weekly preparation

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¹ This is infinitely more eternally significant than the use of mild performance-enhancing drugs by sports figures (I’ve never used them, of course, but I’ve never understood why congress and courts have been involved in investigating … it all seems like more a matter for, e.g., the MLB commissioner’s office), but that’s beside the point.

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