The entertainment-driven church

I love a serious church.

When I attend a worship service on Sunday that has all gravitas, seriousness, and intent to learn about, praise, and glorify the Lord, I am lifted up to great heights.

Our church is a Reformed-doctrine church that adheres to the ecclesiology of a plurality of elders. Our main teaching pastor exposits the scriptures verse by verse, book by book. He is good at it. We also have a confession time, where one of the elders gives us some scriptures to think about as he explains them, and then there’s a time of silence to repent or plead with God in any way we need to in order to prepare for receiving the preached word. Our music is doctrinal and Christ-exalting too. We do not pass the offering plate, but instead we have spots around the sanctuary during the service to place our money. Also we can give online.

It’s a serious church, all the more remarkable by the fact that we have many young adults (college students, grad students, and folks just beyond college) who are members. Their presence is encouraging. This is because of their dedication to learning the word, speaking the word in Godly conversations, and participation in local and far-off missions. Some of these ‘kids’ have already gone to Indonesia, South America, Seattle, and to other locations near and far to share the word of God. It’s joyous to be around them because of their zeal.

I realize I’m currently blessed, because many churches are not serious. There are things at the pulpit that take place that are far from explaining the word of God, the main reason for a pulpit. There are dances, skits, jokes, comedy routines, feel-good lectures, book promotions, smoke machines, rock bands, concerts that do not look any different from the world’s…

For example, from the Museum of Idolatry:

“Villains, Bad Guys and Minions” —series at Church by the Glades
Hillsong, 2015 Vision Sunday

I was speaking with a young student at school. She said she used to go to church before she moved here. I asked about her old church. She said that at her old church they served big snacks. She loved the snacks. Then after a while the church went to smaller snacks, so they tried to find a church that served big snacks. Then they moved here. They haven’t found a church with snacks yet. It was all about the snacks. She never mentioned Jesus or anything she’d learned.

I can’t fault her for that, she’s young. If we attract kids to church on the basis of snacks, then that is what they will associate with church, not Jesus.

Many churches’ Vacation Bible School budgets are larger in the snack department than the Bible materials department. Snacks are getting more and more elaborate, and the time to eat them longer and longer, and the Bible time shorter and shorter. Or, the craft time exceeds the Bible teaching time, or the song and dance moves with hand motions are the major part. I long for the old days of Bible Drills, Bible quizzes, and mini-sermons.

I don’t know who said it first, but “What you win them with is what you win them to.” If you attract people with prizes & trinkets, promises of fun, snacks, entertainment and the like, then you will always have to provide that so they’ll stick around. As people become more bored with what you’re presenting, you have to go bigger and more elaborate, to retain their attention. It brings to mind Janet Jackson’s secular song, “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” The people eventually only want entertainment and not sermons. So many churches are entertainment-driven and consumer oriented, not worship-driven and service oriented.

Charles Spurgeon was a preacher in the mid-to-late 1800s. He is called The Prince of Preachers. His pastorate in London lasted 38 years. During that time he preached numerous times per week, and

founded a pastors’ college, an orphanage, a Christian literature society and The Sword and the Trowel magazine. Over 200 new churches were started in the Home Counties alone, and pastored by his students. His printed sermons (still published) fill 63 volumes. Source

His sermons at the Metropolitan Tabernacle and then the Royal Surrey Gardens Music Hall drew 10,000 people on a Sunday. His work has held up to this time. He seems almost prescient, and that is because he stayed strictly within the narrow road of God’s Word, and thus he always seems fresh. Here is something he said-

Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian Church to supply the world with amusements. Source

The above from which I’d excerpted the Spurgeon quote is a good one. It is titled, Spurgeon on the Entertainment-Driven Church and goes on with other reasons that a focus on entertainment in the church,

–Our Mission Is Not Entertainment
–Entertainment Negates the Weightiness of the Cross
–Entertainment Attacks the Preaching of Christ

I recommend the article.

Another article about trinkets and winning people to Christ (though not entertainment) caught my eye. I’ve been involved with the Christmas Shoeboxes at a previous church. It is a well-intentioned mission where people fill a shoebox with “stuff” for disadvantaged or impoverished children in Third World countries, along with Gospel tracts and/or Bibles. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) boxes are shipped through Samaritan’s Purse. The items OCC recommends items to put in the shoebox are

quality ‘wow’ item such as a stuffed animal, soccer ball with pump, or clothing outfit that will capture the child’s attention the instant he or she opens the box. Operation ShoeBox

At the GilandAmy blog, we read that Amy has some thoughts about Operation Christmas Child, prompted from some experiences a Tanzanian church planter shared with her. Thoughts such as,

“What happens when the life-transforming gospel of Jesus Christ is associated with dollar-store trinkets from America?” and, “…we don’t see in the Bible this model of ‘gift giving’ being used for disciple-making and planting churches,” and “So I started to wonder: Do we want children to expect toys at Christmas? Has that tradition produced good fruit within our own culture? Is that a Christmas tradition that Americans want to export to the rest of the world?” (Source)

Instead of skits at the pulpit, its own smaller way, have we paired games and entertainments with the Gospel in a shoebox?

We need serious church.

John MacArthur has some thoughts about the necessary gravitas for serious church:

We should be characterized by the worship of God. It should be lofty. It should be exalted. It should have a gravitas, a seriousness about it. Christ should be constantly being exalted. It ought to be Christ-centered, not man-centered. It’s not about you, it’s about Him. Here we should be engaged in endless praise. We should be learning, so that the knowledge of divine truth is increasing. We should be pursuing holiness and serving with joy. That’s how heaven comes down. That only happens in the church, the ordinary church. I love the church because it is heaven on earth.

I began these thoughts with Spurgeon about the need for seriousness of worship and in church and I’ll end with him. These words are true today as when he uttered them 150 years ago:

A time will come when instead of shepherds feeding the sheep, the church will have clowns entertaining the goats.

If you have to give a carnival to get people to come to church, then you will have to keep giving carnivals to keep them coming back.

An unholy church! It is useless to the world, and of no esteem among men. It is an abomination, hell’s laughter, heaven’s abhorrence. The worst evils which have ever come upon the world have been brought upon her by an unholy church.

I pray you as well as I are mindful of the gravity and privilege of worshiping the Great and Holy God in truth. He made Himself known to us in special revelation, and it’s His due to be worshiped seriously, intentionally, and as purely as possible, according to His word.

Paul wrote of church services:

But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. (1 Corinthians 14:40)

 

4 thoughts on “The entertainment-driven church

  1. For me the gravitas is important but I don’t want pomp and ceremony to get in the way of the Word. Neither do I want snacks to be the draw. There are many different styles of worship and quite rightly so. What may suit you or me may not suit others. However whatever the approach the Word has to be central.

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  2. Hi englepip,

    Thanks for the comment! I agree, no one wants pomp and ceremony to get in the way. I think when we take our eyes off gospel-centered, serious worship, pomp and ceremony enters in (as does entertainment, at the other end of the scale). I guess my point as that it is not a matter of style or approach. It is a matter of priorities.

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