Bored with Church

Reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections. The text appears here verbatim.

In the past two decades, a broad swath of Christendom has undergone a radical transformation in the way church services are conducted. Somewhere in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, it would seem, word leaked out that a most sinister disease was eating away at the foundations of the church. Self-appointed ecclesiastical physicians arose to sound the warning sirens. With impassioned concern they assured us that nothing less than radical measures had to be taken immediately and that nothing less than the survival of the church was at stake.

The malignant scourge that threatened the church, we were told, was boredom. North Americans in particular were becoming scandalously bored with church, and any local assembly that ignored the warning signs of this advancing disease, or refused to resist it, was destined to wither and die.

So with straight faced earnestness the experts prescribed the healing balm. “Make church fun and relevant to all” was the new mantra. One expert counseled me in his book that my sermons should be limited to twenty minutes, peppered with warm, affirming stories and free of “heavy theology.” Church music needed to be “updated” so that it immediately appealed to the visitor and skits and movie clips, you must understand, would communicate truth much more effectively than preaching. (And be sure to go light on that “truth” bit!).

We live in an age of information in which the sound bite is the trade language. We live in an entertainment saturated world of which fun and recreation are the warp and woof. There was only one hope for the church’s survival, we must eliminate boredom at any cost. Like an immoral affair, the partnership between church and boredom simply had to end immediately.

This counsel from the “boredom-killers” had a thread of truth woven into it. Many churches can be justifiably criticized for rendering boredom an art form. Bereft of spiritual vitality, sedated by dead ritual, and shackled by meaningless traditions, many churches have proven utterly bankrupt of all interest to even the most forgiving visitor. In this sense the warning sirens should be heeded.

But pull that single thread from the message of the “boredom killers” and the fabric unravels. Their message is fatally flawed on numerous counts. To focus here on just one deficiency, it unconscionably drops the heavy load of responsibility for boredom at the feet of the local church while entirely ignoring the role of individuals in the equation. Churches are chided for their bad performance while individuals are viewed as little more than morally neutral responders to group stimuli.

The error in this approach is that a church attender’s relationship with God is viewed as inconsequential to the equation, while at the same time his or her opinion about what should happen in a church service is given near canonical authority.

Perhaps two vignettes may open a window to a more balanced approach. There was a brief period of time when children from the neighborhood used to wander into my church office to say hello. The only motivation I can divine for young children visiting a middle-aged man working at a desk in the middle of the afternoon is a profound case of boredom on their part. Busy about my work, I was not usually the greatest company, but now and then I would stop to chat.

On one such day, a young boy found me typing out the words to Charles Wesley’s great hymn, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” My young visitor inquired as to my intentions. I explained the song would be sung in our church on Sunday morning.

I read the words to him: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of his grace.” I asked if he understood what I had read. He assured me he had no idea what those words meant or why anyone would find such an old hymn particularly interesting. He hated church and to suffer through such a song would, he explained, add new meaning to the word “boring.” That was a challenge I could not resist.

“What would happen,” I queried, “if you went to a Twins game—not just any Twins game but the seventh game of the World Series. The game is tied in the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, two strikes, and no one on base, your favorite player hits a towering home run and wins the series! Would you cheer? The roar of the crowd would be deafening, yet you would add your voice to the thousands of fans screaming at the top of their lungs. And tell me, when you got home that night, would you tell anyone about your experience? Of course you would. You couldn’t wait to tell your friends all about the game.”

I continued: “That’s kind of why I want to sing ‘O For a Thousand Tongues’ in church on Sunday. One day, Jesus washed my sins away and made me his child. He redeemed me, rescuing me from hell and giving me a home in heaven. And there are times I wish I had a thousand tongues to sing praises to such an awesome Savior! I don’t find this song boring because it helps me express my heart’s passion and love for God.”

My speech failed to persuade my young friend who looked at me as if I had been speaking Latin for the last few minutes. Come to think of it, perhaps his expression mirrored that of many church visitors during the singing of Wesley’s great hymn—a look of confusion that betrays an inability to “relate” to such an outdated mode of expression.

I care not to address the wisdom of retaining or discarding old hymns. My point is simply this: does not the responsibility for boredom with a church service rest, to a significant degree, on the shoulders of the worshiper? Should a hymn, which has endured the test of time, be stripped away from God’s people merely because it does not appeal to the ear of individuals who do not love God?

Sometime after the brief exchange mentioned above my young visitor dropped in again, this time with a friend. While pecking away at my keyboard I asked the friend if he ever thought of coming to church. Absolutely not, I was assured in no uncertain terms. Pressed to give a reason he dropped what he apparently fancied the logical equivalent of an atomic bomb on my solicitation. “Church is boring,” he announced with an air of finality, as if his charge trumped all argumentation.

Knowing a little of the boy’s circumstances, I asked if he thought visiting his mother was boring. Did it bore him to spend time with her? Did it bore him when she talked to him, made him a meal, or wrote him a letter? “No way,” he assured me. He loved spending time with his mom and was somewhat offended that I would suggest otherwise.

“Here, then, is your problem with church,” I said. “Why does relating to your mother not bore you? Because you know her and you love her and so you get excited about being with her. Do you know why you find church boring? Because you do not have a relationship with God. You do not love him and so you find talking about him and to him rather boring.” His flippant demeanor changed to one of contemplation and I assured him God was interested in changing his state of affairs.

It crossed my mind that I needed to pray for this boy’s salvation. It never crossed my mind that we should design our church services to his liking. What does someone who does not know God know about the corporate worship of God? What does someone who does not think God’s thoughts during the week know about what constitutes a good sermon on Sunday?

I realize some would argue that such thinking will never attract such children to our church. I am not sure I agree with that objection, but even still, I do not think people who are bored with God should be given unimpeachable authority to dictate to those who do love him just how they should worship on the Lord’s Day. Corporate worship is not entertainment. It is worship. And when we worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), there will be some who do not understand. My mission is to help them understand so that they can join me in corporate worship with the kind of longing that wishes for a thousand tongues to sing.

I would even go so far as to suggest that church services are, generally speaking, less than ideal settings for unbelievers to seek God. Church services are a time when people who already have a relationship with God come to worship him in community and to deepen their walk with him. Might not such services be expected to “bore,” or at least scare off, people who do not enjoy a vibrant relationship with God (Acts 5:13-14)?

Rather than entertaining unbelievers in the church and nudging them ever so pleasantly to salvation, the church should be spiritually strengthened in its meetings to go out from the assembly and to reach people on their own turf (Acts 2:47; 5:28). Once redeemed by Christ, new believers are equipped to attend church with a newfound capacity to appreciate distinctively Christian worship.

If I wanted to personally meet one of the Minnesota Vikings, I would not go to a game where he is on display in front of thousands of fans. I might meet him there, but I’d have a much better chance of meeting him if I could find someone who already knew him and was willing to introduce me to him. And if I met him, and came to know him as a close friend, how much more interesting Vikings games would become for me, even those games that others found boring.

In like manner, those seeking God should seek out someone who knows him and ask for an introduction (1 Peter 3:15; John 4:1ff). Once people are introduced to the Savior and come to know him intimately, boring church services have a way of being transformed into exciting encounters with the living Lord of heaven and earth.

This is especially true when those services are designed by passionate believers for passionate believers. In my experience such worship services prove far more God exalting than those marketed by the spiritually alive for consumption by the spiritually dead.


Dan has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.

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There are 8 Comments

Jason Boling's picture

Thank you Pastor Miller for the article. I am thankful to God every time I sing/hear a song that exalts my view of God. It's kinda cool that you had kids drop by your office - the time you spent with them very well could have made a difference in their lives.

Charlie's picture

Thank you for this article. I appreciate both the content and the pastoral examples. Perhaps I could nuance one piece of the argument?

Quote:
I would even go so far as to suggest that church services are, generally speaking, less than ideal settings for unbelievers to seek God. Church services are a time when people who already have a relationship with God come to worship him in community and to deepen their walk with him. Might not such services be expected to “bore,” or at least scare off, people who do not enjoy a vibrant relationship with God (Acts 5:13-14)?

I believe I agree with the point behind the words: church services are not the church's primary means of evangelism. I am interested, though, in the lesson of 1 Corinthians 14:21-26. Without getting into all the specifics, Paul seems to be saying that a gathering should be conducted one way rather than another, because of the possible presence of unbelievers. I conclude that our services should be windows into the Christian life, so that visiting unbelievers, though they are necessarily somewhat on the outside, nevertheless are able to perceive what Christianity is about and that God is really among us. Certain practices might tend more toward a cloudy window, whereas others offer a clear picture. Some traditions, slogans, and behaviors may appear so strange that the unbeliever feels as if they are on the wrong side of one-way glass.

We should at least be conscious of how our activities will be perceived by outsiders. A complete lack of attention to "relevance" is likely to result in a cloudy window. On the other hand, some attempts to be relevant backfire just as badly, if not worse. To gain some perspective, here is a humorous youtube video: What if Starbucks Marketed Like the Church? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7_dZTrjw9I

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Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Joel Tetreau's picture

It was meaningful but you lost my attention after the third paragraph. From there on it was kind of boring. Was wondering if you could include some pictures, graphs and maybe even a bit of color for your next article. Hey....while you're at it, why not pipe in some "Christian hip" music attatched to the article.....That would far more "relevant." Cool

Good job bro! Outstanding! I've often thought when ministering to groups overseas that have 3 hour services.....with no children's programs.....So what's our deal?

You nailed it!

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

You hit that nail on the head!
Christians are easily bored and bothered because Christ is not pre-eminent in many of the churches. They get bored if there is not something "new" every Sunday, or if the church is not like "so and so's church. They get bothered if the church leadership attempts anything that might disrupt their comfort zone. So, much time is wasted trying to entertain the bored and calm down the bothered that there is no time left for true Gospel-centered ministry.

dmicah's picture

i think some of this topic must be discussed in relation to the idea that the latter Boomers, Generation X and certainly the younger gens seem to be bored with everything, not only the church. we have converted apathy into an art form. i think for many, it is not just the church service they find boring, but the mundane manner in which many Christians live their faith. if we are not living the life 7 days a week, and seeing the Lord work mightily in the lives of people, then we should expect individuals to have a normal reaction to mediocre religiosity...boredom. I think it would be a mistake to assume that people claim boredom only in reaction to a traditional church service/traditional music. We have streams of apathetic folks rolling in and out of our church, which is anything but traditional.

So for a fundamental church the heart of this matter is not to adjust the service to the culture, or for the attender to merely adjust expectations in worship. It is for the body of Christ to be about the things we say we are about. When a church consistently lives out the faith daily, we demonstrate the transforming power of Christ. This moves the faith from being centered on a set of Sunday services to the position of a radically different, called out assembly that affects change in the life of anyone it contacts. Authentic Christianity is not boring. It will repel the religious and the scoffer, and it will attract the hurting and needy. But who could look at the life of Jesus or Peter or Paul and come away bored?

Becky Petersen's picture

Joel Tetreau wrote:

Outstanding! I've often thought when ministering to groups overseas that have 3 hour services.....with no children's programs...
jt

As one person who has lived in this environment...

My husband observed that mothers with young children (under a year) in the Ukraine often don't attend church at all til the child is old enough to either stay with a babysitter or grandma, etc.

Here in Poland, often the mothers end up taking the children out of the service to try to entertain them and/or keep them quiet. It makes for a long service! Either that or they let them run all over and it becomes an endurance contest for the preacher. Who wins? The child or the preacher? There were times when it is the 3-year-old!

When my own children were newborns, thankfully they slept through those early services in the waiting arms of a Polish lady. I was so grateful. My American missionary friends who also had newborns didn't have such compliant children, however, an usually ended up in the hallway waiting for the end of the service. It became almost humorous to go to church knowing you would end up in the hallway. You do begin to wonder why you are there...

This has nothing to do with the article in question--but rather a note about Joel's comment.

Boring church services are probably really not boring unless someone is just up there rambling and not making sense. The problem is usually the expectations of the listener/audience/church. They think they want to be entertained. Even "off the wall" sermons can be a learning experience for a person who is ready to learn something--even if it is "common logical fallacies in preaching". Smile

Pastor Harold's picture

Amen! Amen! That is what I would have said, only you did a much better job than I would have. Thank you Bro Dan!