More Thoughts: Entertainment and Worship

Entertainment.  Our society thrives on entertainment.  We wake to music, watch the “morning shows” before leaving home, and listen to the morning news in the car.  The radio plays all day in most work environments and we return home listening to the radio again in the car.  Our evenings are filled with TV and movies, and our weekends with concerts and sporting events.

Is it any wonder that some kind of entertainment mentality has crept into our worship services?  How different methods of entertainment are evident when we worship?  I can already hear many readers entering into denial:  “Are you suggesting that within our worship service we incorporate elements of entertainment?”  Yes – that’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  In fact, I’d rather call it a statement of fact than a suggestion of something that might be there!!

Think about it.  There is evidence of entertainment in virtually all aspects of a public worship service.  To really appreciate this observation, let’s explore the idea from two viewpoints:  Those doing the entertaining (the Pastors, Worship Leaders, Soloists, Choirs, Drama Teams, etc.) and those being entertained (the congregation).  If we analyze our worship services this way we can discover some interesting things.

First, from the standpoint of those doing the entertaining we must consider the goal of the service and what they are seeking to accomplish.  With few exceptions, the primary consideration in worship is the preaching of the gospel and the accurate transmission of the Word of God into the minds and hearts of the hearers.  This is the role of those leading Worship regardless of the method in which they participate.  Pastors do it via preaching, Worship Leaders by leading congregational singing, solo and group performers through artistic presentations of key thoughts and themes.

It is the particular method of transmission of God’s truth that can be properly designated as entertainment.  Some readers may not like that parallel, but nonetheless it exists.  Pastors use various methods of entertainment to gain and hold the congregation’s attention.  I sat under one Pastor who used a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon at the beginning of every sermon.  Often the cartoon had no connection to the sermon, but was simply a tool to grab the attention of the congregation.  Some Pastors now use Microsoft PowerPoint® regularly with pictures, graphics, sermon outlines, and sometimes moving images to make their sermons more interesting (i.e., entertaining).  The assessment of a Pastor’s sermon (by both the Pastor and the people) is more often evaluated on the entertainment value (“His sermons are really boring…”), rather than the accuracy of truth and theological content.

The dynamic and influence of entertainment methods are even more definitive in Worship leading and musical/dramatic presentations.  This is strikingly evident in one way – rehearsals.  On the one hand, rehearsals are legitimately reasoned to be the activity by which performers hone their skills to present the best they have to offer back to the One who gave them the skills in the first place.  On the other hand, rehearsals are also the way in which a soloist or group ensures that the entertainment value of their chosen method of communication does not detract from the message they are portraying.  Admit it.  Hearing Sandi Patti, Steve Green or Larnelle Harris bring a song to a dynamic, forceful ending with a live orchestra and choir certainly delivers the message more powerfully than little Suzie’s rendition sung out of key with “canned” accompaniment!!  (“Canned” is the affectionate term many musicians have for “pre-recorded.”)  The reason for this is the entertainment elements involved in a professional presentation, rather than an amateurish one.  God can use both, but the road sure is smoother when the vehicle is in good shape!

The second viewpoint we must consider is that of the congregation (should we call it the “audience”?) – those being entertained.  Remember the quote above of the sermon evaluation?  (“His sermons are really boring!”)  How about the reaction to the special music?  (“Wow!  That girl can really sing!)  And the response to a short dramatic presentation or vignette?  (“Man, was that funny or what!)  Then there’s the ever-present comment about timing. (“The sermon went way to long, and that missionary report could have been better organized.”)

All of these comments – heard and loosely quoted from the cold, hard reality of many years of planning and leading worship – indicate an entertainment mindset found in the congregations of American Evangelical Churches.  Evaluation by the congregation is being done based on entertainment value, rather than the accuracy of the truth and theology presented.  It is not enough to know the Bible or Theology, but one must also have some expertise in how to communicate it – otherwise it falls on deaf ears.  This point shows the difficulty that faces Pastors and worship planners on a weekly basis.  They must balance quality of Biblical exegesis and theology with creativity of presentation – a balance which has all to often favored creativity and left short a serious depth of Biblical insight.

I suppose this discussion could be viewed with a desire to avoid the connection between our public worship and an entertainment mentality.  Avoidance, however, does not change the fact that the connection exists in real and identifiable ways.  Modern Christians have followed the pattern of Christians for centuries by adapting differing methods of communication found within their cultures to share God’s truth and the gospel of Christ with those around them.

I don’t think that this should be seen as a huge negative influence either.  The adaptability (by which I mean the use of various methods of communication) of the message of Christ is what has made the Christian faith applicable throughout the centuries and within different cultures.  Many religions supplant culture and seek to make all adherents act, dress, and think alike.  Christianity can uniquely transform cultures (by transforming people); yet allow freedom for cultures to differ from country to country and express their faith in unique ways.

It would be a fruitful and enlightening discussion for worship planners to discuss this phenomenon in their own settings.  What evidence do you see in your church of this “entertainment” mindset?  Are you comfortable with it or does it bother you?  Should we fight it or embrace it?  How are other churches dealing with this influence?  Awareness and open discussion of these things will bring a richer and fuller understanding of how the church can influence culture – and how culture has influenced the church.

 

For more of Mark’s writing, see his book list at www.MarkSooy.com

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Posted on January 5, 2015, in Christian Worldview, Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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