Have fun

Dave Landegent, fellow RCA pastor and great writer for our Sunday School Guide:

"People today live very purpose-driven lives - and that purpose is fun, pleasure and enjoyment.... Fun has become the standard by which all things can be judged....
"Congregations [can] get caught up in this because if the church doesn't offer high-spirited worship, peppy music, sermons laced with humor and good-time fellowship, then the consistory knows that members might go check out the fun-loving church down the street"

Right - o. When is cultural adaptation harmlessly living in the world, and when is it desperately trying to retain church "market share" while compromising the integrity and nature of worship?


  1. Doesn't it depend somewhat on the purpose of your Sunday AM worship service? Does it exist so the saints can worship God, or does it exist (to one degree or another) to introduce non-believers to God and worship? I wholeheartedly agree that it is wrong for christians to hop from one service to the next based on who has the best show in town, but if a church has specifically chosen to use Sunday morning to attract pre-christians to church is "high-spirited worship, peppy music, sermons laced with humor and good-time fellowship" a bad thing? Doesn't this fit with "becoming all things to all people ... to save some"?

    If the milk is given on Sunday morning, but the meat is provided on other days or through other avenues, why is this bad? Likewise, I have no problem with a church that wants to preserve a "meatier" worship experience on Sunday morning, as long as they are putting as much (or more) effort into evangelism efforts on other days in other ways.

  2. Thanks for this post Steve. It certainly seems that we are trying to out entertain one another and the world, and what seems to be happening is an utter lack of knowledge among believers who are only receiving amusement not teaching.

    To the comment by Tim, I wonder where the justification of using the worship of the people of God as an outreach tool came from. I remember reading Worship Evangelism by Sally Morgenthaler in seminary, and it made me question whether we have flipped the emphasis of worship around to the wrong place. But then again I agree with you that we do not do enough to evangelize in other places, so we have ended up by default, leaving it to the professionals (clergy and trained worship leaders) rather than all people being ministers.

  3. I wonder if we didn't "flip the emphasis of worship around to the wrong place" long ago. It seems many in the church think that the "best" worship is worship done decently and in order by experienced believers. If blessing God us our ultimate aim, I think that Luke 15:7 provides some meaningful guidance for how to please God in worship.

    "there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent."

    Lk 15:7

  4. Thanks for the thoughts, guys.

    Tim, there's got to be a middle way between worship as evangelism and worship from the frozen chosen with no "new blood" or evangelism in a place for decades.

    That middle ground sort of worship needs to be found, fueled and lubricated by discipleship in genuine relationships, not programmed superficially in a class or worship format. It will consist of diverse ages and stages of spiritual formation. We need both the foundational wisdom of experienced believers and a new, fresh joy at being forgiven. They must balance each other in a Spirit-led community.

    True worship relies on tons of assumptions, which need to be fed beforehand by personal evangelism and discipleship.

    My desire is for spiritual growth; I do also realize our failings in evangelism. The answer isn't to move evangelism from the backyard fence and dinner table to the church worship service.

  5. I am sure there is a middle ground, but I have several concerns about the common current practise of using worship for evangelism.

    1) It seems that the trend is to try to make worship entertaining, and that takes the focus away from what worship is all about. Worship is coming to praise and adore our glorious God. We as the gathered people of God are the performers, and God is the audience. Sadly in many congregations of both traditional and contemporary strains this has been lost. Making worship an entertainment to draw people in runs the great risk of turning worship from something the gathered people do, to something they come to watch. As I said this is a danger is all styles of worship, but I find it a greater danger when keeping the people entertained becomes the focus.

    2) Related to this is that part of the worship of God is to become more knowledgable of who God is, so we have even more motivation to worship him. What I have found, abeit this is in no way a scientific survey, is that when the shift goes to being more entertaining, the focus on the proclaimation of God's Word tends to diminish. I have been to many congregations when the worship music and the like was very enjoyable, but when the message started it was greatly lacking. It was not an exposition of God's word that was God focused and Christ focused, but rather was the sort of advise one could find on Oprah or Dr. Phil. Was it in keeping with the Bible. Yes, in a general sort of way, but it was not in any way apparent to me where God came into the picture. I remember one message I heard while I was on vacation at as chuch I visited that spoke of how to be a good father, but God was not mentioned more than in passing when the speaker said he believed in God. I don't think that contemporary worship is intrinsicly opposed to strong expository preaching, but it seems that the desire to make the church appealing to unbelievers that often accompanies it does work against the proclaimation of God's word because the proclaimation of the Holy God an his Son Jesus Christ is not plesant to unbelievers, for it calls them to account for their whole life.

    3) Lastly, I find that often this seeker or pre-christian approach to worship becomes a bait and switch. Bring them in with a good show and try to sneek the gospel in somewhere. That goes directly against 2 Corinthians 4:1-6 where we read, "Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (emphasis mine)

    These are my concerns.

    My thoughts on a middle ground it that often the problem is not that we are using the wrong worship style, but that we are not, at the gathered people of God, actively and authentically worshiping, nor are we proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord as we should.

    That is what I seem to see in my own congregation. I wish I could say that they show the love and adoration they have for Christ in all their worship, but after ministering here seven years, I am only starting to see them open up a little. I have years of dutch culture to deal with, and that is not an overnight task unless God desires to make it one. But, on the positive side, people have started to open up more in worship.

    I guess in all of this what I want to say is that we cannot out entertain the world, they have a bigger budget and can appeal to the sinful human heart which we cannot do without compromising the gospel, we need to proclaim Christ clearly and straighforwardly to people while worshiping his in an open authentic manner, and we need to realize that God is the one who opens eyes to the glory of God in Jesus Christ when we proclaim him clearly.

    I hope this comment is clear, because I am not feeling very well physically, and I seemed to lose my train of thought fairly frequently.

  6. Jim, I really appreciated your comments about us being the performers and God being the audience in worship. I agree that we too often get this reversed in BOTH contemporary and traditional worship settings. Growing up in a very traditional RCA church, I often heard the service evaluated by the criteria of: Good Worship = "I got something out of that" and Bad Worship = "I got nothing out of that".

    For all the critiques of the postmodern/emmergent movement, I do believe one of the positive things they bring to the table is a renewed emphasis on liturgy as being a "work of the people" rather than a work of the pastor. (Robert Weber has written some great stuff on this.)

    I wonder if we as professional clergy need to accept some of the responsibility for the confusion amongst the people regarding the true "audience" in worship. In several different contexts, I have experienced that some older, traditionally-raised RCA people are extremely uncomfortable with discussion or small group type learning environments, preferring the lecture format that they are used to on Sunday mornings instead.

    I recently taught a three-week course on the biblical parallels in C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe". (kudos to Steve for some great food for fodder) Thanks in part to the new Narnia movie, the class had a tremendous turnout during the first two weeks. For the third week, I prepped the class in week one that rather than me sharing my insights, on week three the class would simply be sharing with each other their own insights to either the book or the movie. This class had less than half the attendance. When I did some asking around, I heard from many that "they don't get into that 'small group'" stuff, and didn't come to hear other people's thoughts, they came to hear 'the preacher's'. This is only one example of this perspective that I have encountered multiple times.

    I think by giving the preacher an inordinate (perhaps even an unbiblical?) role in the worship service, we have raised generations of people who are either unable to articulate their faith due to fear or inexperience, or who are unwilling to articulate their faith due to a feeling that they are unworthy.

    Pastors of contemporary churches may at times be guilty of providing entertainment instead of worship, but I don't believe the trend started with them. I have found that several of the traditional RCA churches I have been familiar with had as much, (or more) of a blatent "entertainment" mode of worship as the contemporary ones.

  7. Tim, I wholeheartedly agree with your diagnosis of the problem - lack of participation; interest only in watching and absorbing, both in worship and other areas of church life. I've seen the same things.

    From my vast ministry experience (!) I think traditional church-goers' tendency to refer to the pastor as "the preacher" carries a lot of wrong-headed meaning. It's an attempt on their part to set the boundaries in convenient but wrong places. "You talk to us about God and the Bible; we don't need to talk to you or each other; you shouldn't interfere in our lives too much once you're off the pulpit, either..."

    Still, I don't see the best prescription coming from post-mods. From what I can see, for the most part, they are just offering another church-program-based solution: let's do church different, then our hearts will be changed.

    I think a family-centered approach has more going for it: going back to times before "traditional" as defined in your last comment: times when ministers visited houses and were expected to ask if the kids were learning their catechism from their parents, how they worshiped as a family, etc. (Call me an old-school Puritan, I suppose.)

    THIS is participatory worship, more than we can ever include everybody in corporate worship, where I think there IS warrant for a more minister-centered approach (though not exclusively).

    Thanks again for your time and thoughts, guys! Much appreciated.

  8. Tim,

    You said "I wonder if we didn't 'flip the emphasis of worship around to the wrong place' long ago. It seems many in the church think that the 'best' worship is worship done decently and in order by experienced believers."

    At the risk of apearing overly dogmatic, I would suggest that this is a very easy question to answer. A worship service is just that - a time to worship God. Who worships God? Christians worship God. They don't have to be "experienced believers", but worship is something done by believers, not "seekers".

    If the Sunday morning service is purposely designed to draw in non-believers as an evangelistic tool, then I daresay it isn't a much of a worship service. The Gentiles weren't welcomed into the Temple as Gentiles. They were welcomed as Jewish converts.

    And if a worship service makes a non-believer comfortable being in church, then the Gospel probably wasn't preached.

  9. Conrad,

    I think its safe to define worship as "declaring God's worth".

    I think its great when the "already-convinced" gather together and declare God's worth. I just think its even better when the "already-convinced" declare God's worth in the midst of the "not-yet-convinced".

    I'm not advocating a worship service for 100% non-believers. I'm advocating that there is a place for a worship service where the mature in the faith sacrifice what they want or like for the sake of making worship understandable and approachable for the infants or "not yet born".