What Is To Be Done About Boring Church Worship Services?

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Here is a musing note I wrote to students after grading some worship assignments.

I continue to reflect on how to make worship less boring. Perhaps it is not boring to you! Great!

I just think of atheists who say:

“I don’t want to go to heaven for eternity. I can’t stand one hour of being in church. An eternal worship service would be horrible. I would rather be in hell!”

I continue to think that Christian worship (if it is boring) needs to be engaging emotionally–perhaps by being more honest about the troubles and pain of life. Or perhaps by the leaders, artists, and musicians taking more risks.

If they do take risks, it will also be appropriate for part of the experience of those being led to be “critics” in the sense of discerning recipients (like people who go to movies or plays or concerts together and then discuss what struck them emotionally and what they didn’t like).

When a musician or artist has tried something new, it is not inappropriate to chat about it afterwards with friends. That is part of the experience. A student mentioned that K-Love radio station promotes itself as “positive and encouraging.”

And yet, interestingly, the top hits on the charts on Spotify are explicit. Or even if not explicit: painful like this song I think is catchy and a top hit right now: Imagine Dragons “Bad Liar” about divorce and separation.

Is it sinful that people want to listen to and resonate with angry, passionate songs? Or is it human to express the strongest emotions and we as Christians need to find ways to articulate and release and express those things too–as the psalmists did?

Is it that we are so deadened and calloused that we need horror movies and violence and nudity and explicit language in Rated R movies to get an emotional reaction?

Yes, maybe. We are coarsened so that we need increasingly stronger stimulants to get a reaction. That would be a reason not to expose oneself to that stuff–so that you might remain pure and innocent. I agree with that to a large extent.

But I think worship leaders and pastor and Christian artists and communicators do need to be aware of how raw and broken and confused and self-destructive and passionate and unhinged human beings are and name that and surface that as a reality. That is a way to pave the way for

“confess your sins one to another.”

But that, of course, does not mean glorifying the sinful things or viewing them as hopeless, but I do think more of that exposure to human frailty and grappling with it would make our worship services more similar to the pathos of TV shows, plays, and movies. And I think that would be a good thing.

It is tragic to think of church services being seen as boring and ho-hum.

Instead, it should be like therapy or “every week our pastor and musicians bring it–they try to move us, engage us, wake us up. Sometimes they misfire and it turns out badly. Sometimes it is not hopeful enough. Sometimes it is too raw. Sometimes it is too positive and cheery. Sometimes it is too cheery.

But each week, they bring it. And broken people are coming. And people interested in reflecting on the human plight are coming. It is must-see TV. There is FOMO if you are not there because each week we are delving into the problems of life and pleading for God to be present and bring wisdom, strength, and hope.”

Andy Rowell is an Assistant Professor of Ministry Leadership at Bethel Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota. He blogs at www.andyrowell.net.

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