By Layne Smith
In one of his weekly columns written for the local newspaper, L.D. Johnson, long-time University Chaplain and Professor of Religion at Furman University, told the story about what happened after the end of a Sunday morning worship service. As usual, worshipers stood around and visited with each other. While this was going on, the young pastor’s son stepped up behind the pulpit at spoke these words into the still live microphone:” Look at me! I’m in the pulpit!”
Some smiled and said, “How cute!” Others shook their heads and said to each other, “My, I’ve heard that sermon many, many times.”
In a similar vein, Soren Kierkegaard offered this perspective of worship utilizing the analogy of drama. He maintained that many worshipers think God is the prompter while the liturgical leaders (musicians, scripture readers, preachers, etc.) serve as the actors in the drama. The congregation plays the role of the audience. He asserted that this take on the drama of worship is totally wrong. Instead he maintained that the liturgical leaders (musicians, readers of the scriptures, preachers, etc.) are the prompters in worship. Everyone else (including those standing in front of God’s people) are the actors in the drama of worship. God alone is the audience.
Our broader, popular culture encourages celebrity worship, doesn’t it? Look no further than those on so-called reality television along with others constantly in the news who are famous for being famous. They possess little, if any, real talent other than getting their pictures and antics pasted all over television and various periodicals.
Where is the church today with regard to Johnson’s story and Kierkegaard’s analogy?
Unfortunately, far too often we buy in to the lie about worship that Kierkegaard exposed. What we call worship is focused on the facilitator, the prompter, the leader, rather than focused towards God, the proper subject of our worship. How many times have you heard the sermon or the song, “Look at me! I’m in the pulpit! I’m up here”? In this scenario, the congregants become little more than consumers, not actors in the drama of worship. They are props for the worship leaders. If a congregation is going to be healthy, the worship must be healthy. It’s not about us. It’s about God! How can we keep worship properly focused on God and not on us? How can we engage or re-engage the congregation in the act of worship so that they become real participants/actors, not merely consumers? Worship will never be healthy and appropriate until we figure this out.
Layne Smith is CBF PLG Regional Director for North Carolina, Virginia, and the Mid-Atlantic. He also serves as an intentional interim minister and transition facilitator.