Summary: Some churches want entertainment, some want not to disturb anyone. But a Great Commission church will be interested in teaching everyone to obey everything commanded.
Funeral services always challenge me. It is always a high and solemn duty to speak a word from God to those who gather to remember someone’s life. I can hardly say that I enjoy funerals; they are a lot of work. But I can certainly say that I find them a challenge, I find them occasions that demand my best and most creative efforts at preaching.
And so when word arrived some months ago that Rev. I. D. Richards had passed away and that his wife and family wanted me to bring the funeral message, I felt challenged. I felt awed, I felt overwhelmed, I felt anxious. I felt all these things because, in addition to my respect for Rev. Richards and my desire to do him justice as well as to speak a word of good news to his family ... in addition to that I also knew that when a pastor dies, the clergy turn out in droves. We are, after all, rather an exclusive fraternity, and so when one of us passes away, we all show up.
And of course you can guess what that means. It means that whoever is preaching has a hundred critics sitting in front of him, most of whom are thinking, "Now if I had this chance …" "Now if I were working with that Scripture text ..." Let me let you in on a little secret: preachers have a hard time listening to preaching; you’d rather hear yourself than just about any preacher you could name, with the possible exception of the Apostle Paul, and even he had some weak spots!
Well, whatever I did for Rev. Richards’ service, I did, and let the brethren go home to evaluate. A few days later, sitting in a committee meeting at the D. C. Baptist Convention office, one of the pastors commented, "I heard you preach at Richards’ funeral. You whooped! You whooped!"
Do I really need to explain to this crowd what a whooper is? A whooper is a type of preacher who will get a certain rhythm going in his rhetoric. Slow and imperceptible at first, but gradually building, his speech will become more like singing and then like chanting. And eventually he will be gasping for air-a, and many of the words-a will have an extra ending on them-a . . . before you know it he’s got you on the edge
of your seat and you can’t help saying "Amen" and "All right". That’s a whooper.
Whatever else it is, it’s entertaining and exciting. We may not remember exactly what was said, but we know it was fun.
If you’re into the whooper tradition, you think that a preacher who can still use his voice on Monday didn’t really preach on Sunday!
Now, everybody who believes that I really did whoop at Rev. Richards’ funeral, would you please stand on your head right now! I couldn’t do a real, down-home, Carolina whoop if a legion of angels were fluttering their wings in front of my face. It’s just not me.
A lot of church folks want whooping. That is, they want entertainment. They want excitement. They want church to be rousing, noisy, filled with unbridled emotion; they want their worship to be unfeigned feelings, with the throttle wide open. A good many Christians expect their churches and their own forms of religious expression to be whoopers ... full of feeling, exciting, entertaining. That’s all. Just make me feel good.
There is another kind of worship tradition, however. There is the worship tradition which expects very little to happen, and usually gets exactly what it expects. There are those Christians who expect the church to be nothing more than just nice guys. Nice guys. Not very sharp, not very exciting, not too extreme. Just nice guys. Bland. Plain vanilla. Don’t rock the boat. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
In other words, some Christians want their religion sort of generalized and middle-class, sort of muddy and unclear, so that everyone goes away feeling vaguely okay about themselves and not too pressed or too challenged on much of anything.
You know the kind of thing I’m talking about -- the sort of church where the pastor preaches regularly and routinely on safe subjects; where the choir sings the same songs all the time; where the teachers don’t encourage questions and, if they should accidentally meet one, will respond, "Well, let’s all go home and think about that for a couple of months."
The kind of church of which it is said, "Our fathers have been churchmen for a hundred years or so; and to every new proposal they have always answered, ’No’"
The kind of church like the one in which a lady got excited one morning and shouted out, "Praise the Lord" a couple of times. And someone in the pew beside her said, "We don’t praise the Lord in our church." Only to be corrected by the deacon, who admonished, "Yes, we do. But only on page 19 of the hymnal."