When you attend a congregation, there is one fundamental question to be asked [a question which was brought to my attention by a friend of mine, Bill]: What was the holiest point(s) in that service? Second, ask yourself what signifiers marked off that holy point in the service. If you cannot identify the holiest point (the easier task) and what signifiers mark that part as the holiest part (the harder task), you may want to question your attendance at that service.
This gives rise to further questions for pastors: what can I do to make sure that the holiest part is recognized as the holiest part? What things in the services for which I am responsible mark that holy part off from the rest of the service (which should be holy as well, of course)?
I am thinking in a Christian context, of course, so the holiness of a Christian service cannot be simply some generic “awe” or goosebumps on the back of your neck. What is required for the holiness of the parts of a Christian service is Jesus Christ. If He is not clearly proclaimed, which means clearly given, the holiness evoked is a mere pretense.
I have been thinking about this question recently because my family and I have been attending different LCMS churches in the St. Louis area. As a graduate student, I don’t have a field work assignment, and since once I am a pastor I won’t exactly have the time to visit other churches on Sunday morning, I have been observing the way various congregations carry out the Divine Service. Some are good, some are, shall we say, not so good. Which means, as a pastor of one of the churches told me, I have a chance to learn what to do, as well as (and probably more importantly) what not to do. [Strangely, the pastor seemed apologetic about the “contemporary” (what an idiotic, completely non-descriptive word) service which we were attending.]
So next time you attend your church or another one, ask yourself: What was the holiest point in that service, and how did I know it was holy? If it’s not holy, why go?