Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is Church Always Supposed to be.... Exciting?

The moment pastors and service planners decide that every single church service must be spine-tingling is the moment you begin turning worship services into pep rallies.  After that, it all goes downhill.

Sometimes I will see church advertisements announcing that they are exciting, most friendly, fastest growing, dynamic, experience the power, or whatever, I figure they are trying to convince themselves.

But shouldn’t a church be exciting?

Sure.  We are involved in the most important work in the world, serving the Lord of the universe – the King of Kings and Lord of Lords – and that work results in changed lives.  What could be more exciting than that?

It is exciting.  But not always.

Sometimes there is the mundane, confrontation, painful seasons, disputes, difficult assignments, confession, and contrition. 

Still, there are some exciting moments in church life.

Someone gets saved.  The congregation is rightfully thrilled and bursts into applause as he/she is baptized.

A new pastor is called, and the congregation enthusiastically responds to his leadership.

The massive debt which has crippled ministries for years is finally retired, and the congregation turns out en masse to burn the note and celebrate. 

The pastor had no way of knowing that today’s sermon would be any different than any other, but for reasons known only to the Holy Spirit, his message connected with everyone in the building.  The Scriptures came alive, hearts were opened, tears were shed, and worship went heavenward.  Exciting?  Few things are more exciting for a pastor than that.

Oh, if were only this way ever time we met for worship.

As soon as you decide every worship service has to be exciting is when you start making some foolish decision.

You start resorting to gimmicks in every service – celebrity guests, carnal music, flashy ideas, false advertisement, manipulation of the crowd, and saying things for shock value.  Pleasing God suddenly drops down on the list of priorities while pleasing people takes top billing.

It’s all downhill from there.

I’ll never forget a worship service I attended as a young pastor.  A church in Pensacola was reputed for having exciting church services, healings, miracles, and reaching the masses for the Lord.  So when they announced they were having a revival, I decided to visit.  What I saw that night sickened me.

The pastor was a manipulator.  He and the musicians would whip the crowd up into a frenzy of praise and shouting, then they would sit back and talk among themselves (on the stage) laughing and talking as the inferno raged.  When the intensity began to calm down, they struck up the music again and whipped the crowd into another frenzy.  The people did not seem to notice or even care that they were being whipped into a frenzy of religious silliness.

I walked out of there that night embarrassed, and thinking what an insult it probably was to the Lord.  No wonder reasonably-minded people want nothing to do with such.

When church leaders make the conscious decision to keep everything exciting and thrilling, they start going for noise, celebrity appearances, dramatic stories, special effects, glitter, touchy-feely stuff, and the wow-factor.  Before long, a monster is created.  People soon get addicted to these things and their appetite grows for more… and bigger… and gaudier.  Before you know it, next Sunday has to out-do last Sunday, and now you’re on a squirrel cage cranking out endless entertainment.

One time I heard a minister say these exact words:  “If the Holy Ghost doesn’t move in the service, then I’ll move the Holy Ghost.”

Those words sent a chill down my spine and made me shudder.

I will go so far as to say that in times of drudgery, we often do our best work for the Lord.

When a job has lost its glamour and you have to make yourself get up and put on your working clothes and get to it for one more day, that’s when you make your highest statement about honor and duty.

One day, looking back, you realize that this was your finest hour.

When God seems so far away, and your encourager's have vanished, and the thrill is gone, and you find yourself tackling an assignment without anyone else’s support, you will know whether you are called of God or not.

And believe it or not, God shows up on regular Sundays just like He does on exciting Sundays.  When the musicians miss a cue in the song, or a couple of singers are off-key, and the sermon was a dud, it’s still a good day.  God is moving even if the strobe lights are not.

I love exciting church services.  I may be a little biased, but I think PCC has great services.  We baptize lots of people, have good music and talent, experience solid teaching from God’s Word, offer exceptional children’s ministries, and a lot of other good things.  And as always, God is constantly at work.   All these things combined, make for good church.

But not one time in our sixteen years have I ever led a planning meeting or staff meeting where the agenda was to “find something exciting to offer next Sunday.”  And I would be offended if anyone ever suggested it to me.  Excitement should be a by-product of faithfulness… and only at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.

We offer a meat-and-potatoes kind of service, staying faithful to the basics, striving for excellence, and leave the rest up to the Holy Spirit.

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