Monday, 11 July 2011

The Church Service as Entertainment

A few years back Neil Postman wrote a book called something like "Entertaining ourselves to Death". In this book he discussed and criticised the seeming unending desire we now have to be entertained. He suggested that the way our lives have now been so focussed around entertainment has led to the demise of a range of things we used to value in society including work, integrity, relationships and our moral fibre. Now one could debate the claims he made, but it is pretty clear that in many Western countries we do devote a lot of our time, energy and resources towards entertainment. If we are not entertained then we proclaim "I'm bored".

I think that this focus on entertainment has also taken over much our church services. Services are designed around activities that make the members (or clients) feel entertained. This is evident is the current emphasis on singing and pop-type music, and sermons that are more like motivational talks.We even have a smoke machine and flashy lights that create a concert-type atmosphere during our 'worship times' (I'm sure Jesus feels much more honoured when we have these accoutrements!). Now there is nothing wrong with these things per se, but I think we set up a false image of God's church when we try too hard to entertain people and make them have warm fuzzy feelings. I see nothing in Jesus' life and ministry that was about entertainment. It also means that church services have to be done to please the people (so don't challenge them too much!)

As I have noted before, my church is a fairly middle of the road Baptist church, but there is a lot of evidence that we have become entertainment oriented. For starters, we have a huge stage – a necessary place for the entertainers (i.e., musicians and 'worship team') to perform. In fact, the church recently put on a production of Godspell, and by all accounts it was a good production. It was done as a so-called outreach, But I don't think many non-Christians attending and those who di would have been entertained but probably not challenged – that's what plays are for, to entertain! This production sucked huge resources from our church and as a congregation we were obsessed by this 'outreach'. Indeed, almost everyone (apart from me) thought it was wonderful, and I am horrified to thing that they are already planning for next year's entertainment event (aka outreach). Why have we, as a fundamental evangelical church, become so obsessed with entertainment events? Is this what God had planned for His people? Not as far as I can tell from my reading on the NT. In fact, if the 'Godspell' crowd wanted to really outreach, why didn't they go and join one of the local community drama or theatre groups? Or is that a too obvious?

The entertainment focus of the church at large can also be seen in the large frivolous events like Hillsong that are devoted to religious entertainment that their pilgrims falsely claim to be Christian and worshipful. At these shows we are told by the entertainment promoters (e.g, ridiculously wealthy pastors like Brian Houston – the entertainment industry is lucrative!) that "God is going to do something special", like He is passionate about making us feel warm and fuzzy through religious entertainment, and "that He is going to do a new thing", even though the entertainment will be very similar to the night before, and the night before, and the night before, … I think Jesus would feel sick if He was in attendance – at least the Jesus I read about in my Bible.

I believe we have become consumed with entertaining people in church events. Consequently we are not a dynamic God-focussed people who are changing the world, but rather a bunch of self-indulgent couch-potatoes who go to church to be entertained, say "that was nice", and then go away and live exactly the same as we did before. Is it any wonder the church is diminishing in numbers and influence in the Western world? How sad.

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