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Mark Naylor M.Th.

Disillusioned with the Sunday meeting expression of church

The following is a response from my wife, Karen, to a couple of recent blogs found on this site:

In his Oct 17 blog "The Foundation for Hearing God," Loren Warkentin wrote:

We Christians have become acculturated to this [fast-paced] style of living and I believe it has affected our spiritual lives. We are easily bored. If a “worship service” doesn’t entertain us sufficiently we move elsewhere. Long sermons and church services tire us. But maybe more deadly is the effect this lifestyle has on our personal, devotional relationship with God – it has become fragmented, stretched thin, missing even – and so we look for a fix. We still want to hear from Him, but….

YES! We desperately want to hear from Him!! But maybe the problem is not our expectation but the "worship service."

I don’t believe most Christians go to a church service looking to be entertained. We go seeking God. My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit – but when it comes to church services, I have all but given up. Most often I come home from a service knowing that I have (yet again) missed God.

My great desire is to be engaged – my mind, heart, will and spirit

Music moves me so if the "worship team" is decent and the songs are good (by that I mean there is some substance and content to the lyrics), then I can worship.

But the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me. I recently attended a friend’s very charismatic church. I am not a charismatic by theology, preference, experience, desire, personality or history, but if I lived in that town, that’s the church I would go to.

the vast majority of sermons I hear do not engage me

Why? Because I met God there. It was clear that the leaders were communicating their heart and more importantly, God’s heart. The sermons (I heard 3 over the weekend) came out of their lives and what God was teaching them, not from a commentary.

I find that in sermons the grand themes in the Bible are often reduced to the bottom line "be nice" and so much of what I hear is the "same, old, same, old." I love the "old, old story," don’t get me wrong. But the way it is presented is like eating dusty, stale crackers.

I have met numerous people who no longer attend church, not because they aren’t entertained, but because they miss God when they go.  Initially they think the problem is with them, that somehow their expectations are out of line. Some of them keep going out of habit, others keep attending because they have kids and others just give up (I have talked to all of the above).

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them

Although evangelicals say we base our lives and beliefs on the Bible, there is little Bible reading. At one service I attended the preacher read 1.5 verses and then told us that even though the verses meant something different, he would still use those verses to preach on his chosen subject. At such services I look around at the people and think – Do they really find these words a life giving message? or is coming to church a habit and good way to see friends?

I have so many questions but have no place to ask them. Most of them start with "yes, I see what you’re saying…but what about this? and this? and this?” Does the preacher not have the same questions? If he (most are men) doesn’t, why not? Am I that off the charts? Do the people around me not have similar questions?

In Kent Anderson’s Oct 19 blog, "Apologetic Preaching," he writes in reference to J.P. Moreland:

People, he said, need more than just to hear what the Bible says and how to apply it, because people don’t actually believe the Bible very strongly. People today are looking for passion and some sense that the preacher knows what she or he is talking about. Pastors need to be brokers of knowledge just like doctors.

[The problem with church services is not] the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance

I believe that passion comes not just from knowing God, but from knowing God this past week; from working through doubts, questions, injustices and opportunities. I don’t think we need to develop a database of God’s miraculous interventions (Moreland’s suggestion as reported in Kent’s blog) because most people don’t live life like that. But we do want to know how to meet God in our ordinary, every day life.

Church services are a prime opportunity to bring people into God’s presence so they can hear from Him. At least the vast majority of resources are geared towards constructing and maintaining very expensive buildings so there can be a corporate gathering. But when that doesn’t happen the discouragement can lead to disillusionment. It is not about the lack of entertainment, but the lack of substance.

maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together

 Coincidentally, I am reading about the Veritas Forum, a movement in universities that faces the hard questions of life in the light of who Jesus is. Experts in many different fields offer expertise to students who can respond and interact. Their messages do not reduce the gospel to a trite "be nice," but honestly grapple with the relevance of God’s revelation in the context of a secularized worldview.

I find the Sunday meeting expression of church to be very unsatisfying because it is one dimensional. Much time and effort is put into this one expression and yet it falls short of what it could be: a gathering of people who need and want to meet with God, who have come to worship and to be in God’s presence. Yet week after week some of us leave so frustrated. Eventually we learn that maybe church is just (mediocre) entertainment and isn’t meant to be a place where life and the gospel come together.

 

4 Responses to “Disillusioned with the Sunday meeting expression of church”


  • As a pastor of a local church, I find the attitude in this blog more than a little disheartening. The problem with both the “entertain me” mind-set and the mindset being espoused in this blog is that they are both equally individualistic and self-serving. The people Loren Warkentine were talking about come to be entertained, the writer of this post goes “to be in God’s presence.” Neither one of these is the biblical reason for meeting together as Christians, and both of these reasons are centered around “what’s in it for me?” The only extended commentary on actual church meetings in the New Testament, that I know of, is 1 Corinthians 14. In this text Paul over and over again explains why they are there and it’s not to be entertained, nor to come into God’s presence, nor even specifically to “worship God.” The answer given over and over again by Paul is “so that the church may be edified/built up/strengthened (it’s all the same Greek word; see14:5; cf. vv. 12, 17, 26). Now of course we should go to church to worship God in the sense that all we do should be worshipful to God. But we can (and should!) do that any time. We don’t need to meet together as Christians to do that. Consider these words in 1 Cor. 14: “If you are praising God with your spirit, how can one who finds himself among those who don’t understand say, ‘Amen” to your thanksgiving…You may be giving thanks well enough, but the other man is not edified” (v. 16). Here’s a picture of a man who is really worshiping God! He’s in God’s presence; he’s feeling the power, God is being worshipped! But Paul says don’t do it unless you can do it in such a way that others are edified.
    So perhaps the writer of this post and others like her are missing God at church meetings because they are there for themselves and not for the good of others or the Body as a whole. Instead of sticking with a church and diving into it and working to help make the meeting times more edifying to more people, they keep trying to find that perfect church or just withdraw and give up. I intend no offense to those in such a position, but such actions are just plain selfish and, on a personal note, make the job of local pastors a lot harder!

    • If the point of the Sunday morning is not worship (and I would argue with this assumption), but edification, then the criticism is even more valid and should be listened to seriously. The average service is constructed in a way that speaks “entertainment” and “one way communication” to people, rather than edification (chairs in rows, quiet listening to people on the platform). If the purpose was truly edification, then there should be more thought in how this can be done more effectively. The judgment of “just plain selfish” is misplaced and doesn’t take to heart the needs of the people who attend.

  • I have been a born again believer since I was five years old. I was blessed to attend a bible teaching church that was non-denominational. Being a minority in an all white congregation was difficult, yet I kept attending not because of the bigoted slurs, but because underneath it all the pastor was trully inspired to preach the gospel and disciple his congregation.

    He preached the word every sunday and inspired us occassionally with stories from martyrs, and members of the congregation. He tried to keep his interpretation out of it and used what the men and women during the writing and the hearing of the scriptures would have understood the scripture to mean.

    I don’t believe I was entertainned at church, but I was well fed. I kept coming back for the substance and fellowship that nourshied my own quiet times during the morning and evening.

    I know find myself in a new state attending a new church. The pastor seems to be sweet and god fearing. However, his sermons are quite entertainning. People giggle and laugh and he even gets a couple of shouts when prompted. He tends to preach from the heart and gives many illustrations from his family and other’s families.

    However, I find it difficult to follow him because of all of his modern day allegories to families and his lack of preaching to the whole relationship in Jesus. He seems more concerned with the relationships in the family.

    It saddens me because there seems to be a wealth of knowledge in the congregation – a former Baptist church- that only comes out if you join the right small group or a attend one of the women’s or men’s midweek group.

    For instance he was preaching on Ecc. 10.2 He accurately gave the meaning behind the verse. However when afforded the opportunity to dive deeper into where the expression came from or why the right side would be favored, he simply just said that you know how more people are right handed. So it would be thought that right handed people would be the normal path over the left handed person.

    I find myself gaining more knowledge from radio ministries and my own quiet time than the musings of my minister. Please know he is reaching the seekers and those still on milk. I just find myself asking is this where I want to remain? How do I get up on Sunday, as a single, when the only thing I get out of service is coming together in worship through the worship team and saying hello to others I haven’t seen all week.

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