Rethinking what we say in church

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Common phrases reflect poor theology, lack of faith

Have you seen the latest Larry Osborne book called 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Believe? Osborne confronts 10 myths and spiritual urban legends that keep showing up in the way that many Christians think about life and God. This summer, I plan to preach a sermon based on one of these errant convictions. It will be interesting to figure out how much I need to repent—or be converted. I have not spent a lot of time trying to collect or articulate this kind of straying among us as a family of churches, but I have been keeping a mental list of another kind.

Like the children Art Linkletter interviewed on his television show, Kids Say the Darndest Things, when we meet as the “gathered church,” we sometimes say the darndest things. Perhaps it is because we are not thinking when we speak, or maybe we didn’t plan ahead. Maybe we’ve said these things so many times that we really believe they are the right things to say, or maybe we are on the program to say something and this is all we know to say. I’m not taking a shot at sincerity or at motive, but I wonder if we might benefit from thoughtfully reviewing some common phrases.

When we pray as the gathered church we often say things like: “Be with us as we…. We invite you to be here with us today…. Please honor us with your presence today…. “ Or more colloquially, “We are asking youto show up today….”
For a very long time now, this kind of prayer has given me pause and even made me squirm. Wasn’t it God in the flesh who said he would be with us always? That he would be present wherever two or three of us gather? That the Spirit would be in us? So why it is that we think we should invite him in or that we have to persuade him to show up?

Instead, what if we thank him for being present in us and among us? And praise him for his commitment never to leave us? And offer him gratitude for his willingness to allow us to live in his presence?

When I tried out this concern of mine on our national leaders and pastors in my monthly e-note. Larry Nikkel, our Board of Faith and Life chair, suggested that asking God to be with us must leave God asking, “Where do you think I’ve been all these years?” Pastor Mike Andrews responded, “These prayers reflect either an inadequate theology or a lack of faith in the promises of Jesus.”

Here’s another example of a common phrase to rethink. When we gather as the local church, we say things like: “OK, let’s worship together…. It’s time now for us toworship…. Later in our service we will have a time of worship…. We will have our worship at the end of the service this morning.” Most all of which mean that we are going to make music together when the time for “worship” comes.

There is no doubt that music can and should be an avenue or opportunity for worship, but saying these things infers that worship is happening only when we make music, and eventually we begin to believe this. Or even that worship can happen only when we are gathered. This is not what the Bible says when it defines worship as fully life encompassing, as the giving of our entire lives to sacrificial service (Rom. 12: 1-2).

Grant Norsworthy, formerly of Sonic Flood, quit the band recently because he understood God’s Spirit asking him to deliver a new message to the family of God: “Worship is not an adjective…. Nowhere in the Bible is the word used that way.” He quips that when he now leads music among believers he usually says something like, “I sure hope you all are not going to start worshipping now…or quit when we are done singing.”

This sounds like a good wake-up call. Why not invite folks to “sing together to our God” as Pastor John Szablowski suggested in response to my e-note. Pastor Denny Hartford opined that “there are no quick fixes to the problem.” He went on to say we could benefit from “excellent role models…and the willingness to work at personal improvement” through thoughtful preparation and deliberate evaluation.

Agreed! We probably should not deploy “church speak” Nazis. At least I’m not going there. But we can do better. Let’s aim to mean what we say because we’ve thought it over, and it syncs with the Bible.

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