Praying from the Pulpit As If Ordering Pork Chops from the Butcher

by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)

In the summer and fall of 1920, Lloyd Douglas published a series of articles in Christian Century magazine called, “Wanted – A Congregation.” The series was aimed at ministers who were discouraged because they had low attendance at their church services. Throughout his life, Douglas was blessed with well-attended churches. In fact, while he was at the First Congregational Church of Ann Arbor, the congregation voted to build a new structure because there was not enough room for the crowds that wanted to hear him. He published this series during his tenure at that church.

The passage quoted below is from the 5th article in the series: “Wanted – A Congregation, Fifth Phase – Making Worship Worshipful,” published in the Christian Century on September 9, 1920:

“We preachers have become dreadfully poor psychologists. There is an instinctive heart-hunger for the mystical in worship that we have been unable to satisfy with our crude, bungling attempts at ritual and the rasping dissonances of the alleged music rendered by our untrained choirs. There has been entirely too much extemporaneous and ill-considered matter introduced into our ‘services of worship.’ Our ‘free’ pulpit prayers, for example, have been so very free that they jar unpleasantly on the sensitive ear of the naturally devout. Indeed, our public prayers are filled with impertinences that are only saved from being blasphemous by the fact that we know not what we do. We pick up disgusting tricks of addressing The Absolute in terms of a contemptuous familiarity. How often one hears preachers mouthing that raucous phrase whose vogue the reverential fail to comprehend, ‘Now, Lord, just send us’ – whatever-it-is – in the same inflection one uses when telephoning the butcher, ‘Now, Sam, just send us a few lean pork-chops, this time, can’t you? No; no sausage, today, thank you. Yes – that will be all, Sam. Thanks – very much!’

“Now, this will not do! Some of us have been wondering what is the matter with our churches; and some of us have been berating the generation for its godlessness. Many of us may find, upon investigation, that we have disgusted our potential constituency with our unwitting want of reverence. Many a sensitive man would greatly prefer to take a book of essays with him to a shady bend in the river, on Sunday morning, than attend our church; whereas his whole soul cries out for a much closer contact with the divine than he can achieve by his communion with nature. But – it is a great deal better for that man’s spiritual welfare that he should go out, Sunday morning, and watch the river, than to go to some church where the music is so ugly it positively frightens one, and the preacher talks to the Great Unseen as if he were chaffing with his next-door neighbor over the back fence. Let it be repeated – this will not do! We who have been committing these serious blunders must mend our ways!”

From “Wanted – A Congregation, Fifth Phase – Making Worship Worshipful,” Christian Century, September 9, 1920, Volume 37, Number 37, pp. 14-17.

For a free PDF copy of the booklet, The Secret Investment of Lloyd C Douglas, fill out the form below:

Author: Ronald R Johnson

I am a Christian author and philosophy professor who speaks and writes about everyday spirituality. I also write funny, suspenseful novels that aren't philosophical or religious... or are they? Learn more at www.ronaldrjohnson.com.

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