This past Sunday (which also happened to be Christmas Eve), I attended an Alliance church in Brandon with my in-laws. It was a pretty nice church, with attempts made at contemporary worship singing, a gregarious pastor and nice but not ostentatious building. And yet, there was much there that I felt weird about. Here is a rough catalogue:
I found it odd that the pastor and another man (elder? deacon? he did the announcements, anyways) sat up on the stage during the entire worship service, separated from the congregation and facing them. What does this communicate? What kind of theology does this communicate? I don’t particularly like it.
Their praise and worship team was also fairly nausea-inducing. They had five singers, a drum kit, a guitar and a piano. The drums were not even mic’ed, and the guitar and piano were buried so low in the mix that you could hardly believe them to be there. The most piercing singer of the bunch was turned way up and I wanted to run away. The songs (most of which were familiar Vineyard-ish songs) were musically massacred. I would have rather just sung hymns. Why is it that most of the church only demands excellence in its preaching for Sunday morning worship?
They also showed a clip from the recently released Nativity Story. After recently reading an article that detailed Hollywood’s marketing in church (registration unfortunately required), I was a bit uncomfortable with this. Although this particular movie is apparently quite faithful to the Bible’s telling of it, I still would have liked some kind of qualifier from the front. Something to say, “We’re using this clip because it’s well produced and faithful to the Gospel story, but we’re not trying to encourage you to go see it. We as Christians do not approach the world as consumers; we approach it as servants of God and one another.” But to be fair, perhaps they’ve said something about this earlier on in Advent. I hope so, because we as the church far too easily accommodate consumerism.
The preaching, by the way, was excellent. The pastor dressed up and pretended to be Joseph, telling the story of Jesus from the perspective of Mary’s husband-to-be who was understandably highly conflicted when he found out that his betrothed was pregnant, and not by his doing. A great story of faith, and it was well told. One question that I wish he would have spent some time on, however, was why did Herod want to kill Jesus? What threat did he pose? The pastor just brushed through this portion as though it wasn’t worth paying too much attention to. He missed a golden opportunity to proclaim the Gospel’s subversion of the power of this world.
So, lots of criticisms. But while all of this stuff was running through my mind, I felt a conviction in me that I was out of line. I realized that, despite my disagreements and discomfort with what was going on there, this was still God’s church that He loves dearly. I realized that I was becoming condescending to my brothers and sisters in Christ, and this is always going to be a bad thing. So, I turned off the inner critic (as much as I can) and joined in worship with the family of God, those called by the name of Emmanuel, God with us. Lord, help us to see that it is us—and not just me—that you are with most fully.