Serious Ministry in a World of Amusement

Republished, with permission, from Voice magazine, Jan./Feb. 2013.

“Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” That profound question was posed by one author thirty years ago.1 Do you think such an assessment could still be made three decades later?

We live in an entertainment saturated society. And the danger of living in such a society is to prefer a more fun-filled deity, trivializing the one true God and minimizing His holy standards, happily entertaining ourselves with illusions of Christianity. No sense of awe, little reverence, lots of laughs. The problem is that all of this is so corrupt and unbiblical, soon (and quite predictably) the punch lines start to grow old, smiles are replaced by yawns, and yawns lead to carelessness, heresy and moral defection.

The New Testament warns us to “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (ESV, Hebrews 12:28-29). It seems all too often that talk of the consuming fire of the Lord God Almighty gets extinguished by entertaining, happy god-talk.

Gimmicks, fads, and feel-good faith is replacing the real thing in the lives of all too many Christians. Knowing Christ and His Word has been replaced by the notion that ministries must be based on philosophies that are entertaining or therapeutic. The solid foundation of truth has been obscured by the bright lights of the stage and overlooked for style, image and hype. The end result is that we have fallen prey to the insights and mindset of the world of entertainment, swallowing powerful myths such as the desperate need for fun and relevance-at-any-cost.

We need a clear understanding of who we are and where we live and where we’re headed.

Christians and the world

Christ said that His disciples are “not of this world” (John 17:14). Peter wrote that we are “aliens and strangers” (1 Peter 2:11). Paul wrote that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). The Bible is clear. Those who are Christ’s are citizens of another kingdom, one which is invisible to human eyes and cannot be reached by man-made transportation.

The Greek word for world (kosmos) originally meant an ordered system2 and reflects the orderliness of the world as viewed by the ancient Greeks. It referred to the world in its most inclusive sense, the ordered planet on which we live: “God, who made the kosmos and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24). In the New Testament it was also used regarding women making themselves orderly, adorning their hair (1 Peter 3:3). It is also the root for the modern word cosmetics.

The word kosmos also refers to the world of humanity in general. It is used this way in John 3:16 (“God so loved the kosmos”). It was also used this way in 1 John 2:2 (“And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole kosmos”).

Also, kosmos is often used to refer to that which is organized against God and is hostile to Him, lost in sin, ruined, depraved. It is used this way six times in John 15:18-19 (“If the kosmos hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the kosmos, the kosmos would love its own. Yet because you are not of the kosmos, but I chose you out of the kosmos, therefore the kosmos hates you”). It is also used this way in John 16:33, John 17:14 (Christ’s disciples “are not of this kosmos”), 1 Corinthians 3:19, and 1 John 2:15-16 (“Do not love the kosmos or the things in the kosmos. If anyone loves the kosmos, the love of the Father is not in him”). And according to Christ, Satan is “the prince of this kosmos” (John 12:31; 16:11).

When you summarize the New Testament usage of kosmos, you see the following meanings:

  • The planet earth (Acts 17:25)
  • The orderly adornment of hair, clothing (1 Peter 3:3)
  • Humanity in general (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2)
  • The organized world system that hates God and is hostile toward Him (John 17:14; 1 John 2:15-16)

Regarding how Christians should relate to the kosmos, the last two bullet points above are definitely most instructive. Because God loves humanity in general and Christ died for all humanity (i.e. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and all humanity), we too should love people as God does and share the gospel so they can place their faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice. But we should not love the organized world system which openly hates God and is in open hostility against Him. Love people. Don’t love the world’s system.

Christians and this present age

There is another important word in the New Testament related to our discussion and that is the Greek word aiōn from which we get the English word eon. This word can mean “a very long time ago” or “ages past” (regarding holy prophets

of old in Luke 1:70 and the beginning of time when the world began in John 9:32). It also means “eternity in the future, forevermore” (regarding eternal life through Christ in John 6:51 and the eternal torment of the beast and false prophet in Revelation 20:10) as well as the eternal aspect of God’s person (Romans 16:27), the eternal glory of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:21).

Another way the word aiōn is used in the New Testament is the material universe created by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2).

The final way the word aiōn is used in the New Testament is regarding the future joyful age (Mark 10:30; Ephesians 1:21) and the present evil age (Galatians 1:4) where there are worries (Matthew 13:22), shrewd people (Luke 16:8) and where Satan blinds the unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4) and Satan is a prince (Ephesians 2:2).

When you summarize the New Testament usage of aiōn, you see the following meanings:

  • The material universe created by Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:2)
  • A very long time ago or ages past (Luke 1:70; John 9:32)
  • Eternity in the future (John 6:51; Revelation 20:10)
  • The eternal nature of God (Romans 16:27; Hebrews 13:21)
  • The future joyful age (Mark 10:30; Ephesians 1:21)
  • The present evil age where Satan is prince (Galatians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2)

Regarding how Christians should relate to this aiōn, the last two bullet points are key. Christians should remember our hope is found in the future age to come, not in this present evil age. Satan has some sort of spiritual rule in this present age as an evil prince. Because of this, we better not be deceived in this present age (as the unbelievers are, who are blinded by Satan).

Dangers for christians

As you compare the usage of both kosmos and aiōn, you see Satan’s fingerprints on both. He is a supernaturally evil prince with wicked spiritual authority over this world. He has organized this world’s system in direct hostility against all things holy, in opposition to God. Plus this Wicked One has an army of invisible minions who also have supernatural power to do the will of their evil ruler. Plus unbelievers are completely enslaved and controlled by the flesh. And we believers have the residual influence of the flesh.

These reasons alone should give the follower of Jesus Christ a sober attitude regarding his life in this world!

This world is dangerous for Christians. We need to beware of the accumulation of thoughts, opinions, speculations, impulses, aims which are present at any time in the world… because there is an evil force organized behind so many of them. Yes, we have a regenerated nature. Yes, we have the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Yes, we have the sword of the Spirit (the Word of God). Yes, we have direct access to the throne of the Lord of the universe. But the devil and his wicked army want to squeeze Christians into the mold of the world he has organized, and our flesh craves (demands!) that we go along in full agreement. That is sobering.

We live in an immoral, unholy world system. This present age is evil. And the messages of this world, the communications of this age, are carried forth by means of often seemingly innocuous means mingled in with other overtly perverse means: print media, electronic media, news media, advertising, and entertainment… ah yes, entertainment. We are surrounded by entertainment.

Television, internet, movies, music, team sports, individual sports, professional sports, Bowl games, playoff games, outdoor games, indoor games, organized games, intramural games, board games, video games, flat screens, large screens, larger screens, satellite, cable, surround sound, DVDs, DVRs, iPods, iPads, YouTube, Kindle, Netflix, theaters, malls, zoos, amusement parks, festivals, fireworks, fairs, parades, expositions, hunting, fishing, golfing, motorcycles, nightclubs, casinos, concerts, cottages, camping, condos. The list goes on. And on. And on. And on.

If the Christian is going to live in the manner God calls him to in this present world, he must do so in a world of amusement. And often (but most definitely not always) the amusing activities of the world system are energized by our adversary the devil. We must be balanced, careful not to adopt the angry otherworldliness of some of our Fundamentalist forefathers. But like them, we must beware, ever vigilant, constantly discerning. Because we are in the world yet not of it (John 17:13-16).

I appreciate John Piper’s perspective on Christian hedonism.

My shortest summary of Christian Hedonism is: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. We all make a god out of what we take the most pleasure in. Christian Hedonists want to make God their God by seeking after the greatest pleasure—pleasure in him.

By Christian Hedonism, we do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. We mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. We should pursue this happiness, and pursue it with all our might.3

Those words help provide an important balance.

Balance also helps us to realize it is good to spend restful times with family and friends. The Lord Jesus told His disciples to “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). I love the happiness of being with my loved ones over holidays and during vacation times! I am looking forward to being in Orlando for the 2013 IFCA International Annual Convention and sharing some fun times with my family after the convention ends and we stay in Orlando fora few extra days. I hope many of you plan to do the same. It is good for Christ’s servants to enjoy those times of rest (Mark 6:31).

Balance is also needed regarding hobbies and legitimate diversions to pursue during our much needed times of leisure. Please do not misunderstand me. Those activities are vital to keep us balanced in this world. But my appeal is for us to consciously think through the stewardship of the hours and days entrusted by God to us in our lives. Living in this world of amusement requires wise discernment in the use of our time.

Conclusion

How can we be in the world but not of it? How do live with the tension of being in two ages at once, as part of this world but citizens of another? The only answer is if we walk faithfully with Christ, regularly consuming His holy Word, living a life of personal and daily spiritual renewal in the context of regular fellowship with a community of the redeemed in a Bible-teaching local church. We must exercise personal revival in our daily experience through rigorous self-confrontation (1 Peter 4:17). And we must be serious about ministry in this world of amusement.

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones observed the following regarding the early church and how they would meet together and what they considered important:

They meet together—for what reason? To worship God, to praise His blessed name, to thank Him for the grace which has led to the forgiveness of sins, and for new life in Christ. They meet together also so that they may know Him better and come to understand His providence more perfectly. They hunger and thirst after righteousness. They also thirst for the sincere milk of the Word, and there is nothing they enjoy more than to study the Word, and to listen to it being proclaimed.4

It seems to me those words describe serious ministry, the kind of ministry that serves as an antidote to the poisons of Satan’s alluring world system in this present age. That kind of ministry is substantive, not shallow. At the same time it is balanced and positive, not harsh and mean-spirited. It shines light in this dark world. It offers to God our worship, with reverence and awe. Because our God is a consuming fire, not a Fun-Filled Entertainer.

We are citizens of another world. We want to bring our holy God great glory in this present age. We need to live for the world to come, with eternity’s values in view. We need to help our friends and neighbors place their faith in our matchless Savior so they can join us on our pilgrimage to the next age and worship and enjoy (!) God forever.

Yes, we live in a world of amusement. And it is to this world of amusement that we are called, to bring honor to Jesus Christ. With serious ministry.

Notes

1 Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk (New York: Harper & Row, 1982), p. 40.

2 F. Wilbur Gingrich, Walter Bauer and William Arndt. Shorter Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1965), p. 112.

3 John Piper, “We Want You to Be a Christian Hedonist!” Posted on August 31, 2006 at www.desiringgod.org. Accessed on November 14, 2012.

4 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Knowing the Times (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1989), p. 43.

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There are 18 Comments

Jim's picture

Article fails on the first paragraph:

“Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” That profound question was posed by one author thirty years ago. Do you think such an assessment could still be made three decades later?

My view (although the phrase "in churches" is rather broad):

  • Wasn't true 30 years ago
  • Not true today

 

 

christian cerna's picture

Jim wrote:

Article fails on the first paragraph:

“Why do people in churches seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?” That profound question was posed by one author thirty years ago. Do you think such an assessment could still be made three decades later?

My view (although the phrase "in churches" is rather broad):

  • Wasn't true 30 years ago
  • Not true today

 

 

Jim, you obviously have not been to many churches out here in California. I have been to several congregations, and have sat through many sermons. And what I seen/heard in most of these, is wannabe, hipster pastors expressing semi-liberal ideas that they learned in places such as Fuller Seminary, teachers using pop culture and media to replace clear teaching, and worship groups that perform music/songs that are mindless and repetitive, and that sound more like something you would hear in a movie like High School Musical.

The few churches where there is more solid teaching, usually have few members(30 or less), and are comprised of the elderly, married couples, children, etc. And as a 32 year old, single man(who hopes to one day marry), I often find it difficult to find my place in them. Hence the reason for visiting these other churches.

Jim's picture

I've hardly been to California (excursus: upon college graduation (1971) I drove my VW bug to California (from Cincinnati) and camped out there with a handful of friends for the Summer (3 months (my parents were concerned about me!)). Surfing .... hiking .... sun tan ... much fun).

For nearly 40 years I've been in solid Bible teaching churches in the Midwest!

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jim, I'm not sure why you took the question that way... "people in churches" isn't all people in all churches.

In any case, the point was that there was an amusement problem in much of the church 30 yrs ago and it's even worse now. Hard to dispute that.

TylerR's picture

Editor

This article really spoke to something which has been bothering me for a while  . . .

Youth ministry (youth group meetings and conferences, not Sunday School -12+) has to balance between genuine exposition of Scripture and fun. There has to be some element of fun to those nights the teens all gather at the church. There likewise has to be some fun to conferences for teenagers. The problem is that far too often churches err on the side of fun at the expense of teaching the Bible.

Some of the teens at my church look forward to a massive (fundamentalist) conference each year, where the conference youth pastors are announced in rock star style, complete with fake smoke, sports-announcer intros and stadium lighting. The conference is replete with games, fun and "in your face" style preaching.

The teens come back.

 Me: "How was the conference?"

Them: "Great! The games were so much fun!"

You get the idea. We would all agree that our youth often leave church and don't return for years, if at all. This is my explanation;

1. If a church raises their teens to be expect entertainment (EX - the conference above) rather than doctrine AND fun . . .

2. When they turn 19, we say, "Go to the main church and listen to the preaching. Church isn't about entertainment - it's about worshipping God!"

3. Why should we be surprised if they leave? They've been raised to be entertained, despite all our talk about worldliness. Should we expect them to change their expectations overnight? 

I've seen entertainment elevated over teaching too often at too many churches. I've always been very nerdy, so I am naturally inclined to preach at the expense of fun.

Has anybody else noticed what I'm talking about? Am I off-base here?

 

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

TylerR wrote:

This article really spoke to something which has been bothering me for a while  . . .

Youth ministry (youth group meetings and conferences, not Sunday School -12+) has to balance between genuine exposition of Scripture and fun. There has to be some element of fun to those nights the teens all gather at the church. There likewise has to be some fun to conferences for teenagers. The problem is that far too often churches err on the side of fun at the expense of teaching the Bible.

Some of the teens at my church look forward to a massive (fundamentalist) conference each year, where the conference youth pastors are announced in rock star style, complete with fake smoke, sports-announcer intros and stadium lighting. The conference is replete with games, fun and "in your face" style preaching.

The teens come back.

 Me: "How was the conference?"

Them: "Great! The games were so much fun!"...

I've seen entertainment elevated over teaching too often at too many churches. I've always been very nerdy, so I am naturally inclined to preach at the expense of fun.

Has anybody else noticed what I'm talking about? Am I off-base here?

The only 'off base' observation I see is that there is a 'fun' requirement for any church gathering, or that Scriptural exposition must be balanced with fun for teens to attend, enjoy, or participate. 

It's been my experience that young people rise to meet our expectations- set the bar high, and they will put in 110% to meet it. But set the bar low, and you've just told them that they aren't worth the trouble, that they have nothing substantial to offer, that we don't expect anything great from them.

Then we reap a crop of adults who are ambivalent, apathetic, or can't pay attention for longer than 10 minutes- and only then if there are bells, whistles, drums, and a disco ball. 

TylerR's picture

Editor

I understand what you're saying. This is another time when I wish the conversation could be had face to face! When I say balance, I meant that, on a Friday night when my church runs Youth Group, its a good idea to go out and get ice cream or play a few games after a 30-40 minute Bible lesson and prayer. That's all I meant by "fun."

I just see an entertainment driven metric for Youth ministry, and there is pressure to "top" the other church's conference. I surprised a bunch of teens by putting on an Apologetics Youth Conference where we talked about what atheists say about Christianity, and discussed how to answer these objections. This was very different from what they usually get at other conferences, and it was refreshing to see their reactions.

I asked one of our teenagers how the preaching at a recent conference was. Her answer is very telling, "It's always the same. Backsliding is bad. Read your Bible. Do right. Run the race." She then went back to texting.

 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

christian cerna's picture

I agree with what Tyler is saying. There is a great deal of pressure placed on teachers within the church. On the one hand, they want to provide rich, solid teaching to their students. And they want to challenge their students to think more deeply on God's truths, and to create an atmosphere of reverence and awe in the church. On the other hand, there is the fear that if they do these things, the young people in the church will get bored and stop attending, and will seek out other more casual churches, where they can just hang out and have fun.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

I appreciate the effort at raising our awareness of Laodiceanism, if you will permit. The article seeks to inform and encourage us away from worldliness.

I do find it ironic he would quote Piper whose history of transferring trust to and participating with Christian personalities/Teachers/Pastors who engage in this style of ministry is easily noted and this is to say nothing of the awful exegesis and theology contained in Christian Hedonism. That aside the effort is needed to remind us that indeed our value system must not be that of this world's.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

christian cerna wrote:

...On the other hand, there is the fear that if they do these things, the young people in the church will get bored and stop attending, and will seek out other more casual churches, where they can just hang out and have fun.

Very true. And if we act on those impulses (the fear that kids won't want to come to church w/o the fun factor) we are declaring God's Word and the Holy Spirit as insufficient. When we use entertainment to draw people to Christ, folks get the message- God is boring, God needs us to make Him shiny and attractive. This can take many forms- from a hip, Hollywood presentation to the 'man of Gawd' telling one amazing and amusing story after another to 'reinforce' Scriptural 'truths' without actually delving into Scripture. AmenGloryHallelujahPraisetheLord.

I agree with the OP, and appreciate the helpful outline (you all have no idea how many Bible lessons I get from SI for our homeschool!). When folks meet to worship God for who He is, the Holy Spirit within us resonates with awe and reverence-  and our flesh burns as a sweet-smelling sacrifice unto God.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I understand some of what TylerR is wrestling with. Lots of churches want to provide "good, clean fun" alternatives for the youth. And there's some validity to that. Part of being a child is having fewer responsibilities and enjoying life in that unique, spontaneous, playful way kids have the opportunity to experience it.

But teens are on the late end of the transition to a more serious approach to life and taking on the weight of adult responsibilities. 

And the lure of giving them more and more fun and less and less "work" is strong because it really does make for more enthusiasm, bigger crowds, "more people reached" etc.

I don't know what the answer is, but whatever it is, it needs to be counter-cultural, because the trend is upside down. What we do nowadays is rush adult privileges onto kids while delaying even older-child responsibilities... well into adulthood. So kids "grow up too fast" in the exposure & privileges/rights dept. while often never growing up at all in the responsibility dept.

We're probably better off erring on the side of "too little fun" in this milieu.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

I agree, Aaron. IMO it's fine for a church to provide opportunities for fellowship that involve "good, clean fun". What is problematic is making church services and Bible studies 'fun' in order to draw kids to attend. I think the message that sends about our view of the work of the Holy Spirit is just flat out scary.

 

DavidO's picture

What is problematic is making church services and Bible studies 'fun' in order to draw kids to attend.

 

The Baptist church across town from me has "solved" that problem.  They're giving away $50 Rue 21 gift cards to get kids to their youth activities.  Next stop, IMO, cash.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Well said.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

I'm doing a series in Youth Group right now about how we got the canon of the NT. That won't draw anybody in!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

christian cerna's picture

TylerR wrote:

I'm doing a series in Youth Group right now about how we got the canon of the NT. That won't draw anybody in!

 

That's why you need to give away iPod's and Xbox's during your services. I guarantee you will have standing room only during the services. Of course, it might set you back a few bucks. But hey, it worked for Oprah.

Help keep SI’s server humming. A few bucks makes a difference.