Virtual Voices

Less isn't always more

Religion

There's some discussion about the right length of time for a church worship service, with everyone from Anglican bishops to Protestant innovators calling for shorter services. People have shorter attention spans, claim some. We'll run off newcomers, says another. The Bible enjoins us to be efficient with our time, says still another.

Predictably, some people offer snippets of verses to substantiate their belief that we're sitting in the pews too long. Also predictably, folks on the other side claim all this is shortchanging God. After all, we're gathered to worship Him, not just win new converts.

Maybe the answer depends on something else. It could be that one reason for a decline in church attendance among young people is dry, overly long sermons. But maybe a competing reason is that they tire of being in places where there is neither discipline nor dogma.

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Though it's popular to think of dogma as dry and outdated, and for pockets of people to drop it in favor of self-affirmation, it really is essential to the faith. General goodwill toward some vague idea of God is just a safe, modern form of tribal paganism. Maybe young people sense this and prefer more enjoyable varieties of paganism. Hence the rise in earth worship and pleasure worship and all manner of pick-and-choose social theology.

Personally, I think whether a church service is too long or short depends on the church. I've suffered through some dry, dull, rambling lectures that just about convinced me that we ought to hire only mute pastors and make the worship service 50 percent singing and 50 percent prayer. But I've also been blessed by sermons that so effectively conveyed the Word and heart of God and the critical applicability of Scriptures and dogma to my life that I wanted the service to go on for hours.

So for me, the question isn't what length a church service ought to be as a general rule, it's a question of whether people are being asked to suffer through the incompetence and heresy of a failed lecturer or to be blessed by worship that is Word-centered. Some church services-the sermons, at least-are too long from the moment the preacher draws his first breath. But others evoke a sense of what heaven must entail.

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