Last time I asserted that the modern evangelical trend of trying to make the worship experience similar to what one would find in the movie theater or on the cable network is evidence that we have a fundamental lack of confidence in the preaching of the word of God.
But let’s just suppose for a moment that in fact, sincere Christians who are serious about the preaching of the Word are engaged in these sort of things only out of a concern to make the gospel relevant to a pop-culture-saturated generation. We would still ask – Are any of these innovations really necessary in the first place? Do they really accomplish what they intend to accomplish?
Why assume that what people in our communities want from a church is what they are getting everywhere else? They have lots of opportunities to be entertained or wowed or emotionally manipulated (if they are into that sort of thing)—but why should we assume that they are expecting the very same thing when they come to church?
People normally expect church to be very different from the rest of life. Just as they don’t want their doctor’s office to be run like WalMart, and they don’t expect their experience at the library to be the same as their experience at the deer camp, no one automatically expects their church experience to be the same as their movie or rock concert experience.
In my experience it is only Christians who are bored of church, or bored with a certain kind of music, or bored with a certain preacher who are concerned that they be entertained in their Sunday morning gathering. I don’t get that same sense from unbelievers coming to the church for the first time or from the unfaithful who are returning to church after a long absence. They expect worship to be bigger and older than they are––to have more substance than anything else in their lives.
Other forms of information and education and entertainment may be more slickly-produced and flawlessly-executed than anything the church has going on, but where is the authority in those things? Where is the life and the light? Where is the truth?
Someone somewhere once gave this example—when you go to a baseball game for the first time, you expect there to be things you have to learn about the game and about the experience of watching. You need to learn when to stand up, when to sit down, how to keep score, what to watch for, what the rules are, fan etiquitte – things that increase your enjoyment – things that you aren’t born knowing. If people expect that much of a learning curve in order to truly enjoy a baseball game, why should they be surprised when they come to church and people are using words they don’t understand and singing songs they don’t know?
We are likely selling ourselves and our communities very short, and taking some things for granted when we just assume that people want their church experience to be a lot like the Oprah show or a jazz festival or the high school pep rally.
No doubt, we want to do what we do well. When it comes to leading worship, there is no excuse for mumbling, or being morose, or being ill-prepared. Almost nothing is more unbearable and more uncomfortable than a worship service where the pastor and the musicians fumble through everything. But the point is that we must do what we do well, and not try to do what some other venue is doing, and then to do it poorly.