We live in a day and age within the “church” that when we go to church we want to “get something out of the service.” What are we hoping to get? Are we just consumers of the gospel? I hope not. Yet, often I believe that’s what we’re looking for…a “feeling.” Why is that? Is that what it means to be a Christian and go to church? Is it just to “feel” something? Now, please don’t get me wrong. I’m firmly convinced we can feel and sense the presence of the Lord in a tangible and real way when we worship, but is that the goal? Just to feel something?
I recently read a blog by Dan Burrell that really got me thinking about this. Here’s an excerpt:
“Is it that we go to church to experience the service…the emotion of it above the teaching of the gospel and the accuracy and fact of Scripture? In other words, are people more interested in feelings than facts? Is it that we want to ‘experience’ a spiritual feeling even if that feeling comes at the expense of neglecting orthodox and doctrinal instruction? We want a God that makes us feel better about us more than we want a God Who helps us to see us for who we really are and what we genuinely need. Thus, our churches spend great energy and resources on creating an experience in ‘worship’ rather than the presentation of the ‘Word.’ Doctrine is downplayed as divisive, boring and even transitional. What matters is the pragmatic effect of shared experiences, emotional movement and a sloppy form of self-affirmation that emphasizes style and sincerity and a nebulous form of spirituality.
In this world, Oprah is as much a spiritual leader as Billy Graham; Joel Osteen and Robert Schuller outshine more studious prophets as John MacArthur or Warren Wiersbe. There is a danger in a cold orthodoxy that never touches the heart. We can’t be so afraid of emotion and compassion and expression that it makes our faith impotent or simply a matter of intellectual assent. The practical effect of the gospel is a changed life, rearranged priorities and a passion for the things of God demonstrated in daily living. But one has to wonder if the typical Western church today spends as much time in exegeting (teaching verse by verse) the Word as it does in creating an ‘atmosphere.’ Does the average preacher plan the feel of the service with as great precision as he studies the content and context of the Gospel he preaches? Have we sacrificed our sound doctrine for a social activism which leaves us with a false sense of accomplishment that lasts only as long as the adrenaline rush of self-congratulatory emotion that follows a pseudo-spiritual exercise?”
Strong words indeed from Mr. Burrell. But, I believe he’s right and as a Pastor…the goal of any service must be to lift up Jesus in the totality of what we do. We work hard to do so at Mt. Pleasant. Are we perfect at it…no way. But, here’s what I know. I know that Pastor Brad and I work very hard to magnify the name of Jesus in song and in the Word. We work diligently to present the gospel in a way that is understandable, uplifting, at times convicting and even “hard,” and encouraging. The Holy Spirit does the work. Ultimately the goal is NOT just an “experience,” but an “encounter” with the Living God of the universe. When one experiences God in this way one will experience Him on all levels…emotionally, intellectually and beyond.
Burrell goes on to point out:
“I want us to consider how our culture gets caught up in experiences and emotions -from the way we exalt athletics, to the ads we will have pummel us as Christmas approaches, to what passes as worship these days in a typical evangelical church. Even we as believers tend to get swept up in catastrophe or tragedy and almost become paralyzed in an irrational frenzy of grief or morbid curiosity such as when a celebrity dies like Princess Diana, Michael Jackson or Anna Nicole Smith. Why is that Kanye West and Taylor Swift are followed more enthusiastically than the nine men and women who interpret our very constitution? It’s time we ask ourselves if we are chasing fool’s gold. In our personal lives, our homes, our businesses and yes…. in our churches. Today’s evangelical believer is more offended by someone who speaks with authoritative passion and a sense of absolute truth than they are about the carnal and sensual messages of today’s entertainment industry. As a result, our churches are filled with ‘show’, our sermons are filled with ‘fluff’ and our hearts are filled with ‘darkness.’ Believers must be careful to search for truth. Preachers must be careful to preach the Word. And all of us must take care to keep from chasing ‘fool’s gold.'”
Well said Mr. Burrell and a message that this preacher will take to heart as I seek the Lord weekly on how we are to preach and teach the gospel of our precious Lord! All of us need to look deep within and sincerely ask ourselves: Am I a student of the Word of God with an appetite to hear the Word and to fellowship with other believers so as to be equipped to do the work of the gospel, or am I at church just to be entertained? God help us to sincerely have a desire for Him that translates into our desire for His Word and then practicing in the world what we’ve learned from Holy Writ.