It’s all about finding that sweet spot.
Each of us is different, but we all look for those things, experiences, and relationships that please us. Life worth living can often be measured in terms of how we feel and how attractive something is to us.
When rightly directed, pleasure is a very good thing. When misdirected, even what captures our fancy can turn ugly. In this regard, there is one area that for many Christians is sacrosanct and seemingly beyond criticism: Worship.
The local radio station plays the latest Christian songs. The Sunday church service typically draws the members with well known songs. CD’s, downloads, concerts, and YouTube video clips register in the mega-millions. Music is both powerful and popular. And, in the minds of many, it shouldn’t be messed with.
But that special spot can be numbed or even damaged, if abused. And so the question at hand:
What impact does entertainment have on worship?
According to online dictionaries, worship is “reverent honor and homage paid to God”, whereas entertainment is “something affording pleasure, diversion, or amusement, especially a performance of some kind.” Both have to do with pleasure. Both involve personal expressions and experiences and often involve music. However, what makes them different is their direction.
Worship emphasizes human expression toward God and for his pleasure.
Entertainment emphasizes human experience toward self and for self-pleasure.
Neither can exist equally with the other, because they aim in opposite directions; one away from self and one toward self. When the motive of a worship service or similar performance that is orchestrated to offer praise toward God is packaged with the primary intent of bringing all participants into a combined expression of pleasure for God, then worship can be enjoyed by all.
However, when those same events and gatherings are designed to draw the interests and enjoyment of participants, entertainment forces an opposite direction to the pleasure of the expression. When churches build up their bands to reflect the popular music of their target audience, they cause a direction of flow that cannot remain toward God. Suggesting that once the audience is hooked, then the ministers can go to work at turning the unsuspecting attendees toward God, is what in marketing terms is called bait-and-switch, and is not only illegal, but highly immoral. By definition, entertainment directs enjoyment toward self, and worship directs self toward God.
This is not to say that we cannot enjoy worshiping God, rather that the expression can only be designed with one direction. Worship cannot remain worship, if it is presented as entertainment, if it is designed with the intent of attracting the attention and pleasure of the crowds, or if it distracts the participants from keeping the direction of the expression clearly in focus.
By nature, we are all wired toward that which makes us feel good. It is little wonder then, that if left to our own natural motivations, we would all rather to attend a church that sings songs we like. We all have a tendency to desire church services that make us feel good. We easily gravitate toward youth groups that have activities and friends that excite us. We turn on our radios and listen to our iPods to hear artists that cause our heart to leap, our feelings to soar, and our sweet spot to tingle.
The problem, is that all of this is focused on me, me, me. Even when it has powerful words and catchy tunes that celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ, when worship becomes entertainment, it stops being worship.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
It is something to think about. Worship or Entertainment. Do the mega-stars of Christian pop culture reflect a life of the Cross? Does your church promote the born-in-a-manger kind of environment, or does the glitz of the facility, or the skill of the media presentation, or the draw of the activities point toward what you want and like? Do you voice your own praise because you are attracted to that song, or do you strive to give pleasure to God in the ways he requests of his faithful?
Think about the Lord’s words and see if you can recognized how well it describes most stars on stage, whether of music or teaching:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law [like many seen on TV or who write popular study books] and the Pharisees [like religious leaders with titles and recognized status in churches] sit in Moses’ seat [or today they represent Christ to the body of believers].
‘So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.
‘They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. [Or, in our modern times, they often go to the other extreme and tend to remove all biblical burdens and teach what the masses want to hear].
‘Everything they do is done for men to see [like make-up and attractive staging] : They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long [like expensive suits, glittery jewelry, and top-of-the-line instruments]; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues [like fancy hotels, billboard charts, or the NY Times Best Seller list]; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces [like concert venues or at mega-churches or on radio stations] and to have men call them ‘Rabbi’ [like ‘Successful’, or my favorite, or my hero, or you are the best]…
‘For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Woe to you teachers” (Mt 23:1-13).
Recall John the Baptist’s words, “He must become greater, and I less”. Consider Paul’s declaration, “we do not peddle the word of God for profit”–no matter if it is spoken from a fancy pulpit or sung from a lighted stage. Another thought that might apply to your church’s next building campaign, or approval for a new audio system; “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that”. It is almost shocking the lengths to which churches and Christians will go to explain why doing what attracts others would be good for everyone. It seems that the pattern of the Lord to reach into the needs of others and speak truth even when unpopular, without building up an empire, has been substituted for a more successful model of how to do church.
Which direction is your heart facing? What does your entertainment say about the status of your worship? It is fine to enjoy appropriate entertainment, but it is not ok to think that it can replace worship. Sadly, many take Christ in “an unworthy manner”, and bring serious disability into their own lives as a result. We cannot serve two masters, any more than we will be allowed to worship toward God while also trying to entertain toward self.
If you have gotten this far, then perhaps there remains within you a spark of life that might be willing to hear the truth. This is what your Lord desires in worship:
“We speak [and sing, and dance, and express our devotion to God in all the variety of true worship] as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God who tests our hearts.”
God is checking each heart, each church member, each worship leader, and each singer-of-Christian-songs, to see if the direction of our pleasure is clearly toward him, or more about what we want and like. As noted earlier, God will not allow anyone to remain a servant of Christ, if they continue to do what they do with the intent of attracting a following. Worship cannot survive when mixed with the intent of entertainment.
“Those in the realm of the flesh cannot please God”.
For he has “instructed you how to live in order to please God.”
God was pleased through the foolishness [rather than the attractiveness] of what was preached to save those who believe.”
It is one of those raw truths about surrendering to a holy God, that we must re-train our special spot to register pleasure as a result of first bringing pleasure to Another. Those who live for self will set their desires toward what they naturally like. Those who live for God will deny self, even to the point of putting their own pleasures to death, so as to be fully able to give all of themselves without diversion or distraction, for the pleasure of the Lord.
There is a lot of money in singing what people want to hear. There is a far better likelihood that your church will grow fast, and large, if you put on a performance and make people comfortable. Many will defend their approach as necessary for reaching the lost; or, as one pastor told me regarding their slogan of come-as-you-are and how that impacts their worship services, “there are probably more lost people in church than anywhere”. In contrast, there is also a real chance that you may be able to hear your own voice (due to how many have left the room for an attractive buffet somewhere else), if all you surround yourself with are those who are willing to worship for the pleasure of God, rather than for their own gain.
Worship is not so much about the style of music you prefer, or about the repetition from week to week that you like, or about the expression of ourselves toward God. Worship is about HIM. When we get the direction correct, we may soon discover how much we enjoy his real presence.
Yes, we can enjoy worship, but that must never lead the way. Yes, we may find the result of true worship pleasurable, but if it starts to mix entertainment in the expression, then the winds have changed and a storm is brewing.
It was during those horrific events of the passion week, that some experienced worship as they heard the cries of pain, the pounding of nails, and the barely audible prayers being whispered. Others experienced the entertainment of the procession, the jeers of the hand-waving crowd, the anapestic drum beat of the Lord’s plodding steps up to Calvary. As worship leader over the whole event, Pilate “wanted to satisfy the crowd”.
That was nearly 2000 years ago. What about in your week today? What is the direction of your pleasure? Do you claim worship, but tolerate entertainment? Do you sing “Hosanna in the highest”, but then later in the week shout “crucify him”? Does such worship from you come with music or other sounds of this life?
Worship seeks to please God. Entertainment for many Christians aims to use the name of God to justify getting what we like and want. Like a voice from the back of the room, I encourage you to reconsider what you may have allowed to mix in with your heartfelt worship of the Lord. Now may be a good time to dedicate your sweet spot to Jesus.
He is worthy of all worship.