Dethrone Entertainment in Your Church

Chris Martin
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When William Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage” hundreds of years ago, I’m not sure he would have ever imagined how literal such a metaphor would eventually become. As the center of visual entertainment has moved from the theater in town to the living room in our homes to the screen in our pockets, the obvious temptation is that the local church would itself become a stage for man-centered performance to the detriment of God-centered worship.

When considering how a local church, or your local church, may be a “stage” constructed for the entertainment of congregants, it is important to note that this has little to do with whether or not your church has a literal stage or any of the accouterments that accompany a rock concert. A Baptist church in rural Alabama armed with nothing but a doily-clad piano and an off-beat pastor’s wife can be a stage constructed for man-centered performance instead of God-centered worship as much as a hip, urban non-denominational church clad in shiplap and smoke machines. But the purpose of the local church has nothing to do with entertainment.

The purpose of the local church is to equip the people of God for Great Commission work and send them out into the world in order to do that work. We serve a God who is wholly uninterested in our amusement. This is a mercy to us, not a cruelty. But the reality that God is uninterested in our comfort and entertainment has become, for many Christians, a touchy subject. Why? Because we have come to prioritize entertainment above all.

Practically, what does this mean for the local church? How can the local church push back against the invasiveness of entertainment? I think we need to be reminded of three basic truths.

1. The church-as-a-stage problem is about the posture of the heart.

A rural church equipped with few fancy features or production values can be caught up in entertainment as much as the decked-out mega- church. Whether or not a local church sees entertainment as one of its core values has little to do with how good it is at being entertaining. Seeing a local church as yet another stage is a matter of the heart.

The local church is not a stage and the pastor is not a performer.

Practically speaking, you shouldn’t dismantle your church stages and sell your fancy equipment after reading this chapter. Please do not read me saying “Any attention you give to the quality of your Sunday service is sinful!” That is definitely not what I am saying. If your church’s budget has room for great production value, praise God! But if those fancy features are coming at the expense of a children’s minis- try that lacks adequate resources, you may have a prioritization problem. Perhaps your church leaders should evaluate what you value and how you organize your budget. Ask questions like:

  • What does success look like for a Sunday church service?
  • What do we hope to accomplish with our midweek programming?
  • Are we willing to lose attendees because our services aren’t
    as entertaining as they could be?
  • Are we spending money on elements that provide entertainment value to the detriment of actual ministry? How can we rearrange funds to correct this?

2. The purpose of the local church has nothing to do with entertainment.

The local church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22–23) and is the headquarters of Christian formation and equipping so that we may do the good works that have been set before us (Eph. 4:11–14). Entertainment isn’t inherently wrong, but to prioritize entertainment in the life of the local church is to inject a man-made value into a God-ordained mission. When we do this we set ourselves up for failure as leaders in the local church.

God is not against laughter or fun—to enjoy God’s creation is a way to worship God Himself!—but He has established His church to be much more than a venue for stand-up comedy and beautiful music. If local church leaders have any hope in protecting the local church from the invasiveness of an entertainment-above-all culture, we have to re- member why the church exists. Otherwise we may adopt a mission de- fined by amusement rather than one defined by gospel advancement.

3. God is honored by faithfulness, not attendance numbers.

This is the most difficult truth to remember, especially for those of us who find ourselves convicted by the realization that we have focused too much on entertainment and not enough on more biblical local church priorities. It is likely that the invasion of entertainment into every facet of our lives has led people who attend your church to prioritize entertainment above other more legitimate purposes of the local church. As church leader or disciple maker, this puts you in a difficult position. If your church people are interested in being entertained by you instead of being discipled by you, you face a strong temptation to jettison faithful church leadership in favor of entertaining church leadership.

When a church leader chooses faithful, God-centered church leadership, the church leader is choosing God’s favor over man’s approval—a choice worth making. Because the purpose of the church is to equip the people of God for the work of God, God will be honored by faithful leadership regardless of how many attendees or members decide to leave in favor of a more entertaining gathering.

More than anywhere else, pastors and church leaders feel the pressure to entertain in the pulpit, which is, ironically, often atop a stage.

Preaching Is Not a Performance

The local church is not a stage and the pastor is not a performer. At the end of his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper includes the philosophy of music and worship document from the church he pa- stored. Principle number six in the list of nine principles that make up this worship philosophy focuses on authentic communication: “Avoid the atmosphere of artistic or oratorical performance, but cultivate the atmosphere of a radically personal encounter with God and truth.”5 Indeed, whether leading worship through song, through the hearing of the Word preached, through giving, or worship of any other sort, the pastor and church leader should direct attention away from themselves and toward the God they are leading others to worship and follow.

Toward the end of Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman dedicates a chapter to televangelism, which was in its heyday in the 1980s. Though a non-Christian, he writes, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether.”

The purpose of the local church is to equip the people of God for the work of God.

Whether or not you preach on television, you will regularly fight the temptation to perform at the cost of your integrity. Tickling ears and performing for the sake of church attendees’ approval may at- tract crowds and funds, but at what cost? The pastorate is a post of humble service to God in leadership of His people, not the lead part in a Broadway musical. The Sunday worship gathering of the local church is not to be consumed by parishioners, but completed by them. This is why those who lead a Sunday service are wise to encourage the active participation of church attendees in any number of ways: adopting various bodily postures, greeting one another, saying amen when the preacher makes a cogent point, and others. These practices are important not because they’re somehow holy or righteous, but because they discourage consumption and encourage participation.

Entertainment has been invading our daily lives since the television began shaping culture in the middle of the twentieth century. Social media has made entertainment an ever-present force in the lives of Christians, which has led them to want even their local church experiences to be centered around amusement. Pastors and church leaders must resist the temptation to give in to this latent demand, even at the risk of losing church members to other, more entertaining church experiences.

The purpose of the local church is to equip the people of God for the work of God. And much to the dismay of popular culture, faithful obedience to God often seems quite boring. God Himself is exciting and full of wonder, but the daily grind of faithfully following Jesus isn’t usually exciting. We should lead and guide our churches to find contentment in quiet lives of humility in paths of righteousness instead of reinforcing the primacy of entertainment in the hearts of our people.

For Further Reading:

The Wolf in Their Pockets

by Chris Martin

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