Sunday, May 2, 2010


I visited a church today, but left after 15 minutes of Joys and Concerns, with three people still holding up their hands to be recognized. There were the usual travelogues, along with thrilling children's accomplishments. To add to the fun, the minister repeated each J and C, so we all heard them twice.

I'm with theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who once wrote, "I am mad as hell at Christians, myself included, who make the practice of Christianity so uninteresting."


  1. I concur with Hauerwas.

    Announcements before a pastoral prayer that detail the medical diagnoses of various illnesses, surgeries, chemotherapies and visiting family members are my personal favorite example of this. They make me want to run, not walk, from the sanctuary. If the goal is to cultivate an awareness of the presence of God in our midst, why all these details? That Mrs. Smith tried chemotherapy A, but because she had such a bad reaction to the drug, she is now going to try chemotherapy B is prurience pure and simple.

  2. I am sorry that any congregation is so self-absorbed...and even sorrier to find a minister-led one being so ineffective. Sad, sad, sad.

  3. Some churches have trouble with parishoners using Joys and Concerns for political speech. Others simply have parishoners light candles if they have a joy or concern. Our church has a separate time prior to the main worship service exclusively for joys and concerns which are then relayed briefly a second time during the worship service. (Some joys and concerns make it into an e-mail sent by the church office on Fridays.) There is no reason not to be creative about what is offered and what is better left undone or unspoken. For many knowing the specifics of joys and concerns can well be a valid part of being a member of a religious community.

  4. I reject the presumption that the "religious community" has some kind of need to know or even right to know personal details about medical diagnoses so that it can care effectively.

  5. I think there are a couple of issues here. Joys and Concerns are more typical of the smaller church, where close friendships are valued highly. People do want to know when others are sick, and when other significant life events occur.

    The problem, to me, is the practice of allowing an unlimited number of people to share their issues during the worship service. I agree with Christine that this demonstrates a lack of clergy leadership. I have seen many thoughtful ways that J&C can be meaningful and not intrusive to the worship experience.

    But once a congregation has created a culture of many speakers, woe to those wish to change it.

  6. You are so right, Mike. I once served a congregation in the Midwest that had a long-standing tradition of sharing Joys and Concerns for no less than fifteen minutes in the middle of the Sunday service (prior to the Prayers of the People). Try as I might, I was not successful in persuading those folks to abbreviate the practice.

  7. Mike - I heard the senior minister from the large UU congregation in Madison WI speak about "joys and concerns" in his congregation at a district conference a few years ago.

    He said they do "joys and concerns" and the occasional sermon "talkback" after worship. He mentioned that both of these things were big "no-no's" from the standpoint of congregational consultants. However, the folks in Madison still do them and they have grown in membership numbers.

    His point from this is that it's possible to keep these worship elements and also have positive growth as long as effective group norms are established by the minister and lay leadership.

  8. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your operative phrases are, "After worship," and, "Effective group norms." Joys and Concerns during worship often make people feel they are captives. One minister I know calls J&C, "The parade of egos."

    I know the minister in question, and he is a strong leader. He believes, as I do, that the quality goes in before the invitation goes out. Amateur hour at worship is a one-way street to Nowheresville.

    Regarding sermon talk-backs, ministers are possibly the most vulnerable following Sunday worship. They probably stayed up most of the night to prepare a sermon. All too often, those who stay for the talkback have an agenda of their own, or a beef. I gotta say, I'm not a fan of talkbacks - a custom-made soapbox for the disgruntled.

  9. How does one deal with the outcry and hurt feelings when a congregation moves from a spoken joys and concerns? I have heard a long-time member cite not having a spoken joys and concerns as a reason why the person feels that the church is no longer one's church.

    As background, we have grown from a family church to a pastoral church. Our congregation is trying to move to a program church.

  10. Joys and Concerns are the hallmark of a family or pastoral church. Such a practice will help prevent a congregation from growing larger.

    Once again, it's not J&C in themselves, but rather a random assortment of people standing up, many of whom are inarticulate, and others quite unpredictable. Too often, J&C is very amateurish, which, again, is the nature of a small church and not a large one.

    Churches are not petrified forests, forever locked in time. They are living, breathing organisms which change over time. People leave churches and join churches all the time. It's a natural cycle.

    Finally, it's sad that a person feels the church offers so little beyond J&C.