By Mark Dance
I’m not by nature a provocateur, although this post may inadvertently provoke some. By nature and calling, I’m an encourager, so my motive is to help you reconsider some of the ministry habits we may have picked up from those who pastored before us.
On a long drive last week, my mind began to think about some of the awkward things I’ve seen pastors do that I’ve wondered about. I came up with six practices which I’ve turned into questions I’m hoping you can help me answer.
1. Why do we raise our hand during a baptism?
When I began pastoring in 1987, I wanted to know how to baptize people properly. Being naturally curious, I started asking pastors why they raised their hand before they baptized people.
This has never been a trick question, nor is it cynically jaded. I’ve yet to hear one clear answer, so I’m still curious 32 years later.
2. Why do we ask people to walk to the front of a room of singing strangers?
Before you revoke my ordination or throw me off a social media cliff, think about how intimidating that must be to some of our guests.
Aren’t you a little curious whether some unchurched people are leaving our worship services with unanswered questions because of awkward hurdles like this?
3. Why do we ask people to give money in front of other people?
Since I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, there’s nothing personally awkward to me about passing a plate or basket from seat to seat.
What’s awkward is the fact that for years I never put anything in the offering plate. Why would I, since it’s more efficient and safe to give online?
I’m not suggesting you stop passing the plate, but you can make the offering less awkward by reminding everyone that the plate is one of many ways people support the ministry of the church.
4. Why do we ask people to hold hands?
We did this every Sunday in the 1970s, so I assumed holding hands with strangers was normal. It’s normal if you’re Southern, and if you’re Baptist.
If the only people who come to your church are people just like you, there’s a systemic missional problem you need to deal with that’s bigger than any of my little rants in this blog post.
5. Why do we close our eyes when we pray?
There’s nothing morally wrong or even awkward about praying with our eyes closed. It effectively shuts out some distractions, but since there’s no biblical precedent for it, I’ve always wondered why we sing with our eyes open and pray with our eyes closed.
6. Why do we ask people to repeat after us?
If we ask people too often for an “a-men,” we can sound like we are pining for affirmation or attention. I’m not hating on those who occasionally ask for feedback from the crowd, but some of us need to dial it back a bit.
When I’m a guest in a church and the preacher asks me to repeat something, I struggle because my mind doesn’t process quickly enough to know whether I agree.
This is especially true if the preacher asks me to close my eyes, raise my hand, walk down the front, give my money, or repeat after him.
MARK DANCE (@markdance) speaks at churches, conferences, and retreats—often with his wife Janet. Mark has contributed to several books and offers weekly encouragement at MarkDance.net. He’s currently serving as director of pastoral development for the Oklahoma Baptist Convention.