I didn’t grow up in a particularly religious family. But, like most kids growing up in the 1960’s my family had a denominational orientation and we did go to church about eight or ten times a year. Here’s what I remember from those occasions. It was boring; not just a little boring, squirm in your seat and wish you were anywhere else boring. It was always a relief to wake up Sunday morning and see that we weren’t getting spiffed up to go to church. It is still a bit surprising to me that I ever came to Christ. Probably the saving grace was that when my sister shared the Gospel with me she didn’t tie it to church attendance, or I probably would have rejected it.
How did church get that boring? I think that’s a good question even if I did ask it rhetorically. Church, as it was originally practiced wasn’t boring at all. It was so wonderful that the early Christians often met daily. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 5:42). Granted, that can mean that they met daily or that there were some meetings going on somewhere every day. Most likely it is a bit of both, dedicated groups met often and there were groups meeting every day. But the point is that early Christians wanted to meet, they couldn’t wait. So what were they doing that was wonderful but is missing in many church meetings nowadays? And, a second question, what should we do about it?
First, what were they doing that we often aren’t? What’s missing? I think they were actually encountering Jesus in their midst. They weren’t doing some sort of planned, set piece, ritualized church service. They were doing something that was both spontaneous and a real encounter with Jesus. Let’s look at the only description of a church gathering found in the entire New Testament.
What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. (I Cor. 14:26-33)
This was spontaneous, not planned. There was very little or no prep time for this. That’s because no one besides Jesus was leading it. One could get their soul ready for this, but beyond that, planning an order of service is strange beyond words in this type of context. Second, it was an actual encounter with the living God, while gathered together among friends. How cool is that? This is describing a meeting of people where God is giving revelation, leading people giving instruction, causing people to speak in tongues and interpret tongues. There are prophecies (God telling the group something through a person). In fact, the information from God is coming so fast and thick that Paul has to give instructions on how those receiving information from God will need to wait their turn so that it doesn’t become a free for all. Wouldn’t you want to participate in that? I’d love it…and do love it when it happens among my friends and me.
So, what should we do about it (my second question)? Well, let me say first, in my opinion we shouldn’t try to avoid the inescapable boredom of a church service by turning it into a performance. That will avoid the boredom but won’t in any way guarantee an encounter with God. Here’s what I think we should do. Let’s just do what the early Christians did; the simpler the better. The more spontaneous, the better. The more Jesus controlled and the less people controlled, the better. I’ve been involved with this now many times since I’ve become a more “organic” Christian. These encounters are rich, spiritual and spur me on to love and good deeds. But there is one thing they are not; they are not boring.
Pick a question and respond:
- How do you think church got so boring? What is the most boring part of a typical church service for you?
- What do you think we should do about it? I’ve given my solution; do you have a better one?
- Do you think turning a church service into a performance makes the situation better? Is the goal of going to church being entertained?
- If you don’t think being entertained is the goal of going to church, what is?