After Pastoring in the Presbyterian tradition for ten years, I was worn out having to come up with fresh, creative, relevant prayers each week for worship. I found my compositions increasingly vapid. It wasn't until years later that, in speaking with author Kathleen Norris, I recognized what was going on.

"When churches aspire for relevance, they tend to fall into marketing language," she said (in what became an interview in our sister publication Leadership). "It's all around us. Most of the language of marketing is meant to mislead."

She recalled a prayer of confession once used in her church, which began, "Our communication with Jesus tends to be too infrequent to experience the transformation in our lives you want us to have."

"That is evasive," Norris said. "It's not a confession. It's a memo—a memo from one executive to another." When we use such language to address God, she continued, we shortchange the mystery: "One of the reasons people come to church is to hear real language. And that means it's not the kind of language they hear on the job or when they turn on the television sets."

If the church doesn't give people real language, she said, they go home a little hungry. What she said next especially caught my attention: "The church needs to give people 'memorable speech' (as one poet put it). The Scriptures provide that royally. There's all sorts of memorable speech in the Psalms and the Gospels."

This is one reason set prayers—as found in The Book of Common Prayer and the daily office of many traditions—are so attractive to so many evangelicals and charismatics: such services are full of Scriptural language (see "A Vespers Service," p. 43, as an example). It's also one reason Mennonite pastor Art Boers set off on an ...

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