Entertained by chance
I grew up in a small denominational church. On any given Sunday, we had about 110 people in the building. The church was full. The choir loft was full. The pews were all taken. The hymns were old and the message was good. The pastor would hit you over the head with brimstone, slap a cross on your back, wash your tears away with the Blood, and have you rejoicing as Resurrection came at the end of every sermon. Entertained Believers was not the point. It was a happy coincidence. That was reality 25 years ago. As I fast-forward to this post-COVID reality, much has changed.
The church is still there; the hymns are still old, the message is still good but the passing of time exposes more and more of the blood-red cushions on the pews. Some have moved to different states where life is cheaper. However, too many, I feel, have moved on to other “bigger”, more hip, churches. No pews, just folding chairs. “Standing-room-only” is for the late comers. Choir lofts give way to concert stages. The hymns are replaced with modern music and the message has more in common with Dr. Phil’s self-help than Jesus’ self-sacrifice.
Entertained on purpose
In the churches where many have gone off to, pastors New York Times best-selling authors. The sanctuary is musically fine-tuned for maximum sound efficiency. The lighting is complex and computerized. the songs are popular and copyrighted by the church. The associate pastor is the pastor’s son and the message feels like a great big hug and a pat on the back for time well-served. You can’t help being entertained. In fact, the only real question everyone is asking themselves and each other is:
After all, who doesn’t like good music, young friendly faces, feel-good message, a light-hearted atmosphere, and a guilt-free conscience? My answer is “I don’t know, but I sure know who does“! I know what you’re saying, “there’s nothing wrong with…..”. And, begrudgingly, I would have to agree with you. God made it all: good music, good feelings, good atmosphere, etc. Consider this. Would anyone remember what the preacher said if the title wasn’t on the screen? Better yet: does anyone care what the preacher said? Another great question to get to the heart of the matter is: what are you here for?
The reason for the show
Don’t get me wrong, churches should stay relevant and people should feel “entertained”: as far as music and social media and architecture and all the rest: but not at the cost of the Gospel. You want no dress code: great; loud music: fine; you want a “come one, come all”: amazing; Jesus did too! But once you have them, hit them with the mind-numbing, Life-altering Truth of Jesus Christ. Give them the “streams of living water”; give them, the “Truth that sets you free”: give them the whole Gospel, not this new-Age “God loves you just as you are, and He made you just as you are”!
Yes, tell them God loves them, but tell them why God loves them. Tell them God loves them in spite of what they did and tell them what to do about it. Give them their current state of affairs and tell them of the amazing Love of God: But God proves His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
If anything in churches needs to modernize let it be everything possible but not everything imaginable. The Truth, as always, needs no compressor to smooth out the edges, no equalizers to make it universal, no filters to give it the right appeal, and no sub-woofers to give it the proper emphasis. If the message needs all of this then it’s not the Message that anyone needs. If they are to be entertained let it be on their way to heaven, not on their way to perdition.