Passive in Church

This is an e-mail that I sent my church leadership after our Easter services:

I was thinking what makes our Good Friday Experience something special.  Of course, my wife pointed out that the not-so-cheesy use of drama to reenact a stylized crucifixion was powerful.  I think that I was looking for a principle that goes deeper – a lack of passivity on the part of the attenders.

It is a principle in education that bad learning experiences have a high level of passivity.  Passive experiences may be entertaining, but they are not life-engaging and life-building as much as activity is.  We generally do not meld a teaching point into our lives unless we have discussed it, expressed it and taught it.

I think this has implications for our worship and preaching.  We need to measure congregation activity.  We need to provide chances for discussion and contribution.  Remember the commands to worship in the Bible have the whole people of God coming with songs, testimony, biblical sharing.  I think that serving in the Zone, the Edge and the parking lot are commendable, but it does not represent the community responsibility that I see.  The Barrington worship team asked me what I thought about using a Wednesday for something different.  I said that it would be good to develop an on-line community that suggested what was sung, shared or read around a certain theme of God like ‘Holiness’ or ‘Creation’.  It would lead to more ownership by the congregation and is very 21st century networking.  Another need is dramatic engagement like the Feast of Tabernacles, the Passover, The Lord’s Supper.  Our Good Friday Service was a good example of how the whole community can participate in an act of remebrance.  What other creative, dramatic, experiential approaches can we have?

Another good principle of Education is that it is authentic.  This means that you deal with things in their context, warts and all.  I think that the strength of dealing with Bible passages in context answers this.  However, sometimes our communication lacks the complexity that reflects life.  I was talking to Zoners about the death of Christ and they had no idea why he died rather than did something else (e.g. took a trip to Jupiter).  We are not communicating context awfully well at a younger age.  How does a child grow up at the Chapel without an idea of ‘God fixes my problems as I want them fixed’?

Reflection is needed on what is communicated.  We can’t always be communicating without processing what has already been said.  An example of this being done well was a restart program at First Presbyterian Church of Evanston.  They preached through a series of loving God with all your, heart, soul, mind, and strength.  After each sermon about 70% of the congregants stayed for a debriefing and discussion on what they had just heard.

A last note on activity.  How can I get to know the songs taht are sung on a Sunday?  It is hard to participate in songs that you don’t know.  What percentage of the congragation are singing?  I think we could up that with a little more repetition.  I think our desire to ditch songs before they get old, could be seen as a problem of ditching songs before they are known.


About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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1 Response to Passive in Church

  1. acofspades says:

    Participation is necessary to develop the vitality of the Body. We want the church – the Church – to become, and step into a role of being, that reflects the beautiful, vibrant, organic and life-breathing wife that she is to Christ. It’s not so much a question of method in itself as much as it is a question of what method(s) BEST create an atmosphere for engaged learning, BEST cultivate corporate growth, BEST encourage cooperative participation, and are MOST conducive to the deep-seated needs of the people of God. I think that this will naturally pour forth obedience to the Scriptural commands that we are given and instructions we have as to how we are to assemble and worship together. Good post. Here’s the title of a book that I’ve been reading that speaks to that end. It’s cynical and critical, and so if you decide to read it, do read it with a grain of salt. But at its heart, I sense the desperate cry of the heart of God pleading with us to fill the roles He’s been gracious enough to give to us. It’s called PAGAN CHRISTIANITY by George Barna and Frank Viola. If nothing else, it raises questions. And if only questions, at least it is causing me to actively engage what I believe as far as church practice is concerned when it challenges the status quo.

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