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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