Sermonized Announcements

Then Boaz announced  to the elders and all the people…” Ruth 4:9 (New International Version)

It’s the snarkiest of times, it’s the most troublesome of times.  It’s time for the church announcements, the bane of a worship planner’s planning.  What a to do!

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Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils. There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed.

You could mention them at the start of the Service of Worship, like the pre-show curtain speech in theater .  But then, the people don’t hear them. They’re getting settled waiting for the real show to start:  the music; the real worship, you know?  Or for the music to stop.   That could be another 10 minutes.  More people would be in the audience to hear them.  But then…?

If the announcements are in the middle of the service, either before or after the sermon, they interrupt the tone set up by the music to receive the message, or the reflect on it afterward.

If they are after the decision-making, maybe tied in with the offering, they run the risk of being dismissed as a superfluous afterthought.  These days with so many announcements being produced as mini-movies, that can be demoralizing, running the risk of an unhappy video ministry.  On the other hand, even the most Oscar-worthy announcement verite risks a thumbs down, no matter how well done.  In some circles, the idea of movie announcements in church is as sinful as the organ, drums and guitars have been (are?).  At best, they become the annoying white nose between the sermon and the parking lot release; at worst, they are akin to audio-cranked, strobe-paced TV commercials that blur the line between the kingdom and the world —

“We interrupt our Worship of God to bring you this news about us.” 

Even if the next-to-last item in the itinerary before the  day’s exodus, there’s visual cacophony– often boisterously written on the congregation’s faces — of hearing a James Earl Jonesian announcer (the Voice of God?) intone, “We return you now to our regularly scheduled Service of Worship.”

That leaves a gamut of announcement options. These vary according to the church’s size, resources, expectations and clock-watchers: keep them short in passing; interweave throughout the elements, just don’t do them.  Let people read the bulletin or go online.  Enough with the tongue-in-cheekiness.

However they’re presented, however much creativity and energy are spent, even if they’re diligently absorbed by the most steadfast listener, the question remains:  do our “announcements” fit the idea of a Service of Worship which is focusing on God?

The answer, as with each element of church ministry, is found in this perpetual query from a mentor pastor who lassoed freewheeling, unending brainstorming with this earth-bound retort: “Toward what purpose?”

What is the purpose of church announcements?

Simply tradition?  A news and prayer update of the calendar or congregation’s lives that we’ve always done, or that everybody else does?  The stuff that church bulletin typos comedy is made of? Or is there something about this sharing of information that actually is — or can be — connected to the overall atmosphere of collectively honoring God?  Having wrestled with this dilemma for several years, I’m comfortable that there is.  Church announcements are as essential to corporately worshipping God as psalms, hymns, spiritual songs, and the sermon.  Perhaps, in many ways, more so.

As a presenter and visitor, I’ve experienced the good, the bad, the ugly of “announcements.” Our tendency is to rush through the items, as if necessary evils (emphasis on the final word). There is also the tendency to languish, as if the presenter is self-possessed.  I’ve been accused of both.

I’ve attended services where there are no announcements, announcements from the audience, music video announcements, Reader’s Digest bulletin sample announcements, “apologetized” announcements (where the speaker repeatedly makes excuses for what needs to be said), ABC announcements (where every line of the bulletin is read to the congregation).

However, a few months ago, I had an announcement epiphany while, of all times, listening to the pastor’s sermon.  Imagine.

You see, as a staff member, my Sunday mornings are often spent fine-tuning details of the service and balancing those with parental responsibilities.  When I have platform duties — like presenting the announcements — there are times when my focus is hazy.  The slightest technical bobble distracts me.  I mentally truncate the list of items to mention…because of the game clock.  Or the pastor makes a salient point that opens creative floodgates.

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Can we get listeners to view announcements as opportunities to serve God?  And once recognizing that, can we encourage them to participate?

On this particular day, I had no responsibilities but the family news, including no family tasks. So-freed, I allowed myself to become a congregant — to sing, reflect on the scriptures, absorb the message, and make connections.  One pastoral point stayed with me as I went forward to spread the news.   So much so, it took a moment to speak…and discover:  All three verbal items were related to the day’s message, our church mission, our vision.  Each had an inherent purpose for being read.  They weren’t separate.  We were doing these acts of service because of who we are as a church committed to Christ.  It was incumbent to express this to the audience, including those people who had never been to our church before.  The 3-5 minutes allotted me (the length of a song) now became, not a time out, but time to engage and to challenge; to allow the listeners to remain connected for the elements following — our financial offering, a celebration song, God’s benediction blessing.

 

Since then, I’ve been developing a more intentional template.  A guide for “sermonized announcements” that at least allows my sense of worship to remain attentive and inspired in the midst of ministry-threatening busyness.  The template works for a church our size (the 150s) and may have merit elsewhere.  It’s a guide to interacting with the congregation, whether through showcasing acts of service, greeting the audience,  presenting events information, or giving instructions for the offering or communion. The template allows the challenge of putting the moment in spiritual context and trusting others participate because they understand the “commercial” through Christ’s eyes.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Can we get our listeners to view the announcements as an opportunity to serve God?  And once recognizing that opportunity, can we encourage members and guests to become active participants?

“…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:17)

Making too much of this announcement thing?  The point is to dispel the misconception that worship starts and stops with music.  It’s the entire time.   Our overhead projection that introduces this sequence is called, “Worshipping God through Offerings and Acts of Service.”   It’s important to underscore these concepts, particularly among guests whose idea of church may be “they’re always asking for money.” And to remind everyone why the church exits.  These items don’t need to happen at the same time.  They are, however, a checklist to review when deciding what information should be shared in corporate worship.  So, the template is something like this:

  1. Introduce yourself;
  2. Acknowledge the audience — regulars and guests;
  3. Point out information that needs to be written:  for example, names & addresses on a communication card;
  4. Give brief instructions to complete card and offering envelope;
  5. Express the church’s mission and vision;
  6. If you have a Welcome Packet, give summary of content, highlight special additions and where to get one;
  7. Connect the mission and vision to this sequence of worship;
  8. Connect to a sermon point if possible; or scripture; maybe note “This is why we do these events…”
  9. Point out the bulletin and refer to key items of the day to be addressed before leaving, and those to read at home;
  10. Invite the audience to a special activity not listed in the bulletin such as a class; when possible, highlight a topic;
  11. Mention any available sermon support material — a CD or order, web connection, or study notes;
  12. Pray, giving thanks for participation and reminding that contributions today underwrite ministries as the ones mentioned;
  13. Invite your offering collectors to begin.

The sequence may seem long, yet has purpose based in research:

  • Long-time attendees may go through these motions by rote, forgetting the importance of ministry service.
  • Newcomers don’t know the “rules” and may feel out of place.  In anticipation of growth, assume each week has new people.
  • If you have a video or audio ministry, telling people about the existence of this media for further study on today’s topic is more ministry uplifting and less commercial.
  • A special class invitation may pique the curiosity of a person who would like further study but doesn’t know what’s going on.

If the repetition annoys regulars, ask how many times they’ve seen their favorite “I Love Lucy” rerun.  Research also points out it takes several “touches” or reminders for people to latch on to a concept, especially to comprehend a church’s mission or vision.  One church mentor has said, “About the time you’re tired of hearing it is the time the people start getting it.”

We return you now to your regularly-scheduled reading.

(Featured photo by Matt Botsford on Unsplash)

(Other photos by Dara Magrum)

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Family Affairs

“These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.” – Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (New International Version)

The motto – mission – of my home church is “developing a family of Christ-followers.” The goal is multi-faceted: to encourage the members and regular attendees to interact with each other as a family; to recognize that we are of diverse ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, ideas, temperaments yet united by blood…the blood of Christ. In the months which have five Sundays, the fifth Sunday is designated Family First Sunday.

In many cases a church-family relationship is stronger than that of bloodkin…those siblings, cousins, or others of the biological chain. Celebrations, like Christmas or Easter, have a different level of joy among a church family because of the mutual understanding of certain rituals. At the same time, as family we are reminded that there will be moments of dysfunction. We are to work to overcome dysfunction and disagreements through Christ rather than on our own. Face it: without the accountability of Christ, when family feuds occur, it’s easy to say no…to walk away from a family relationship. To walk away from the family, period.

Naturally, there are critiques that it’s not necessary to be Christian to have family cohesion…that Christian faith doesn’t have exclusive claim on holding families together…and that, indeed, Christianity can be the REASON for familial discord. Consider the number of people who have been “disowned” for choosing to say, “Jesus is Lord.” Those familiar with the Scriptures recognize this familial rejection isn’t a surprise. Christ himself explained to his disciples,

“Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:53-55)

Such discord happened in his own family when religious leaders tried to get his mother and siblings to stop him from performing miracles, declaring he was possessed by Satan. In setting the leaders straight, Jesus introduced the “concept” of the extended family:

“Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? (Matthew 12:40) Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:48).

Disagreements notwithstanding, there’s another part of “developing a family” to take into consideration: Bonding of biological kinfolk who recognize dysfunctions of the family, their own physical or emotional MALfunctions, understand who Jesus is, and unabashedly call to Him for strength and comfort in the midst of their maladies. Indeed, they readily, audibly praise him for little things: like taking a step, a breath, or remembering what breakfast was. A personification of this perspective appeared during a holiday celebration.

STEP BY STEP

Dinner had ended. Family fun festivities were about to begin. Dinner was the first time they’d ever met, many of these relatives. A grandma, two daughters, a husband, a grandson, a granddaughter and two great grandchildren spread out across two rooms surrounding the dining table and assorted décor. Their seating arrangement was framed. Still-life posing for a Renaissance painter. Each life contained a story of faith in the face of misfortune.

Grandma struggled with memory voids that frustrated her, tested the patience of youngsters, and saddened those who knew her mental acumen back in the day — particularly the daughters. So, they tapped into the credo an Ancestor-in-Law printed on envelopes of all his family and business correspondence in the bygone era:

“The family that prays together, stays together.”

Without fanfare, they prayed. Regularly. Aloud. Whenever. Prayed for patience, the absence of outbursts, deliverance from depression, liberation from blood pressure spikes. They prayed for, fill-in-the-blank. Daughter No. 1 prayed not only for her mother, but also for her Husband, wheelchair-bound across the room, felled by diabetes-related kidney malfunction. He had been sitting in the chair for all of the four hours since they had arrived. It was restful. Once he got out of the car which transported him, it took him a good 15 minutes of standing and leaning on his walker to figure out how to position his body to climb the two steps to get into the door and collapse into his chariot. With each sweaty, shuffled step, he said, “Thank you, Jesus,” in earnest. He knew that, without the power of Christ, he had neither to strength to stand, nor turn, nor drop his bulky frame into the chair. “Thank you. Thank you, Jesus.”

(He again intoned the praise when the evening ended, two hours later…the last 30 minutes of which he spent working out how to lift from the chair and go DOWN the two steps in order to walk to the car 10-feet away. Reaching the auto, The Husband paused and intoned, “I am tired of this,” to “Thank you, Jesus.” Not as a matter of complaint, but as confession, a request and a goal.)

Seated in the room, The Husband stroked his beloved Bree, a sweater-clad lapdog, the closest he and Daughter No. 1 had to offspring. Bree was a blessing to him. As were the great-grandchildren — his niece and nephew — who bandied about, as single-digit children should at holiday time, noisily and free, yet within boundaries. The boundaries were set, and quietly reinforced, by their father — The Grandson — whose patience was essential on a day such as this. They had driven six hours, half of them in heavy snow, and had arrived a couple of hours later than expected because of a late start. The delay only slighted infringed upon the time of Daughter No. 2 – his aunt — who had driven three hours to rendezvous with him and his family at the state border.

On the return ride, they did some long overdue catching up. It had been years. The Grandson was now a single dad with shared custody. The previous five years had been contentious and life-changing. Only five months earlier Jesus had evolved from a concept to reality. Despite only part-time parent duty, he developed full-time presence; so much so that when he stepped into the garage to help The Husband from wheelchair to car, his daughter quietly melted down indoors, fearing she had been abandoned.  Despite her brother’s reassurance, she mellowed only when her father returned and assured her he was always around…an embodiment of the commandment of Deuteronomy 6, not confining the instruction to a specific day, time, or other individual — say, a professional theologian — but teaching them:

“when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up;”

The prodigal had learned the children were his responsibility…and the church’s..together. Each would put the family first.

SHARING GIFTS

There are several reasons we declare fifth Sundays “Family First Sunday.”

One is to publicly display speaking, performing or musical gifts of various members of our church family. This is an element of “developing a family of Christ-followers.” Another reason is to remind us that we are  an intergenerational church, thus mutually accountable, and that paid staff or elected leaders are not the only ministers in our midst. This particular Sunday included an uncle baptizing his nephew; two child dedications; a mother-daughter duet; stories of faith by a teen worker, a first-year teacher, a new dad; a sermonette by a college intern, and an all-ages brunch served by the teens.

Interaction of ages within a church family has a positive impact in passing down values or uplifting dispositions. Faith values passed among bloodkin produce a unity that transcends years of separation and state lines.  The gathering of the family, only three of whom attend our church, embodied these concepts:

The arrival of the great-grandchildren revived The Grandma and The Husband from midwinter funk.  The presence of men, the active presence of men, was settling among the children and reassuring for the women.  Prayer was a universal response to situations, good and bad, not simply words muttered so food could be munched.

Family First is to remind parents, grandparents and children to seek and grasp family moments: to enjoy traditions, to establish traditions; to see God at work in triumph, tragedy, good times and bad; to put down the gadgets, notebooks, work schedules, even ministry responsibilities, and embrace each other.

This idea of family is harder to embrace in our fast-paced, instant “Like,” microwave, iPod, want-it-now world of 140-character communication, and fleeting BFFs. Yet long before there were schools, Sunday schools or TV teaching, surmounting this task was God’s instructions to the adults, recorded in Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children.”