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Monday, July 13, 2009
Take me out to the ballpark (i.e. worship service)

In a gentler age, a trip to the baseball park yielded an excellent place for conversation and reflection. It seemed like silence punctuated each pitch. Yes there was the occasional organ "Charge!" and the signature antics of the local announcer, and of course the cheering of fans at a base hit, but for the most part, watching baseball was an experience in quiet observation and intimate conversation. Have you been to the ballpark lately? Between every pitch a loud base-thumping version of something like, "Who let the dogs out! Woof! Woof! Woof!" blares out of the speakers. There must be a hundred buttons in the press box, each signaling a different noise effect. There's simply no silence any more. It changes the nature of the ballpark not to mention the game itself.

I suspect the same might be said of worship. Back in the day, the simple liturgical structures, lent themselves to more quiet spaces. With the advent of the worship band, things began to change. Between music and speech, there's simply no empty spaces any more. In fact, silent spaces are often viewed by pastors as awkward transitions where people don't know what to do and feel uncomfortable.

Here's a best practice for worship design and leadership: Be Quiet. Create intentional space for silence and lead people into that space. Teach worshippers the essential dynamic of "Stilling and quieting the soul." (see Psalm 131 Some scholars believe the word "Selah" appearing throughout the Psalms calls for a silent reflective pause in the Psalm. There's plenty of biblical precedent. Be Quiet. Find a way to weave this into worship regularly. Someone I think does this well is Matt Maher. What if you tried tithing the time-- 10% of the time be quiet. In an hour that's only 6 minutes and yet that seems like an eternity to us doesn't it.

So what happens when we are silent in worship?


posted by John David Walt | at 7/13/2009 08:50:00 PM



Blogger Jamey said...

I used to start the Hour with a "moment of silence." It was only about a minute but was precious to some and dreadful to others. I guess it depends on whether we lift our thoughts to God or let our thoughts drown us.

I haven't done this lately and miss it. We now actually try to very intentionally fill every space so that there is definitely not silence. For instance, at our communion service, immediately after the sermon the preacher leads the congregation in the Apostle's Creed while the Celebrant is uncovering the elements so that there is no "dead time." Perhaps some intentional "dead time" could lead us to contemplate the cross in a way we simply cannot while we're listening to even the best crafted liturgy. . .

10:36 PM EDT  
Blogger sandra r. said...

Great insight as always, JD!

Funny thing, I was just at the Ballpark in Arlington a couple weeks ago watching the Texas Rangers, and I was noticing all the new bells & whistles and the "production" of the baseball game. Having grown up going to the games, it felt like it was a completely different experience. I was thinking that my younger nephews (7 and 8 years old) will grow up thinking this is the way baseball is... still not sure what I think of all of that...
Anyway, I was looking at all of the new LED screens that literally stretch around the entire stadium. Pretty wild... It really does change the game!

I also visited a pretty contemporary church yesterday evening, and it was a bit distracting that they were having problems with their projection screens (the one on the left was out completely). Then, the speaker had problems quoting a Scripture passage, and he actually mentioned that it was because the monitor was out and that they were having technical difficulties... so he apologized and had to turn to it in his Bible... Shouldn't he have started there in the first place??

It made me wonder, why do churches rely so heavily on the latest and greatest modern technology? Why does the congregation have to be treated like an "audience"? I think there's a difference. Isn't there?

One time I remember a friend of mine narrating pictures from her trip to the Holy Land. She pointed out where Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount (at least I think that was the instance) and how He was standing at the top of the hill speaking to the crowd and the dynamics of how they would have been able to hear His voice... I remember thinking how crazy it was that so many people could hear Him that day from where He was standing - just Him speaking - they would have had to be still and quiet!!

What happens when we are silent in worship?
It seems that our hearts are more in tune and receptive to what God wants to speak to us through His Word illuminated by the Spirit helping to bring clarity in the midst of the quiet...
John 4:23-24, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."

3:17 AM EDT  
Blogger JAy. said...

I know that sometimes in the church I attend, we can't even let there be silence when the bulletin calls for "Silent Prayer".

I grew up in a church that did not fear silence, and I think it can be a good tool to use.

How sad that we as a society see silence as a bad thing, though.

8:20 AM EDT  
Blogger John David Walt said...

that's fascinating jamey-- is that "filling all the spaces" by design? or is it something that slowly evolved bc/ of efficiency?

and sandra r. that's a quite funny story about the tech gaffes on sunday. for me, the question about technology in worship isn't whether we should use it or not-- it's whether it facilitates attention or distraction.

as always-- thanks jay.

9:41 AM EDT  
Anonymous John D. Palmer said...

I suppose I resonate somewhat with your sentimental walk down memory lane where Baseball is concerned. Though I never really went to baseball games much when I was young. I always found them infinitely boring and when I went was looking for the cool places to hang out either high up at the top of the stadium where you could crawl out onto the steel girders that held the canopy overhead or underneath the bleechers they had adjoined to the stadium. There always seemed to be a murmur interupted occasionally by a wave of exuberance and or an ocassional drunken curse from right behind home plate. Maybe the murmur in my memory is the quiet your going for. As for the modern experience? ::::shrugs:::: This is Baseball wishing it were more like football:-)

I'm more of a Rebel Yell kind of guy. The pace of a Football Game and the swelling of the collective Roar is more up my ally.

As for the quiet moment of silence at the beginning of a service or sermon. When I first was exposed to this it came off really pious and offputting. I think most of that has to do with teaching and/or direction. I'd encourage the notion of the Worship leader "leading" into that silence. Giving direction into it so that those who are present can have some semblance of understanding about "what" or "why" we do these things. Sort of like a guided meditation. I'd say this is not something that needs to happen in every worship service either. I think we should be able to consider the "journey" of each constituent and make offerings that are progressive for their journey. Like water stations on a 5k or Bike Tour. Even offering opportunities for "the Rebel Yellers"

All that being said the discipline of Silence and/or Quiet is indeed something that our communities need to learn and embrace. Selah

12:39 PM EDT  
Blogger Jamey said...

We "fill all the spaces" by design. It's something that we talk about in our worship planning meetings. I will read a Psalm that has a "selah" in it next time it comes up.

8:25 PM EDT  
Blogger Michelle said...

I agree that silence isn't something that we embrace in our society and culture. We are, by design, living in an age of constant bombardment of the senses. There's a new sight, smell, sound for everything from waking you up in the morning to helping you sleep better at night, and even evoking memories to assist with focus or orientation. I wholeheartedly agree that sound and technical nonsense is over-used in contemporary service. When I began in contemporary worship only 10 years ago, it was a single acoustic guitar and a shaker egg. Now, we have mediashout, powerpoint, lights, fog machines, amps, cords running everywhere and over all a jumbled mess all in the name of worship. What's a deal? well, a different church for one. But the other is an entirely different attitude. Church used to be seen as a safe place, a place of reverence and reflection. It's just not that way anymore. I have been seeking to influence the reverence factor in our service by eliminating distractions and putting a deliberate spin on an intimate setting for worship. I wonder now if silence is more the key to the whole idea of reverence.

I know that more than once God asks for stillness. Stillness of the wind and waves, stillness of mind/body/spirit, heart... I am going to incorporate silence into our worship time and see what God will do. I never thought about stillness in my service to be a worshippful thing. I seek stillness in my own life, but it's directly related to being a single mom of 5 children in constant motion.... and yet, I am intrigued by leading my congregation into silence. thanks for throwing this out there....

10:27 PM EDT  

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