Religion Can Be Fun

Some time ago I was sitting in what quite possibly was the most boring church service I have ever been in. (No, I won’t tell you where I was.) There couldn’t have been more than 50 people in the sanctuary, and I’m being generous. We sang no less than 5 hymns. All hymns were sung in a dry, slow manner.  The sermon seemed uninspired, barely prepared, and was presented with no sense of conviction. It felt like we were in church for three hours. We were in church for about 70 minutes.

It got me thinking about this question of church and how a church service should be. I clearly didn’t enjoy the church service that day. I wondered if it was my fault. As I thought about it, I realized that some people would say that it was my fault. I have often heard it said that you’re supposed to bring God to church with you. Or that church is not here to entertain you. Clearly the connotation of these types of statements is that if you don’t find church interesting if you’re not moved when you’re in worship, it’s not the church’s fault. It’s your fault. You’re not holy enough. You’re not righteous enough. Something is wrong with your spirituality if you don’t enjoy church. Furthermore, implicit in this statement is also the idea that church is not to be enjoyed. Church is a reverent thing. You shouldn’t be laughing here. No fun over here. Church isn’t here to entertain you.

The more I thought about it. The more ridiculous that concept became to me. Why shouldn’t church entertain me? What do we mean when we say that? What does it mean to be entertained? In my own reflections on this topic I realized that being entertained isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t have to be. We assume that when we entertain that we have to be upbeat and exciting and out of control. And while those things can be entertaining, there are tons of things that are not upbeat, exciting, or out of control and yet are still entertaining. I’m entertained when I read 1984 or Catch-22 or The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I’m entertained when I have devotion with my wife. All of those things are very contemplative and serious. At the same time, reverence is an attitude, not a pace. Were the Israelites not reverent when they danced in celebration before the Lord? Something does not have to be soft and slow in order to be reverent. Whenever someone, out of the sincerity of their heart, gives honor, praise, and glory to God that is a reverent act. I believe Christ put it this way, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24)

Furthermore, when I looked up the definition of entertain, it seemed like it included so many of the things that churches should be doing. Some of the definitions of entertain include: to amuse (which means to make laugh or smile or to interest), to occupy agreeably, to receive as a guest, to consider, to contemplate, to exercise hospitality. Since when did any of those things become things churches should not be doing? Churches should be places where people laugh and smile, places where they can be occupied agreeably, and take their minds off the cares of this world. Churches should receive people as guests and be hospitable to them. Churches should be challenging, giving their congregants interesting topics and thoughts to consider. If you leave church and haven’t received something to contemplate, that’s a problem. Finally, churches should be places that exercise hospitality.

Now I understand that churches should not be entertainment without substance. I agree with that statement whole-heartedly. However, we often make the mistake of being dichotomous. Because we don’t want to be empty entertainment, we would rather not be entertaining at all. However, not being entertaining is just as bad, if not worse than being entertaining without giving substance. That responsibility rests on those who have decided to accept the responsibility to present the service on a weekly basis. Therefore, if your church is not entertaining, the problem may not be with you. The problem may simply be that the church has lost sight of what it should be doing from week to week. Presenting a picture of Christ and His followers that is high, holy, reverent, thought-provoking, and yes – maybe even fun.

 

Jason Hines is an attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at Adventist University of Health Sciences. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at www.TheHinesight.Blogspot.com.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7143
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So right, though I would recommend folding “entertainment” into “joy.” Preachers should use self-deprecating or “natural” humor frequently, the kind that is embedded in daily life! When telling a story to make a serious point, in almost every instance there are humorous element in the story which can and ought to be used. My opinion only!!

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The best music is always entertaining. The best sermons are always entertaining. The best children’s stories are always entertaining. Maybe we should always do our best?

One of the key ingredients in entertainment is the element of surprise, or, the “unexpected”. To insist on a form of worship which doesn’t vary from week to week is possibly damaging to the interest and the intellect of many people.

@jjlondis - I agree, there are humorous elements in every story that ought to be used. The rush of endorphins that we experience when we laugh causes brain synapses to fire off and make connections which can “fix” the experience in our long term memory. It is very effective to match key concepts in a presentation with a bit of humor to assist in long-term retention ( http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun06/learning.aspx ).

It’s not hard for me to imagine Jesus emphasizing the points of humor in his tale of the Prodigal Son or the Rich Man and Lazarus when he told those stories.

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I think the word engage should be joined with entertain. Even listening can be an engagement. The choir and organ engage me. as does the Scripture. The narrative sermon offers the best route to engagement. The problem nascent within Adventisn is the stricture of increasing fundamentalism,a Red Book hysteria. Be very careful what one says, it might get back to power. There are far too many of Jobs friends out there. tom Z

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Six-year-old Angie and her four-year-old brother Joel were sitting together in church. Joel giggled, sang, and talked out loud. Finally, his big sister had enough.
“You’re not supposed to talk out loud in church.”
“Why? Who’s going to stop me?” Joel asked.
Angie pointed to the back of the church and said, "See those two men standing by the door? They’re hushers."
http://www.butlerwebs.com/jokes/religious-kids.htm

More faithful fun at
http://www.reverendfun.com

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this is an interesting article…if i were a senior pastor, figuring out how to make church services interesting would probably take up a good deal of my time…many churches, especially big churches, have a variety of members, at different points in their lives…it’s probably impossible to appeal to everyone all the time…

i solve the problem of boring church services by not going for a time…the last church service i attended was the first sabbath in august…but part of this absence has been due to travelling for work and vacation - vancouver, victoria, fort lauderdale, chicago, andrews university, los angeles, nelson and cranbrook…before new year’s i’ll likely be in cranbrook again, plus toronto and either salt lake city or las vegas…generally when i go back to church, after a time, things seem a bit new, and more interesting, at least for little while…but i’m not sure i’m the kind of person who would ever go to church regularly, no matter what the services were like…i really need a lot of time alone, and sabbaths is about the only time where you can be away from people, and spend your time in prayer and thought…

but probably for most people, more entertainment would do the trick…i know a few celebration churches that are heavily into entertainment…

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I guess it comes down to what the purpose of “doing church” is. Entertainment isn’t one of the functions I would guess would be on top of the list in the Bible. Paul describes his purpose for preaching as being “Christ and Him crucified” - and that without “the cleverness of speech” or “persuasive words of wisdom” - “SO THAT YOUR FAITH WOULD NOT REST ON THE WISDOM OF MEN, BUT ON THE POWER OF GOD”… and, I would expand that to read, so that your faith would not be sustained by weekly pep rallies.

Now, I know, that if you’ve been in the church for long time, one church service rolls into another without many memorable ones to note; but it seems that for a Christian, whose eternity depends on sustaining and feeding one’s faith, boredom wouldn’t be one of the characteristics of those services - to the point that entertainment would be sought to make that hour palatable. But, alas, boring they are if the those who “put it on” are just fulfilling duties. There has to be some basic lack of understanding and commitment to what a community “in Christ” is about when plain worship together isn’t enough.

In fact, we go to church because we can’t really define “keeping the Sabbath” any other way. It’s 24 hours of a lot we we can’t do, so going to church takes up some of that time. That is how our kids see it - and they can be honest. That may sound brutal but unless we can define the Sabbath in better terms, we will be searching for entertainment since we have left the computers and tablets in the car.

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Coming together for church time should be a celebration. The highlight of the week after having been Christ’s follower throughout the week. A time where one can become rejuvenated for the week ahead. A time of mutual support, experience sharing, love and acceptance.

Where is the joy if one has to slug out the week, and then turn up for more misery on a Saturday. Only the morose would want to attend.

We need to be Christ centric. But we also need to recognise the abundance of emotions in which God engages with us.

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I was in a church service recently (okay, not an Adventist church) where the pastor first showed a You Tube video of John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra playing a little tune Mr. Williams composed: the Theme from Jaws. Then the sermon segued into how often non-Christians are afraid to dip their toes in the water of following Jesus, no telling what might happen if you get in the water! Maybe good things instead of bad things! It was terrific, and my adult son with me on that visit said: I could go to a church like this. I do think we’ve got so constrained into the traditional church thing that we miss so much other worship fun, such as lately I rock on my daily commute along with Mercy Me’s “Welcome To The New” album. I’d love to have that for the prelude music this Sabbath! My home church is so small (15-20 people, no kids, very rural) that it’s a huge struggle to do a church service weekly in the old format.We need some officially sanctioned options, like maybe combining Sabbath School (the most fun part anyway, IMO) with our a capella singing, prayer time, share time, and maybe book review/discussion. An hour and a half max, potluck afterwards every week, and be done. We’ve tried the preacher videos, the pre-recorded hymns if we can get the technology to work, and when anyone is away, well… We need ideas for the small hinterlands!

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If I wanted to be very boring … I’d point at the change of meaning in the term “to entertain” - which shifted from hospitality to amusement. The latter is best characterized by the sarcastic idiom “theotainment” … which is far removed from worship. But then … we don’t want to be boring, do we. :pensive:
Certainly, in the old sense of the word I would wish our churches would be entertaining, opening up their house to all kinds of people (and perhaps elephants - as the picture suggested), forming an inviting, hospitable community. This is not achieved by lots of jokes - but perhaps by humor (something else, we like to mix up), and certainly by a loving spirit that results from being “entertained” by God first.
By the way, I have just come home from a church service with about 15 people attending, a very simple sermon by a “hands on” lay preacher. Was it funny? No. Was it amusing? No. Was it intellectually challenging? No. Was it entertaining? Definitely. I for one have been blessed. :innocent:

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Having served on the “Creative Church Worship Committee” at my church, we were tasked with planning creative ways to make worship meaningful, memorable, unexpected and engaging. What unusual services we planned with meaningful themes where every piece of the service connected, emphasized, or flowed through music, readings, short skits, liturgies, the Word, children’s stories, and prayers.

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Religion can be fun Vs Religion of cotton dried. I pick the fun, any given time. But, is it admissible in Adventist General Conference Supreme Courts to an expression, a lone visual sighting, that this unexpected no label no name church post morning service is so fun and very good? Or, the witness’ impression calls for a much needed “Model fun” depression upon SDA morning services are so cotton dried? To what appropriate model preponderance fun? Approved by Adventist General Conference Court Supreme Judges?

When I was in Florida working a number of years ago, I would attend church with my niece who lived in Zepherhills.
At that time the church had a 4 week cycle of how they did church.

  1. Traditional with the organ and choir, and other formal.
  2. Contemporary with instrumental musicians assisting with the music. And the hymnody was Contemporary.
  3. Children and Teens. The focus was on the ages of 6yr to middle teens.
  4. Forgot what that was.
    But I enjoyed it as at least one service during the month met the particular worship style of those attending.
    It was a very active and well attended church. Even Mid-week service had a large attendance.

I object to the term “fun” in the context of worship. I prefer the term engaged as an active participant. A liturgical service can be engaging. certainly the Creedal statement, the hymns, the organ, the choir should be and can be engaging of the mind, heart, and soul. the sermon should be in tune with the engaged mind. The narrative sermon is most often the best route to establishing an important lesson that one can carry away and nourish the mind and soul for days, even years. I recall a sermon of Paul Heubach of 1966 “He Stubbled and Fell”. I recall the sermon of Smutts of the two adopted boys and the young dog wood tree. I loved the interactive style of Graham Maxwell. As for boring I sat through a 30 minute children’s sermon on creation week. God created man in less time. Tom Z

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