Does my pastoral role call upon me to edit the Bible?
On most Sundays, the call to worship printed in our bulletin
is taken directly from liturgical resources from the denomination. Usually it
adapts a psalm so that the leader (a liturgist, not me) and the rest of the
congregation alternate speaking the verses.
But a while back I did a double take when copying and
pasting a call to worship based on Psalm 103. After a brief discussion on
Twitter (a service that makes
me a better pastor) I decided to scratch Psalm 103 and write a call to
worship I deemed more appropriate for my setting. Was I being a good pastor,
sensitive to the congregation's needs? Or a bad one, editing out the parts of
the Bible that make me uncomfortable?
My HarperCollins Study Bible calls Psalm 103 a psalm of
"Thanksgiving for God's Goodness." It's a well-known and well-loved psalm:
"Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name."
Beautiful, epic, a perfect call to worship.
But the psalmist continues: "[Bless the Lord,] who heals all
your diseases." One of our members had recently found out she had cancer
spreading throughout her body. While she has some treatment options, the
doctors say the cancer will eventually take her life. Yet the call to worship
aimed to focus and direct our worship with the psalmist's claim that the Lord
"heals all your diseases."
I briefly considered editing just that line. Instead, I cut
the entire thing and wrote another.
When a congregation meets for worship, members come as they
are. Each brings the trials, tribulations, joys and concerns of individual
living. It's impossible to lead a worship service that accounts for the full
expression of everyone's feelings, and that's not the point. Indeed, I've heard
poignant testimony from people who in life's most troubling moments have
counted on the thanksgiving and joy found in worship to carry them through.
Some want the church to offer thanks even when they are in deepest grief.
But others, while grieving, can't stand to see anyone giving
thanks to God, or even smiling. For these people especially, worshipful words
of thanksgiving, joy and celebration fall flat.
Balancing these needs is an impossible task for a pastor.
But if I know of a particularly compelling or concerning issue affecting many
in the congregation, I feel it's irresponsible to pretend the hearts and minds
of the worshipers are on an even keel.
Some might make the fair point that it's foolish to even
begin editing the lectionary (or a liturgy based on it), as a pastor can never
know all the feelings of her parishioners. Some will say that even in the
shadow of the valley of death, we must give thanks for God who loves us and
sees us through. If that's you, great-say a prayer for me, edit it as you wish,
and heal me of the disease of oversensitivity.
Adam J. Copeland teaches faith and leadership at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He has served as pastor of a Presbyterian church and as mission developer of a Lutheran ministry. He blogs at A Wee Blether, part of the CCblogs network.