Wednesday, November 20, 2013

I'm Not Gonna Ask You To Do Anything Weird (But It's Totally Weird)

My church has been in its new location for roughly five months or so, and we had a new pastor doing the sermon, who pulled something out of the Annoying Hat.

Actually, since it was an associate pastor giving a sermon for the first time in front of this congregation, maybe it’s par for the course.  Maybe all newbie pastors everywhere think this is a Really Great Idea, or maybe seminary school tells them that this is a Really Great Idea, and that if we’re lacking in some way, you should really do this Really Great Idea and stand back and watch the God fireworks BLOW UP.

The Really Great Idea Is This – towards the end of your sermon, single out the people who need prayer in a Slightly Awkward way.  Informally known as an “All Call To Prayer.”

Most commonly, the All Call has the pastor call people who need prayer down to the front of the congregation, usually at the end of the sermon, before the music plays.  Other versions of this include the All Call at the very end of service, so that the people who need prayer go forward, and the people who don’t need prayer or wanna go to brunch turn around and exit.  At our old location, they had people go to the sides, which is slightly more private, but depending on your interior layout, blocking major exit lanes.

Normally, our All Call is done at the very end of our service.  Maybe there’s been discussion about numbers, and how people aren’t taking advantage of the All Call and how can we get prayer for them?  I don’t know, I’m just spitballing possibilities.  Because for the life of me, I cannot understand why this particular way of All Call was allowed to happen.

The sermon topic was on prayer, the good old Persistent Widow and The Judge, and the associate pastor giving his first sermon to us in the 9:00 am service phrased his All Call by saying maybe there’s some of us today who’ve been praying for something for years and nobody knows about it and “you just need to let other people what you’ve been praying.” 

Great!  Everyone take out their smartphones and start emailing!  Hot Diggity!  No!

Associate Pastor goes on to list a few examples of what that something might be. Maybe there’s a family member or friend who has cancer and you prayed for their healing and it didn’t happen.  Maybe you’re struggling with infertility issues.  Maybe you feel alone.

And with each example, he asks us to stand up.

Stand up if you had a family member who died of cancer and you prayed for their healing and it didn’t happen and you think God didn’t answer your prayer.

Stand up if you’re trying to have a family and nothing’s working and you feel like God didn’t answer your prayer.

Stand Up If You Feel Alone.

Wha-HUH?!  Seriously?  What in the world is happening here?

Needless to say, less than ten people stand up (to be fair, I couldn’t see the balcony from where I was, maybe the whole balcony stood). Less than ten people want to admit their family member died of cancer, or they have infertility issues, among other things.

I am gobsmacked.  If the associate pastor thinks this is a Really Great Idea, he is Really Really Mistaken.

If these people need prayer, why are you asking them to be public about it?  If they fall in line with your scenarios, and are hurting, grieving, confused, scared, why are you making them stand up in a public arena? They don’t need publicity, they need privacy.  I’m hurting, grieving, confused, scared, let’s go ahead and add EMBARRASSED on top of it.

He asks the prayer team to go to the people standing up, and pray with them, but it is SO so strange, and SO so weird.

Later I go to the online archive on the church’s website, where they normally put up the 11:00am service, I’m slightly relieved to see that the associate pastor changed his methods slightly.  This time, he had everyone stand up, and then asked the people who needed prayer to raise their hands.  “I’m not going to ask you to do anything weird,” nope, he just wants to single you out.  That’s not weird at all.

Is it weird to think privacy is important here?  Is it weird that this type of All Call carries an undercurrent of If You’re Not Willing To Take A Risk And Admit You Need Prayer, You Might Not Get It?  Because that’s what it feels like.  Raise your hand! Admit you need prayer! Go public with your need! What if I don’t want to? Then… who knows. You might never!

This kind of thing happens every two years or so.  In fact, it happened at this church at our old location in 2011.  That was also a new pastor.  It also didn’t go well.  You think they would learn.  Nah, this time will be different!  Raise your hand for prayer!  C’mon, do it!

Yeah… um… no thanks.

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