Pastor's Pen - June 2019
Updated: Jul 1, 2019
“I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.”
- Psalm 57:9
The results are in! In the weeks following Easter this year, your Elders and I asked for your feedback regarding what makes worship here at First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud spiritually nourishing for you. On May 13, Session received a spreadsheet with over 40 legal size pages including all your feedback, as well as a summary of all the surveys which included graphics like the ones included below. All of the feedback we received was valuable, and I sincerely want to thank those of you who participated in the survey.
So, you may be wondering, what do the surveys reveal? Honestly, there weren’t many big surprises. We’re a congregation made up of different generations, different personalities, and different histories in relationship to the Church. So, while we had nearly unanimous responses to some questions (yes, you do read the announcements in the bulletin), answers to other questions varied quite widely. Consider music styles, for a small example. Out of 46 total respondents, 30 said traditional hymns let them worship God most naturally, while 15 chose contemporary praise music. Some of us listed multiple styles, as reflected in this graph:
You may also be wondering, based on this survey, are we going to make any changes to our worship services? As of now, I expect little to change, at least in the short-term. Most people want the choir to keep singing every week. Most people want to continue with open-mic style sharing of prayer requests every Sunday. Most people prefer a balance of organ and other instruments, as we often have now. At the same time, most people (twenty-six out of the forty-six respondents) expressed a willingness
to worship with other styles of music if doing so lets others worship God more easily. In that case, praise songs, Gospel, and bluegrass appear to be the styles you’re most open to exploring. We already use these styles occasionally, so using them a bit more frequently wouldn’t be too much of a stretch for us. Whichever styles of music we use to worship God, I’ll try to chose songs that are more familiar to the congregation. When we do introduce new songs, we’ll also take steps to introduce and teach them more effectively. I recently read that a congregation’s repertoire of comfortable worship songs can include up to twelve times the number of songs they sing in a week. So, if we sing three hymns every Sunday, we can realistically have 36 songs (not counting seasonal favorites) which we know well and sing confidently. I’ve been choosing from a much broader list of songs, so I think narrowing the range of hymns we use will help us all sing more vibrantly.
With all of that said, I want to offer a final caveat regarding how we interpret these results: Worship is not about us. Worship is about God. Over the past two months, other pastors invariably cringed any time I told them that our church was taking such a survey. One directly asked me, “What kind of theology of worship does this presume?” He has a point. Surveys like this can give us the dangerous impression that worship is about us and our personal preferences, reducing church to yet another consumer choice. True worship is not entertainment or a commodity. The choir sings not as a performance, but to present the message of the Gospel. Special music takes place during the offertory precisely because it is an offering to God, not a production to please people. Whatever style of music or prayers are used in the service, we should have an attitude of humble adoration of God. Worship that glorifies God will thus care less about which instruments are involved than about the message communicated through the music. Worshiping “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23) leads us to seek the glory of God rather than the fulfillment of our personal desires.
We could thus extend my friend’s question to also ask, “What kind of theology of mission did this survey presume?” Thirteen people said “No” to the question, “Could a person with no church background feel comfortable gathering with us?” They elaborated with comments indicating that we might feel “stuffy” to non-Christians, that we need hospitable congregants who can guide newcomers through the movements of our liturgy, and that other styles of music would be more relatable for newcomers. Jesus sent the Church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) and our worship is part of that mission. As Psalm 57:9 says, “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.” We worship not in secrecy and isolation, but publicly in order to bear witness to others that Jesus is Savior and Lord. If a person with no church background finds our worship services inhospitable, how then will we proclaim Christ to them?
May God grant us hearts that seek his glory rather than our own, and may the Spirit lead us to proclaim the name of Jesus to those who do not yet know him. Amen.
Grace and Peace,