Monday mornings, life gets a tad tedious here by the organ bellows. So I sneak up to the church office for some serious on-line conversation with my fellow church mice. No, I’m not worried I’ll be caught. The pastor religiously participates in some kind of ritual that involves hours of walking on a grassy field and some swift swooshes of a metal stick—these punctuated by a string of words that I never hear from the pulpit.
Last week I got into an e-conversation with Cousin Minnie. One fine Monday, she said, she squished through the hole in the fire door, sprinted the hundred yards to the parsonage, and hitched a ride in her pastor’s golf bag. One of those midwesterners who calls himself “Taam” instead of “Tom.” You know the type.
Minnie tells me that this pastor has got some interesting rituals of his own. At the end of the day—every day—he plops down in his favorite chair, turns on the tube, and watches the evening news. Always the same news team. After all these years, they’re like family.
The pattern’s always the same, Minnie says. Thirty minutes starting with world news, then the local stuff. The weather segment comes after the second or third commercial, and the last seven or so minutes is sports. The program ends with a pleasant “good night.”
Night after night Pastor Tom plunks down in the same chair and presses “3” on the remote. He watches the same team and learns about the latest news, weather, and sports—in that order. It’s an anchor in what can be a fairly chaotic existence. Maybe he had to deal with a sudden death in the congregation. Or maybe out of the blue somebody just chewed his ear off about this or that. But here’s something dependable, something familiar.
He likes the predictability of the nightly news. He gets a little bit of everything. He could watch an all-news or all-weather or all-sports news program, but he prefers the diversified approach. It makes him feel like he’s up on stuff—able to jump into any nineteenth-hole conversation.
Sounds a lot like what goes on here in my church during worship, I told Minnie. The nightly news follows a predictable pattern of news, weather, and sports—in that order. Same goes for worship. A familiar order allows us to focus on what we’re doing instead of constantly figuring out what we’re supposed to be doing next. And if we’ve had a week where the transmission blew up and everything went south from there, we don’t need more chaos on Sunday morning. Too much change could easily throw us off track. We’d be so busy scrambling for our bulletins looking for what comes next, we wouldn’t have a clue about what we’re doing right now.
Minnie’s pretty perceptive. Pastor Tom, she says, would definitely change stations if, after twenty-three minutes of news and weather, he didn’t get coverage of his real passion: sports. It’s the same thing in church. Worshipers want to have the same elements, and in the same order too. You should have heard old Mrs. Wilson go after the worship leaders for leaving out the Apostles’ Creed! The words she used make me think she must play golf too.
Minnie’s pastor friend never gets bored watching that same news team night after night. He likes it! He gets to know them. Just like in worship. People at my church expect to see their own pastor and the regular tried-and-true worship leaders. A little variety’s fine, of course. After all, the news team interviews lots of different people. Getting different people involved in leading prayer and offering music is great. But we prefer that familiar mug behind the pulpit, even if he does remind us too much of Uncle Jim. It makes all the difference when we know someone really cares about us because he was there when we were laid up in the hospital. I say go ahead and use a variety of gifts using a variety of people. But change for the sake of change? In the parlance of Pastor Tom’s weather guy: Forgedaboudit!
Guess what? Minnie told me that one day her pastor friend reached for the wrong remote and ended up with the VCR. He started watching yesterday’s news by mistake. She says he was out of that chair faster than the time he caught sight of her ambling across his hardwood floor. Pastor Tom wants the familiar pattern and people. But he wants the new news.
So do worshipers. They want a reliable pattern and people with whom they have developed some kind of connection. But they don’t want to hear the same sermon week after week. They don’t want to hear the preacher ride the same old hobbyhorse. And they don’t want to always sing the same songs. That would be as boring as cheese for breakfast, cheese for lunch, and cheese for supper.
Minnie summed it all up pretty well. We always want the same differently and we want the different samely.
But all that’s too hard for this mouse to think about. Maybe Minnie wants to dwell on it, but you won’t hear another peep out of me.