I’ve known for a while that I like liturgy. I like having more consistent structure to worship (not just within one church but between churches), mostly because I think this is how we make certain important elements are included in most services. I like having a prayer of confession, the Lord’s Prayer, a creed, communion, etc. I also like observing the liturgical calendar’s most basic holidays and seasons, if not additional observances, and I like using a lectionary to determine the readings for the day.
And I believe liturgy is the way out of the well-intentioned mess of salesperson ministers. There is no longer a need to reinvent the wheel by picking visions and themes for every semester or year: the liturgical calendar and lectionary pick what you will focus on. There is less of a cult of personality around ministers, as well, because there is so much less which depends on them. The church service is going to be largely the same regardless of who is leading it. Yes, they bring their personal touch and, of course, their preaching. Image and presentation, however, become less, while one’s thoughtfulness, humor, and compassion—one’s genuine humanity—have a chance to shine through. The minister is no longer the magical person who knows exactly what faux-unique sermon series or program is going to revolutionize their church, but rather is the person with the appropriate training who tries to faithfully go through the motions.
“Going through the motions” may normally be a negative turn of phrase, but it makes sense for Christian worship to be repetitive. You lead similar (if not the same) prayers, you read the same Bible, you speak to the same universal human needs which have existed throughout history, you serve the same bread and wine with the same words. There is only so much room for creativity within Christianity. There will always be new venues for application, but there is a limited amount to say that has not been said before. Thus, there is something healthier, I think, about expecting a minister to bring himself or herself but not to sell brilliant plans. After all, how many churches have nearly identical mission statements written as if they were the first church to write it? Currently, we spend a lot of energy on pretending to do something new and getting people excited about this supposedly unique vision.
So the things that should be common, let’s make common by using the traditions handed down to us. Let’s allow our ministers to focus their relational skills on providing pastoral care rather than charming people from the pulpit. Let’s allow their intellects to focus on well-researched sermons and continuing education rather than plans for pushing their churches’ brands. Let’s allow their creativity to attend to tasks like community outreach or ecumenical and interfaith dialogue instead of deciding which passage of Scripture deserves our attention this Sunday and how to couch it under the cutesy theme for the year they picked last month. Let’s stop evaluating our potential pastors by their extroverted smiles, snazzy clothes, and seductively arrogant dreams for our extra-special congregation. Let us take comfort in the fact that following Jesus in our time in place is not so different from following Jesus in any other context and everything we need to remember ourselves and everything we want to teach our children and catechumens can be found in our seasons and feast days, our assigned Scripture texts, and the rhythm of our services.
By keeping these ancient practices and serving the poor, we already have so much right as to make any additional visionary contributions of our ministers a small added bonus but little more. The need for salesperson ministers, then, is obsolete, and many of the major problems associated with evangelicalism are solved… if evangelicals can accept the corrective of liturgy to begin with.