by Leonard Payton
Prune City, California, is an unfortunate town devoid of character. It tripled in size between 1965 and 1985. At that time, a plague of building contractors descended upon Prune City and immediately there were five thousand identical houses, a KMart, three supermarkets, five strip shopping centers, countless metal and tilt-up buildings, nine gas stations, eleven fast food restaurants, and five doughnut shops.
Naturally, the churches grew, erecting new sanctuaries in earth tones. They had the sharp angles of "modern" architecture, sanctuaries matching the neo-orthodox, stick-figure style of the "Good News To Modern Man Bible." Both the buildings and the trendy Bible version were dated before they were completed.
Now the boom is over in Prune City. Church attendance is lackluster and graying. The only growing church is Rivers of Living Refreshment Christian Fellowship which is only five years old and already the largest congregation in town. As you can imagine, anxiety has been mounting in the established churches, precipitating the strange tale I am about to tell.
This past February, unbeknownst to one another, the governing bodies of several local congregations took action on their stagnating church attendance. These congregations included Prune City Evangelical Free, First Baptist, Faith Lutheran, Westminster Presbyterian, Freeway Wesleyan, and, Prune City Covenant. The proceedings were better than any side show. But that's a story for another time. What was so singular was that they all changed their names to "Plum Ridge Community Church."
They also implemented identical changes during the second week of March. They painted the inside of their sanctuaries teal and covered the pews with thick, mauve padding. They placed a large overhead screen right up front where the cross had been. On either side of the screen were banners in warm tones with striking calligraphy, saying, "He is Risen!" They replaced their monolithic pulpits with stream-lined, clear plexi-glass fixtures designed to make the pastor "transparent."
Beyond these cosmetic changes, the Prune City churches placed the worship music into the hands of younger people who bought praise choruses from the same three companies and ordered overhead slides from the same magazine advertisement. And, of course, they shoved the organ off into a corner to make room for the worship band. (I have to tell you that the drummer had no idea of what to do with "Wonderful, the matchless grace of Jesus" sandwiched between "Majesty" and "As the Deer.") They also had a skit about legalism and Christian liberty.
Well, as you can imagine, it was a jarring experience for Fred and Ethel when they showed up the second Sunday of March. The place smelled, looked, and felt different. Was it a dream or perhaps a nightmare? As the service proceeded, Ethel examined the pastor's face through her trifocals concluding that, yes, this was the same man. He even had the same voice but when he used words she thought she knew, she discovered that even the meanings, like the building, had changed.
The following glossary is intended as a reference work for hapless Freds and Ethels whose churches have gone through a sudden metamorphosis. It is also intended for people, who, when moving, find that the labels "Lutheran," "Baptist," or "Presbyterian," are not a guarantee of anything.
The glossary is not exhaustive, nor does it have
the clear-eyed distance of time. No doubt, future
readers of church history will smile condescendingly
as they read about the Plum Ridge phenomenon just as
we chuckle about evangelists barking like dogs in the
nineteenth century, or traveling ministers selling
forgiveness of sins in the sixteenth century.
ACCOMPANIMENT TRACK - A means of momentarily transforming ordinary folks into Christian Artists.
AWESOME - An adjective encapsulating the attributes of God which are in bad form to mention.
BOOMERS - The most important Demographic group; people born between 1945 and l961.
BUSTERS - The next most important Demographic group; people born after 1961; anatomically human, but that is as far as it goes; Clinton's staff.
C.C.L.I. - an organization in Portland, which, for an annual fee, takes care of copyright hassles so that we can sing all our favorite songs by all our favorite Christian Artists.
CELEBRATION - A Seeker Friendly service where everything is relevant and the music is joyous.
CHRISTIAN ARTIST - A person who sings and whose recordings sell in large quantities.
COMMUNITY CHURCH - A congregation which is part of a larger denomination or conference, but which is ashamed of that denomination's name.
CONFESSION - Not Seeker Friendly.
CONTEMPORARY - Anything since 1960, although music from 1970 on is more contemporary.
DEMOGRAPHICS - A management tool useful for paring down "the uttermost part of the earth" to attainable units.
DRAMA SKETCH - A five minute soap opera or sitcom with Christian words.
DRUMS - A musical instrument useful for making the worship more joyous.
EXCELLENCE - The favorite style of music performed at the level of a Christian artist.
GOOD OLD HYMN - Any congregational song composed between 1850 and 1950, in a style fitting for the circus, reminding us of our parents' and grandparents' hokey churches. A verse of one of these songs should be sung periodically for wholesome sentimental value, similar to baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.
GREAT OLD HYMNS - "A Mighty Fortress," "All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name," and "Crown Him With Many Crowns."
HE - With a large case "H" — God.
HYMNAL - Cumbersome relic of a bygone age.
INTEGRITY - A brand name.
JOYOUS - Music at 120 quarter notes per minute with back beats on beats two and four so that the congregation can clap (and if it is especially joyous, dance). Truly joyous music will not have more than four or five chords as that would distract from the joy. It is especially joyous if drums are present.
LAW OF GOD - Get a clue! Definitely not Seeker Friendly.
LIGHTS - That which gives a luster of midday to objects up front. The congregation should not be well lit. That is not Seeker friendly. And since the Seeker is only accustomed to being with large groups of people at a theater, it would be stressful for him if his expressions could be seen by others.
LITURGY - A suspicious word, definitely not Seeker Sensitive.
LORD - The only acceptable name for God aside from "You" and "He."
MARANATHA - A brand name.
MEDLEY - A verse of a Good Old Hymn sandwiched between contemporary praise songs to improve the palatability of the Good Old Hymn.
MUSIC - The most strategic conveyance of Spirit-Filledness.
NEEDS - The hot button of the Seeker.
ORGAN - An unfortunate musical instrument to be avoided because it evokes a sense of distance from God. Like the accordion (use an accordion, go to jail); use an organ, fail to reach Seekers.
OVERHEAD - An appropriate object of genuflection. For maximum relevance, the overhead should be placed where the Cross was.
PROGRAM DIRECTOR - The resident liturgical manager.
RELEVANCE - That which is most likely to capture affectionate attention.
SEEKER - a person, not a part of the church, whose tastes are, nonetheless, the most important.
SEEKER FRIENDLY - Style decisions more closely keyed to the tastes of the Seeker than in a Seeker Sensitive service.
SEEKER SENSITIVE - Anything designed around the tastes of a Seeker but intended to remain acceptable to the non-Seeker.
SEQUENCER - A piece of computer hardware designed to compensate for deficient musicianship
SIN - Not Seeker friendly.
SOUND ENGINEER - The most crucial participant in the worship service.
SPECIAL MUSIC - That portion of the service when an ordinary person, with the help of an Accompaniment Track is momentarily transformed into a Christian artist.
SPIRIT-FILLED - Any style of music or speech which feels good
SPIRIT-LED - Unplanned.
STYLE - there are really only two styles; traditional and contemporary.
SWEET - The most common adjective to describe Jesus.
SYNTHESIZER - A musical instrument suitable for use in a Worship Band with a Christian Artist.
THE WORSHIP - Congregational singing
THEOLOGY - A necessary evil, something like spinach or Pepto Bismol.
TRADITIONAL - All music composed before 1960.
VINEYARD - Where you enter into life in Jesus' name by giving him all your tears and sadness as well as all your years of pain .
VISION STATEMENT - A Seeker Friendly version of the bylaws.
VULNERABILITY - A worship leader's willingness to dip anecdotally into his own experiences, especially those which make him look like a buffoon. Other ways of displaying vulnerability are the closing of eyes, the raising of hands, and the production of tears.
WORD - A brand name.
WORSHIP BAND - Any collection of guitarists, drummers, synthesizer players, and persons holding microphones. All of them wish they were involved with a Christian artist. As a general principle, it is unseemly for anyone over the age of forty-nine to hold a microphone. Other instruments may be used, although the accordion is categorically excluded.
WORSHIP LEADER - A person similar to a Christian Artist but who remains active in a local congregation rather than moving to Los Angeles, Nashville, Waco, or Mobile, in order to become a Christian artist.
WORSHIPFUL - Soft and slow. It is especially worshipful if the words are few and the eyes are closed. Drums should be avoided. Music with more than three chords will not be worshipful.
YOU - With a LARGE case "Y" — God.
Dr. Leonard Payton has served as Chief Musician at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Austin, Texas, since January 1996. He received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego, and has done advanced study in Germany. He contributed to The Coming Evangelical Crisis (Moody, 1996), and is a frequent contributor of both reviews and articles to Reformation & Revival Journal.