New Look, Same Old Taste

When the vision of The Core and the Front Porch were in their embryonic stages, (a glimmer in our eyes, so to speak) I was writing a lot of negative stuff about the sacrosanctity of our church service formats. “Why should everything revolve around the sermon?” I asked. “What would happen if we skipped the music entirely?” I inquired. “Why are we so stuck in our predictable little routines?” I demanded.

For the most part, I’ve out-grown it. My thoughts run along different lines now. But from time to time, it creeps back in, and I ask myself if we have honed ourselves into a happy little rut of our own. Here’s how it goes:

-Brunch at 10 am
-Two songs at 10:30 from worship team
-Announcements (Explaining the stuff on the table, upcoming events)
-Misc. (could be Communion, Baby Dedication, Interview, etc.)
-Introduction to Prayer (may include a sermonette)
-Group Prayer for 15 minutes
-Solo worship song while prayer continues
-Prayer from worship leader to re-unify the room
-Two more songs from worship team
-Message (3 weeks out of 4, from Ryan, the other week, from another leader)
-Closing Prayer
-Fellowship & Cleaning

As I’ve noticed how little we deviate from this pattern, the old insecurities come creeping in, and make me wonder if we have become what we hate. That is, religion by rote. Instead of a vibrant communal spirituality.

Although I have deemed it a bit immature, like I said, to be overly critical of the “order of service”, I think it is something I will never stop worrying about. Nevertheless, I feel like I’ve been given somewhat of a new perspective on the “packaging” of church.

When you’re pushing your cart down the cereal aisle, looking for something new to try, packaging is going to influence you. But once you’ve tried a few, and found the cereal you really like, you won’t care all that much what they do to the box. You might have a passing thought if they re-design it, but as long as it holds the cereal, and it’s easy to open and close, you’re not going to worry much about it. You’ll notice as the cereals you don’t like continue to change their packaging, “New Look, Same Great Taste!” But you already know about the taste, so their new look doesn’t really matter to you either.

To the consumer who knows what’s really inside, the box is just a box.

I was thinking about this again as I was listening to NPR yesterday. I listened to Robert Siegel give an intro to a story, and toss it to the reporter on location: “Julie McCarthy is in Islamabad.” Then Julie McCarthy comes on, mixing it up with voice-overs, interviews and ambient sounds. When she’s done, she says, “This is Julie McCarthy in Islamabad.” Then, Robert Siegel makes a clever segue into the next story, or if they have time, they play a clip of some interesting music that may have some connection to the previous story.

This all remains pretty consistent from one day to the next, but I hardly ever think about it. Either I’m interested with the content, and I pay attention, or I’m bored by the content, and I tune out. And I’m usually interested. Consequently, I’ve never thought about asking NPR to change its format. However, I have watched as other programs on other stations have changed their format over and over to make up for a lack of worthwhile content.

What am I getting at? I think I’ve finally made some peace with the idea of having a consistent order of activities in The Core’s worship gatherings. As long as it holds and represents the content well, then the format becomes invisible, much like the programs on NPR, or the box that holds your favorite cereal. It allows us to focus on what’s inside, which is what we know God is paying the most attention to, anyway.

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2 thoughts on “New Look, Same Old Taste

  1. Great blog and insight. Did you come up with that cereal metaphor? Very clever.

    I agree with you. I think that as long as God is able to lead service then we’re doing the right thing. It’s always important to leave room for the Holy Spirit to influence where we go. Certain “orders of service” are so rigid that they leave no room for God’s contribution. On the other hand, other services may be so determined not to have any order that the focus is on what not to do rather than God, the lack of order is distracting people who need it, and the freedom is only present through smoke and mirrors.

    God, throughout scripture, gives order to His people and the world in general.

    There is a balance to be had. A God-centered life as well as a God-centered church service will be perfectly balanced when God is our fulcrum.

  2. The cereal metaphor is original… thanks.

    One thing I didn’t really mention was about “leaving room for the Holy Spirit” and I couldn’t agree more. I just shy away from words like that after so many experiences in the Pentecostal Church that seemed to not only “leave room” but to keep a space open for the Holy Spirit, counting on him to move in a particular, pre-determined fashion.

    So yes, we pray that God does what he wants. But we’ve found our format to be very helpful to make sure we don’t forget important things, like monthly communion, or keeping things clear for the new visitors, or allowing people to use their gifts as they have prepared to use them. Without some organization, there are always people who get hosed when everything is run by shooting from the hip.

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