Since the internet seems to be on the subject of popular-but-cancelled-too-soon TV shows I’ll start today with a different one altogether. I don’t know if you’ve watched Arrested Development at all, but there’s this great storyline in Seasons 2 and 3 where the slippery Maeybe Fünke finds herself working as a teenage film executive. Attempting to keep her age a secret so she doesn’t get fired, she weasels her way out of awkward scenarios by grinningly smiling: “Marry me.” Funny and disarming certainly, but a lot less funny than the sometimes-real-life version… Church. Imagine this:

You’re a 35-year-old mother of three who has just breathlessly rushed your little angels into different nursery programs on opposite sides of the building. On the way to church you’ve had to explain to one kid why McDonalds can’t be a substitute for every meal of the day. To another: why they can’t wear their Spiderman costume in lieu of everyday clothing for the third day in a row. On top of it all and when you’re already running late, you don an oversized scarf you hadn’t planned on wearing — just to cover up baby’s latest surprise contribution to your wardrobe. All of this before you walk through the doors to church.

Kid-free for the first time in days you collect your coffee, take your seat and finally (finally) breathe… and before you have time to collect your thoughts a bearded man in skinny jeans that you’ve seen once-or-twice in the hallway takes the podium to strum his guitar and shouts over the drummer’s count-in: “HELLO! CLAP YOUR HANDS! EVERYBODY STAND UP! PARTY TIME FOR JESUS! MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

In other words: it’s “Hello: Marry me!” on the first date. Instead of escaping an awkward situation in Fünke fashion, in many Christian church contexts we create one. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be enthusiastic, far from it, but what I *AM* saying is that we song leaders need to remind ourselves every day that congregants are human beings — not just voice boxes and clapping machines — and haven’t always had time or energy to *prepare* for the worship set we spent all week mulling over. With Christmas just around the corner and such high rates of depression this time of year, it may be helpful to remember this now most of all.

So, without further adieu here are 3 ways you can treat congregants like human beings this Christmas, and hopefully the rest of the year too.

  1. Be A Human On Stage: If your church context has a stage, a sound system, some kind of lighting rig and musical instruments… your church IS a concert-like context. I’ll talk in another post about “Performance vs. Worship” etc, but for now let it be said that a few things are necessary here to understand and break down some expectations given the environment. Frankly, even if your service is really low-key this is still important. Make eye contact. Be inviting. Be kind. Be a part of the congregation yourself: break down the invisible fifth wall by communicating what’s going on on-stage as best you can. Oh, and feel free to say ‘hello’, or offer a ‘grateful’ nod when appropriate. Which brings me to number 2:

  2. Give People Time and Respect: One of my favourite go-to songs growing up as a leader was ‘Better is One Day’ by Matt Redman, based on Psalm 84. There’s a surprising application here – a surprising moment of intimacy, a surprising moment of joy, a surprising moment of passion, can have a greater impact than 5 songs in a row of nothing but one of them. Instead of “Hi – Marry Me” – work your way from ‘hello, it’s OK, settle in’ to increased engagement. Earn people’s trust before you’re asking them to follow you into the promised land! If you come out ‘guns blazing’ and making demands there’s nowhere to go but down and the whole thing can feel anti-climactic. And lastly…
  3. Design Your Worship Set To Function Like A Good Story: Have you ever watched a movie where the best scene is the opening credits? I sure have, and it’s always a disappointment. I think we human beings almost always appreciate a certain ‘story arc’ to art and expression – and corporate worship is no exception. Lyrically, musically, and in terms of energy and expectation – be sure your worship set feels as much as possible like a story with a beginning, middle, and end. We’ve got the best story ever told to draw from besides. Build trust, include surprise-twists, make sure everybody’s along for the ride, and given that we’re celebrating the best news of all, you can almost always include a happy ending.

There’s probably more here but that’ll have to be for another day. For now, I’ll let you know ahead of time that though I’ve posted daily this week on Orthodoxical I’ll be slowing down a little over Christmas to focus on time with friends and family! If you can I’d encourage you to do the same.

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
– Luke 2:14

Merry Christmas to you and yours!