164) Getting Excited About Church (?)

Published on the Joe McKeever website on August 27, 2013 (adapted).  Dr. McKeever is the Director of Missions (retired) for the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans.

     “Pastor, the minute you decide church must always be exciting is the moment you begin turning the worship services into pep rallies.  After that, it all goes downhill.”  I said that on Facebook the other day and enraged a few people.  “Worshiping the Lord should always be exciting,” one person insisted.  I replied, “I’m doing the funeral of a 53-year-old man today.  It will be comforting, but not exciting.”

     But I do understand where the guy is coming from…  40 years ago, at the age of 33, I moved to the pastorate of the First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, a congregation that had declined somewhat during the last years of the previous pastor.  So, the young energetic visionary that I was, I asked the church to erect some billboards around town urging people to visit “The exciting First Baptist Church of Columbus.”  I admitted to our staff that mostly I was hoping to convince our own people.

     These days, when I see churches announcing that they are exciting or friendly or dynamic or whatever, I figure that for the most part they are trying to convince themselves.

     But shouldn’t a Church be exciting?  You are involved in the greatest work in the world, serving the Lord of the Universe, the Savior of the world, in a ministry that changes lives and results in a blissful eternity for those who believe.  What could be more exciting than that?

     It is exciting.  But not always.  The Lord had a reason for comparing serving Him in ministry to farm work.  Ask any farmer.  Life on a farm can be exhilarating with the glorious sunrises, the “feel” of the Springtime, the joy of seeing crops come up and crops gathered in, and the delights of eating things from your own garden.  But more often it’s something far less than exciting and looks a lot like hard work.  Eventually, in any kind of lifework we settle into a routine with regular highs and lows.  Serving the Lord can be the greatest honor of our lives, and it can be downright painful.  That’s real life.

     Much of the interaction between Moses, Israel, and the living God involved confrontation, condemnation, confession, and contrition.  The Old Testament books of Exodus through Deuteronomy inundate us with a sequence of painful stories that tell how God led those rebellious people for all those years.  And one thing we know for certain:  No member of that massive march from Egypt to Canaan went around singing, “Every day with Moses is sweeter than the day before!”  Exciting?  The wilderness experience was a lot of things, but for the most part, it was hard work, constant disputes, difficult assignments, and long walks across desert terrain

     There are indeed great and exciting moments in the Lord’s service.  Someone gets saved and gloriously so.  The congregation is rightfully thrilled and bursts into applause as he or she is baptized.  A new pastor is called and a difficult interim time is now history.  The congregation is excited and enthusiastically responding to his leadership.  The massive church debt which had crippled the ministries for years is finally retired, and the whole congregation turns out to burn the note and celebrate.  The pastor had no way of knowing that today’s sermon would be different, but for reasons known only to the Holy Spirit, his message really connected with everyone in the building, hearts were open to God in unusual ways, and worship went heavenward.  Exciting?  Few things are more exciting for the pastor.  Oh, that it were this way every time we meet for worship.

      But as soon as you decide every worship service ought to be exciting is when you start making some foolish decisions.  Once the people demand excitement in every service, you as the pastor soon resort to gimmicks and celebrity guests and inappropriate music and flashy ideas you picked up from friends. Pleasing God drops far down your list of goals, while pleasing your people takes over top billing.  It’s all downhill from there…

    When worship leaders make a conscious decision to keep everything exciting, they start going for noise, dramatic stories, special effects, and glitter.  Before long, they realize they have created a monster.  People who are addicted to these things find their appetite grows to monstrous proportions and are never satisfied, but want more and bigger and gaudier.

     I will go so far as to say that it is in times of drudgery that we do our best work for the Lord.  When a job has lost its glamour and you have to make yourself get up and don your working clothes and get to it one more day, that’s when you make your highest statement about honor and duty.  When the encouragers vanish and you find yourself tackling the assignment without their support, you will know whether you are called of God…

     I love exciting worship services, but excitement should be a by-product of faithfulness, and never the main goal.

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From a letter by C. S.Lewis to Mrs. Ray Garrett (September 12, 1960) on living in the present moment, without being bothered by lack of spiritual feelings of excitement.

     The whole lesson of my life has been that no ‘methods of stimulation’ are of any lasting use.  They are indeed like drugs– a stronger dose is needed each time and soon no possible dose is effective.  We must not bother about thrills at all.  Do the present duty, bear the present pain, enjoy the present pleasure; and leave emotions and ‘experiences’ to look after themselves.  That’s the program, isn’t it?         –From The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III

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II Timothy 4:1b-5  —  I give you this charge:  Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

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A Prayer For the Parish, by William John Butler, Dean of Lincoln

Almighty and everlasting God, Who dost govern all things in heaven and earth,
Mercifully hear our prayers and grant to this parish all things needful for it spiritual welfare.
Strengthen and confirm the faithful,
Visit and relieve the sick,
Turn and soften the wicked,
Arouse the careless,
Recover the fallen,
Restore the penitent.
Remove all hindrances to the advancement of thy Word,
And bring us all to be of one heart and mind in Jesus Christ,
To the honor and glory of thy Name.  Amen.