Monday, June 11, 2012

Is Your God Boring You?

I've worked in and around Christian environments for pretty much my entire adult life. In quite a few of these settings, I've heard the concern that worship experiences that differ from the experiences of another generation may be influenced by an unhealthy desire to "entertain" audiences. I find this to be a difficult criticism to respond to. It's not that I haven't tried, but rather that the issue is a fairly deep one. If a person "enjoys" a worship experience, are they not entertained by it? Is this a bad thing? Surely we're not trying to argue that people should never enjoy themselves when worshiping God!

I can already imagine some of the responses. Specifically, that the emotional state of the worshiper isn't so much the concern. If he or she enjoys worship, great! All the better! Rather, the concern is with the intention behind constructing a worship event to elicit that response. One shouldn't, the argument seems to go, set out to entertain during worship. Rather, worship itself should be the goal. After all, God is the audience of a worship event, not the people in the pews.

I very much agree with the idea that God is to be the primary focus of our worship, and not some "secondary" consideration such as whether or not people "enjoy" worshiping. But I find myself wondering about this question from another angle. If people consistently do not enjoy the act of worship (to put it another way, if they are consistently bored at worship gatherings), then I wonder if those who put together the liturgy have not failed to create an atmosphere of worship in the first place.

I believe that the way that we worship tells us a lot about what we think of God, and about what kind of being we believe God to be. Surely, no one would come right out and say that we believe that God is a boring God! Why, then, do so many of us settle for boring worship?

If you've clicked the link at the top of the page, you've already noticed that I've reflected on my experiences with the Montreat Youth Conferences when considering this issue in the past:
I encountered God at the Montreat Youth Conferences, and responded to a call to become a minister. Yet, I had tons of fun at these Conferences! Clearly, entertainment and worship are not mutually exclusive.
Yesterday, I found the following Tweet from the Montreat Conference Center, as the second of six Summer 2012 Youth Conferences begins:
Woah. #MYC12 week II begins with 1300+! The energy in this auditorium is incredible. #PerfectlyImperfect http://pic.twitter.com/7zqcHJFD
"Energy." I wonder if that language might help us frame the issue better than "entertainment" does. We worship a God who is active in the world, and our worship should reflect God's activity. We should be changed by our acts of worship, as God gives us new insights into God's desire for our lives. "Energy" seems to me a good way of describing all that activity and change. The Bible may speak of a God of unchanging character, but I don't think it could be fairly said that anyone comes away from an encounter with God unchanged. God is active in changing people, and the last thing we should be content with is worship that consistently leaves people feeling bored. If people are always bored, it means that they're never being changed, and if they're never being changed, then they're actually never encountering God at all.

Not all change is enjoyable, of course. God often pushes us to do things that we may not want to do. But if we're talking about encouraging worship that reflects God's "energy," I imagine that it would follow that, at least some of the time, that "energy" would be seen as an enjoyable experience, as well. We often sing of the joy that comes from knowing God, and even those Biblical characters who clearly suffer from their acts of obedience to God are often said to find joy in the promises that God gives.

So, maybe the word "entertain" has connotations that distract us from some of the real issues, but the point remains. If our churches don't create an atmosphere where people experience the joy of knowing God... if people never experience the energy of a God that calls them to go out and change the world... if they never emerge from their worship glad that they took the time to do so... then maybe no one's actually worshiping in the first place.

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