There’s an increasing disconnect between what churches say they want to do, and what they’re actually doing. Last night, extolling the congregation to participation in the 45 minute altar call, Pastor Joe said at least three times that the altar call was not a performance, that it was a time of prayer and worship (that is, singing), that the congregation gathered was supposed to be gathered in corporate prayer for each other. All this he said, from a raised stage, leading a six piece band with his guitar. The “Tyranny of the Guitar” has seldom been illustrated better. If you want to have people interacting with each other, and not treating your service as a spectator event, then your praxis needs to not be rows and rows of seats facing a raised stage and a service led by a band from that raised stage. (It’s also hard to participate, as a new person, when the words the band is singing only match the PowerPoint about 80% of the time. Given how short their playlist was, and how often they repeated each song (and then repeated it, and then repeated again, after which the pastor asked us to “sing it like a prayer), it would probably not take too long to have them memorized, but as visitors, that 20% of having no idea what to sing is an eternity of standing there, dumbly hoping the words will come along).
Searchlight Mission Fellowship is a small congregation whose building sits almost on the stateline between Idaho and Washington. From the Idaho side, the service is billed as being at 6:20, from Washington, 6:30. We found out this is because they ran short of 3s for the marquee. The service began with an extended time of praise music and prayer. The prayer style was one I’d seen just recently at the Bioneers Conference. Mid-prayer, the pastor interrupted himself to address the congregation on one of the topics from the prayer. Several of the opening ceremonies (both from the plenary speakers and in our local sessions) did this same thing: a prayer that the speaker interrupted with an extended aside to the audience, sometimes concluding the original prayer, sometimes not returning to it. It is peculiar as I am accustomed to prayers beginning with a salutation to God, and ending with some form of “amen.”
Following the praise and worship time, the youth performed a “live video” skit about the temptations of the world (dating, goths, dancing, drinking, smoking, nerds, gangstas, porn, and chairs*), the pastor spoke a few words about temptation, and a woman from the congregation gave a sermon on the traps of the world leading to the reality that one’s yearnings for eternity can’t be satisfied by the world.
Michael scribbled down a line from the sermon that resonated with him, “[We, that is, Christians must] take the light to where it can be seen: in the dark places.” It resonates with me, too, but the focus of her sermon was on having a new hope for eternity, and not on being salt and light in the world now, and I think that portion of it was largely eclipsed by the “this world is not my home, I’m just a’passin’ though” theme of the sermon.
Like the Cornerstone Pentecostals, I think the altar call and prayer time in the concluding hour of the service serves as the cathartic experience Chuck Palahniuk talks about from the vantage point of his Catholic heritage. It doesn’t end in communion, but there was definitely an outpouring of love and acceptance from the church elders who were stationed in the front of the church, praying with whomever came forward.
*I don’t think the skit was actually against chairs, nerds, or goths. I think the chair (onto which each successive actor became stuck) was supposed to represent sin. The nerd and the goth guy were, I think, simply illustrating that anyone — any type of person — might get bogged down by the things of this world.