Last Monday I asked the question why is church boring and got some great responses. After discussing it with a number of people this week and reading the different responses from last week’s post, I thought I would highlight five of the reasons I heard or discovered while thinking about last week’s question. Thanks for everyone’s ideas and input. I am blessed to be surrounded by so many people who care about Christ’s church and want to see it reformed!
1. Church people are boring
I can’t take credit for this one as it was one brought up by my friend and colleague, Gabe Gilliam, the teaching pastor of my church. He posted in his response to this question that the church, not defined by brick and mortar but as the people of God, is filled with people who are bored with faith. It’s not that everyone going to church is boring. They might lead exciting lives in their business or hobbies or lifestyle, but when it actually comes to living the life of believers there is no risk, no adventure, and no action. Church in many ways has become a passive spectator sport. It doesn’t matter how good the production of church is, if the people attending are not stepping out in faith and action and involving themselves in the mission of God, they will be bored with church. Matthew 5:13 says, ““You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” I’ve been involved in churches where it’s members are involved and taking risks for God and I’ve been in churches where people just show up and leave when there supposed to, and it’s amazing the difference. If faith is truly lived out, then I guarantee you it’s not boring. Churches need to be filled with salty people.
This is an issue we discussed at our community group this week. A lot of the work that a church does, at least in middle class America, is done by professionals. Teaching is done by pastors, advice is given by counselors, worship is performed by professional singers and musicians, and so on and so forth. Every once in a while, the church might have a pot luck or food drive, but there is very little consistent work that is integral to the everyday functioning of the church that is not left up to professionals. If church members don’t feel like they will be missed or that something won’t go as well if they don’t show up, it is difficult for them to ever truly feel completely connected to the church’s mission. I’m not discrediting the need and significance of vocational ministers. However, I think for church to not be boring, those in professional ministry need to shift their thinking from doing the work of God all by themselves to enabling the members of the church to do the work of God.
In Ephesians 4, Paul lists a number of different gifts given to those leading the church. After giving the gifts, Paul writes, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:11–12 ESV). The goal of leading the church is not to do all the work so the saints might be comfortable and un-bothered, it is to equip those who come to church to do ministry. This might mean asking “lay people” to lead small groups, to have regular service oriented tasks spear-headed by members, asking people to share their testimonies, turning to volunteers from within the church as much as possible with worship teams and other things like that. This will usually mean some quality might suffer, but the pay-off of having people coming to church who aren’t bored and feel needed is well worth it.
3. We don’t fear God
God is a frighteningly powerful and unpredictable God. He hates injustice and oppression. He has the power to both create and destroy, and he is incapable of doing wrong. He is also perfectly good, but his goodness does not neuter his power and greatness. If the God we worship isn’t safe, then the churches we go to shouldn’t be safe either. But that’s exactly what they are. Church is inoffensive, predictable, comfortable, and as a result, boring. One of the major themes of the bible is the fear of God. Basically, if one wants to live a wise and righteous and fruitful life, it must begin with the fear of God. The implicit question we should always be asking is if God is who he says he is, how then should we be spending our time?
So then we should ask the question. If God is a dangerously good God who heals the sick and frees the oppressed, who renews life and creates beauty, who hates unrighteousness and pride, then is it enough to spend our time as Christians singing songs, listening to sermons, having potlucks, building buildings, and participating in regular liturgy? There is nothing wrong with doing any of these things, but if that’s where our response to God ends, then I would have to conclude that we don’t fear God. Jesus warned his disciples of living a fearful religion when he said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28 ESV). If we fear God, than our response to him will never be boring.
I love leading worship. When I hear a room filled with people singing at the top of their lungs, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” or some other chorus, I get chills knowing that we are singing something true about God and responding to his all powerful sovereignty over our lives. One thing churches do well is make worship through music and aesthetics. Some of the most beautiful displays of orchestration and harmony, dynamics and cadence, occur in churches. But just like anything aesthetic, if there is no connection to the practical, it’s impact can’t be fully realized. We can sing about life change and the nature of God all we want, but if we are not connecting that to real stories of real people that we know, the words will eventually become hollow and our response through music will be more connected with the emotions elicited by chording, lyrics, and dynamics, and less connected to what God is actually doing in the world and the way he is expressing his glory. If the true words of God become empty, then eventually people will get bored with God’s truth. Sharing testimonies, hearing the stories of God, participating in communities where God is moving gives credibility to the aesthetics of worship. “Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:23–24 ESV) The worship of God must be connected with the actions of God if we want it to have meaning.
5. Christ is not supreme
In my original question, I pointed out that as Jesus interacted with people in the Bible, nobody responded to him with boredom. He was a lightning rod that couldn’t be ignored. If the main focus of our churches is entertaining sermons that teach us how to be better people, or music that makes us feel good, or communities that we can huddle into, then we are missing the point of church. Christ needs to be the center and goal of our programs, our teaching needs to point to him, our worship needs to magnify him, our service needs to reflect him, and our mission needs to be for his sake. People get bored with self-help programs. They get bored with redundant songs. But Christ is someone people will never grow bored with as long as he is represented fully and accurately. Paul sums it up well in 1 Corinthians 2:2 when he writes, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” As much as we like to believe, we are not compelling enough to sustain life-change and spiritual transformation. Only Christ is, so our churches must lift him up.
Thanks everyone for all the input and discussions on this topic. We are not a perfect church, but I do hope that as we identify these problems, we will own up to our mistakes and seek to correct them.