Is Worship boring?
IS WORSHIP BORING?
I believe God’s people will find worship nourishing, and rarely boring
In December 2000 I was asked by a writer of “Word and Way” (the newspaper of the Missouri Baptist Convention) to contribute to a multi-page, special section on the subject of “Is Church Boring?” My input was requested because in my responsibilities as professor of Spiritual Formation at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary I teach a required class on “Worship Leadership, ” and also because I have written on and speak frequently in churches and conferences on the subject of worship.
I also suggested this to the editor of the piece: “. . . when writing this up, you might you want to change your questions from ‘Is church boring?’ to ‘Is worship boring?’ or ‘Are church worship services boring?’, or something like that. I have assumed all along you are referring to ‘worship’ when you refer to ‘church,’ but ‘church,’ of course, can have an endlessly broad application.” What is your response when you hear someone say, “Church is boring.?”
My first response is to ask, “Why do you say that?” For starters, even the worship service that would be most pleasing to the Lord is likely to bore the unconverted person, whether they profess to be a Christian or not. “But a natural man,” the Bible makes plain in 1 Cor. 2:14, “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” In light of this, and in light of the fact that many who attend church are not true believers, I would expect church to be boring to many people. They do not have the God-given, spiritual capacity to find the satisfaction, nourishment, and refreshment in it that those with the Spirit of God do.
If I am confident that a person is genuinely converted, and still they say, “Church is boring,” then I want to ask about their expectations and determine if they are reasonable ones.
Beyond that, I would ask about the particulars of the service, trying to discern if the worship leadership is seeking to promote “worship in spirit and truth” (as Jesus put it in John 4:24).
Should boring be a term used to describe church? Why or why not? Sadly, sometimes it is an appropriate term. There is such a thing as dead orthodoxy. To refer to John 4:24 again, worship that is done “in truth” but not “in spirit” is heartless and potentially boring. To present the endlessly satisfying and perpetually fascinating God who is “holy, holy, holy” to His worshipers in such a way that does not call for “reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28) is deplorable.
THE PROBLEM OF PERSONAL THOUGHTLESSNESS
In my own case I’ve found that the immediate cause of boredom in worship is often thoughtlessness on my own part. In other words, I am not sufficiently focusing on and thinking about what I am encountering in the service, I may be bored-but it’s my own fault. If God is presented faithfully to me in worship, that is, if the Scripture is read, if the hymns are true to Scripture and God-centered, and if the sermon is faithful to the Word, then enough of God’s revelation is there for me not to be bored. I cannot sit back, fold my arms, and wait for the worship leaders to stimulate or entertain me. That’s not their job. Their job is to present God to me. And if I am seeking God, I will find Him and find Him interesting, not boring. The old adage about horses has application to worshipers here: you can lead a worshiper to God, but you can’t make him worship. God forbid, however, that the worship leaders appear thoughtless and unmoved about the God they are presenting to the worshipers.
And yet, I’m not sure I want to admit the use of the term “boring” when it comes to worship. To do so may be merely reflecting the values of a society that places such a high priority on amusement that the most common word of blessing on someone departing is “Have fun” or “Have a good time,” and where the most condescending evaluative curse is, “That was soooo boring.” To analyze worship on a “boredom scale” is to use the wrong measuring rod. To call worship “boring” could imply that we can evaluate it in the same way that we appraise movies, TV shows, and other forms of entertainment. It also puts pressure upon the worship leaders to focus on making worship more exciting or interesting rather than considering it upon more explicitly Biblical grounds.
If people are bored in church, is that a problem with the church or with the individuals? As I’ve already mentioned, if people are unconverted then the problem is with them. Since “no one can [sincerely] say, ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3), no unconverted person can truly worship, no matter how the service is conducted. Therefore not only is it a mistake to plan worship for those who cannot worship, it is also a mistake to seek the evaluation of our worship services by those who cannot worship. Otherwise it’s like planning an art exhibit according to the preferences of those who are blind.
THE PROBLEM OF THE INDIVIDUAL
Second, as I said above, it is also the problem of the individual if he or she is not thoughtful about what is presented. People who do not want to love God with all their minds during a worship service are likely to be bored. The proper observance of the Lord’s Supper, for instance, requires deliberation. Without thought about its meaning, the mere ingestion of the elements may not only be boring, but sinful. The pursuit of God in worship is worthy of our best attention and mental efforts.
THE PROBLEM OF FALSE EXPECTATIONS
Third, it is also the problem of the individual if his or her expectations are unrealistic. We should remember that those who lead worship “are but dust” (Ps. 103:14) too. They have many other ministry responsibilities in addition to leading worship (though few are as important). To expect the leaders of most local churches to “produce” events that can compete with the teams of highly resourced professionals on TV and in the movies with all their special effects that we watch for hours each week is unrealistic. But if Godly, mature, Word-hungry followers of Jesus are consistently bored in worship, the worship leaders need to take a great deal of the responsibility.
How do you train future church leaders to preach and otherwise “do church” without being boring? I am not a professor of preaching, but I believe that the greatest need of the pulpit today is for men of God to preach the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. When this is done, God’s people find it extremely satisfying, not boring. Sheep love sheep food.
I do train future church leaders in “Worship Leadership” (that’s the name of the class). There I train them to evaluate every element of the worship service by whether each is God-centered and Biblical. Worship is, by definition, the worship of God. If the worship leader can present God to his people in the ways He has revealed Himself to us in Scripture, God’s people will find all they need for Him to be alluring and captivating.
And I urge them to insure that every element in the worship service is Biblical, that is, they should be able find clear support in Scripture for each line item in the order of service. Otherwise that element should not be part of the worship service (though it may have a legitimate place elsewhere in the life of the church).
Baptists have, going back to their first (1644) and to their most influential (1689) confessions of faith, agreed that worship should only be as “prescribed in Holy Scripture.” This, I believe, is what it means to “worship in truth” (John 4:24). And the failure to understand and do this is, in my opinion, the root of most of the “worship wars” today, including the one over boredom. If we will consciously include only those elements that are God-centered and “prescribed in Holy Scripture,” I believe God’s people will find worship nourishing, and rarely boring. Spiritual life and light are not boring, and these come to us only when we focus on God through Christ and feast upon Him through His written self-revelation.
I realize this goes counter to the trends in evangelicalism today, and flies in the hurricane face of our entertainment-oriented culture. Add to this the numbers of unconverted people who attend church and such a reformation in worship will be difficult to accomplish in many situations. But all reformation begins with teaching, and I would recommend such a path to a pastor before he overhauls the order of service.
75% of Missouri Baptist churches are plateaued or declining. Can that reality be attributed, in part, to people finding church to be boring? In part, yes—at least theoretically. Personally I think there are more and greater reasons than this, such as the erosion of insisting upon the historic principle of a regenerate church membership. Second, I think it has more to do with our lack of Biblical preaching than we’d like to admit. But if we want to focus specifically upon whether the worship event as a whole has contributed to 75% of our churches plateauing or declining, I would say it has more to do with whether each part of the service is God-centered and Biblical than it does with the leaders pursuit of the intangible quality of whether the service is “interesting.”
DON WHITNEY (by permission)
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