This is the first installment of a little series I'd like to do for the next three months or so. I didn't write the book on liturgy, but I did write a book on the subject. That doesn't mean I'm an expert, but I think I have a good eye (and ear) for spotting liturgical silliness. And that's what I intend to do in this little series—identify some practical liturgical mistakes that are commonly made in modern American worship services. Liturgical corrigenda ("things that need to be corrected"), if you will. Lucy charges 5 cents. My advice is free.
So here is my first piece of advice: don't play background music during the long pastoral prayer. You know what I mean. The piano or synthesizer is playing some slow, nondescript muzak as the pastor begins to pray. The soft, simple music continues throughout the prayer. Sometimes the music is meant to conjure up "heavenly" thoughts or even "outer space." Oh yes, I've heard synthesized "space music" played as the prayer is being made. I don't know what else to call it. It's the kind of music you might hear during a presentation at your local planetarium.
This practice is pure cheese. It is so incredibly annoying and ridiculous. I suspect that it comes directly from televised church services and other televangelistic "ministries." Don't do it. Just pray. If people are having a hard time following your prayers, pastors, then shorten them. That's right. Most pastoral prayers are way too long. Better yet, use a form of prayer—a litany or a bidding prayer—that actually incorporates the congregation in the act of prayer. Now, there's a novel idea. No, actually, it's an ancient practice that treats the congregation as participants in the liturgy rather than simply as an audience that is being manipulated by emotive music.
Cheese is for Friday night at the wine bar. Keep it out of church.