Bernie Anderson
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the blog

Current musings, whatever they may be. 

Spontaneous Consumertainment Worship

Not so much difference between concerts and modern worship events. This is an Anberlin show. Not a worship service. 

Smoke. Lights. Grinding guitars. A "whoop, whoop" from the stage. One might have thought it was the opening for Beyonce.

Or just another Christian worship service.

Last weekend I attended a large community worship service in a town nearby. It was a large event for a good cause, and there were many good things about the gathering.

However, the music made me sad.

Please don't misunderstand. I enjoy good music, and am not of the mindset that the church needs to only sing song that were popular in the Eighteenth Century. This, though. It was a bit over the top. Lots of light and smoke and movement on the stage, little to no participation in the congregation. As I stood and watched the performers on the stage (which is exactly what it was), I was reminded of something I wrote almost 10 years ago. 2004 was a season of discovery for me.

Spontaneity, is not all it's cracked up to be.

Over the years I've discovered that the Evangelical Church isn't nearly as spontaneous as we purport. In 2004 I was serving in a tiny church in Tennessee. Since then, I've had the opportunity to speak in worship services held in buildings that could hold a large Congolese village. What often seems spontaneous is actually more planned and prepared than a moon landing, down the second.

  • 11:03: Pray for two minutes.
  • 11:05: Band starts to play soft intro to next song (and you'd better be finished praying or the crash symbols will drown out your amen)

Sorry to burst the "we are led by the Spirit" bubble. That's how it works, even in the most "spontaneous" churches. It's a show and the show must go on. Don't hear me wrong. I'm not saying there's not value in that sort of planning. It's even necessary sometimes. It's just that we often give a pretense of loving the spur-of-the-moment quip or the "Spirit-led" soliloquy, when the reality is that we often are more fond of the show. Perhaps it's the American consumertainment mindset that plagues modern evangelicalism. Perhaps.

It's unfortunate. We've exported consumertainment worship quite well. The first thing the majority of new churches in Mongolia ask the missionaries to buy for them is guitars and a sound system. It's not their fault. It's what YouTube portrays to them as the most important thing when starting a church. Consumertainment church exports well. But is horrible when it comes to sustainability.

One Snowy Day in Maryland

Ten years after that post, I find deepening value in praying someone else's words. The things that might seem most irrelevant are often moest needed. Maybe I'm just aging. But there is something profound and settling and secure in knowing that the prayer I'm praying is in reality intentional plagiarism (versus the unintentional plagiarism of most of our prayers and worship). The prayers of Paul. The prayers of David. The prayers of Jesus. The prayers of Patrick and Brigid. These provide a foundation to prayer life, that is irreplicable. Cutting edge gives way to meaning beyond myself. Prayer is not entertaining. It's not meant to be. It's discipline that breeds joy and deep security. Anchored spirituality.

I don't know what to pray a lot of time. Paul pretty much predicted that would be the case (Romans 8:26). I don't think groanings too deep for words has a whole lot to do with our incessant babbling. Maybe groanings has more to do with silence. Let the Spirit pray. I will just shut up and listen.

I once discussed with a lady the incident of Jesus praying through the night. Her big question to me (and to God) was "what did he say all night?" I had no idea. Still don't. But I'm pretty sure he didn't talk the whole time with eloquent, heavenly prayer language. We miss the point of prayer all together sometimes.

I still find the tool produced by the Northumbria Community to be the most helpful. The daily office helps me to stop. To focus. To say what I know needs to be said. To give the Spirit time to do whatever He desires to do in me. In time, the daily office prayers become inescapably memorized. To begin, I suggest using the Daily Office online. Or, better yet, just purchase the book entitled Celtic Daily Prayer: Prayers and Readings From the Northumbria Community

. It's well worth the $20 bucks.

Peace over the Chesapeake

My encouragement is to try it. Maybe fewer babbling "spontaneous" prayers to "fill up a prayer time" is a good thing. We're actually really weird about this, when one stops and listens to the language we use (i.e., Thank you, God; for this day, God ... ), the prayers of another will usually say what needs to said much, much better.

God hears planned prayers (as well as our spontaneous prayers). Mainly because God hears our hearts.

Try being less extemporaneous. Spontaneity is not all it's cracked up to be.


Christ, as a light
illumine and guide me.
Christ, as a shield
overshadow me.
Christ under me;
Christ over me;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Be in the heart of each to whom I speak;
in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.
This day be within and without me,
lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.
Christ as a light;
Christ as a shield;
Christ beside me
on my left and my right.
— From Morning Prayers in Celtic Daily Prayer