“Pastor, the minute you decide church must always be exciting is the moment you begin turning the worship services into pep rallies. After that, it all goes downhill.”
I said that on Facebook the other day and enraged a few people.
“Worshiping the Lord should always be exciting,” one person insisted. I replied, “I’m doing the funeral of a 53-year-old man today. It will be comforting, but not exciting.”
I understand where the guy is coming from.
Truth be known, my post probably ticked off the young me, the person I was some 40 years ago.
At the age of 33, I moved to the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, a great old church in a historic town, but a congregation that had declined somewhat during the last years of the previous pastor. So, the young energetic visionary that I was (I’m bending over backward to avoid saying “whippersnapper”), I asked the church to erect some billboards around town urging people to visit “The exciting First Baptist Church of Columbus.”
I admitted to our staff that mostly I was hoping to convince our own people.
These days, when I see churches announcing that they are exciting or friendly or dynamic or whatever, I figure that for the most part they are trying to convince themselves.
Shouldn’t a church be exciting?
You are involved in the greatest work in the world, serving the Lord of the Universe, the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, in a ministry that changes lives and results in a blissful eternity for those who believe. What could be more exciting than that?
It is exciting. But not always.
The Lord did not liken serving Him in ministry to field-work on the farm without thinking. Ask any farmer. Life on a farm can be exhilarating and mind-boggling with the glorious sunrises, the “feel” of the Springtime, the joy of seeing crops come up and crops gathered in, and the delights of eating things from your own garden. But more often it’s something far less than exciting and looks a lot like hard work.
Eventually, in any kind of lifework we settle into a routine with regular highs and lows. Serving the Lord can be the greatest honor of our lives, and it can be downright painful.
That’s real life. It’s a lot like marriage. Anyone who goes into marriage thinking every day with this incredible man/woman is going to be heavenly, an honor just to breathe the enchanted air as this beloved one, will soon meet reality head-on. There will be those special times, but not every day. Furthermore, anyone who says that every day of their forty or fifty years of marriage has been exciting and magical would lie about other things also.
Trying to make a point here.
Much of the interaction between Moses, Israel, and the living God involved confrontation, condemnation, confession, and contrition. The Old Testament books of Exodus through Deuteronomy inundate us with a sequence of painful stories that tell how God led those rebellious people for all those years. And one thing we know for certain, my friend: No one, positively no member of that massive march from Egypt to Canaan went around singing, “Every day with Moses is sweeter than the day before!”
Exciting? The wilderness experience was a lot of things, but for the most part, it was hard work, constant disputes, difficult assignments, and long walks across desert terrain. The excitement showed up years later when they remembered only the good parts. (I can hear the children saying, “Oh grandpa–was it exciting following Moses all those years?” And can imagine the old man struggling to find just the right combination of words, words that will inform but not disillusion, that will enlighten without disappointing.)
When the prophet Nathan confronted David about his string of deadly sins involving Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, a baby, and one lie after another, it was something that had to be done, it was healing, and it was life-saving. But it was not exciting. It was pure misery for all involved, I guarantee.
Church services sometimes involve confrontation and confession, contrition and conversion. The aftermath is exciting, but the moment itself is like life in the “labor and delivery room.”
There are indeed great and exciting moments in the Lord’s service.
Someone gets saved and gloriously so. The congregation is rightfully thrilled and bursts into applause as he/she is baptized.
A new pastor is called and a difficult interim time is now history. The congregation is excited and enthusiastically responding to his leadership.
The massive church debt which had crippled the 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 different, but for reasons known only to the Holy Spirit, his message really connected with everyone in the building. The scriptures came alive as he spoke, hearts were open to God in unusual ways, tears were shed, and worship went heavenward. The altar was filled and lives were changed forever. Exciting? Few things are more exciting for the pastor, I’ll tell you that.
Oh, that it were this way every time we meet for worship.
As soon as you decide every worship service ought to be exciting is when you start making some foolish decisions.
Once your people demand excitement in every service, you the pastor soon resort to gimmicks and celebrity guests and carnal music and flashy ideas you picked up from friends. Pleasing God drops far down your list of goals, while pleasing your people takes over top billing.
It’s all downhill from there.
I will not ever forget a service I attended as a young pastor. A church down the highway was reputed to be exciting and reaching a lot of people for the Lord. So, when they announced a revival meeting, I decided to visit. What I saw that night sent chills up and down my spine.
The pastor was a manipulator. He and the musicians would whip the crowd into a frenzy of praise and shouting, then they would sit back and laugh and talk among themselves while the inferno raged. When the intensity began to recede, they struck it up again and “laid on the ‘rousements,” as one African-American brother called it. The congregation seemed not to notice or care that they were being whipped into a frenzy of religious emotion, but went along with the plan.
I walked out thinking what an insult that all was to the Lord. No wonder reasonably-minded people want nothing to do with such.
When worship leaders make a conscious decision to keep everything exciting, they start going for noise, celebrity appearances, dramatic stories, special effects, and glitter. Before long, they realize they have created a monster. People who are addicted to these things find their appetite grows to monstrous proportions and are never satisfied, but want more and bigger and gaudier.
I will go so far as to say that in times of drudgery, we do our best work for the Lord.
When a job has lost its glamor and you have to make yourself get up and don your working clothes and get to it one more day, that’s when you make your highest statement about honor and duty.
One day, looking back, you will realize this was your finest hour.
When God seems far away–oh, you do realize there will be such times in the lives of every believer, don’t you? If not, we have some remedial Bible work to do–you learn in a heartbeat whether you are going to be able to walk by faith or not.
When the encouragers vanish and you find yourself tackling the assignment without their support, you will know whether you are called of God. If you’ve not read the fourth chapter of Second Timothy lately, I suggest you do so, particularly if you thought that every day of the Christian life was supposed to be (ahem) “exciting.”
Paul was about to be crucified upside down. Imagine that. But, prior to that, he would face Caesar one more time. As it was the previous time, it would be him and the Lord there, his friends having been called out of town on that day for “more pressing” responsibilities.
Some concluding thoughts…
I read the above to my wife and asked for her reaction. She said, “It’s depressing.” Maybe so. I sure don’t mean it to be. My hope is to bring some reality, some counter-balance, to the demand that every service give us an emotional high.
I love exciting worship services. Two Sundays ago, our church began the service by baptizing five people. That was exciting. We welcomed back a young lady who had just spent her summer in Mexico sharing Christ in a remote village where there was no evangelical church, and her report was exciting. The pastor brought an inspiring message from John’s Gospel, and at the invitation time the altar was crowded with people on their knees praying.
But, I would be highly offended if my pastor went into Monday morning’s staff meeting and asked the other ministers to help him find things to do for next Sunday that would make the service exciting. Excitement should be a by-product of faithfulness, but not the main one and only at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.
I’ll say again, the moment we decide to go for excitement in every service, we have started down a troublesome path that leads to nowhere God’s people ought to be going.