I’m sympathetic with the pastor who wrote this post. He complains that Christians’ passions are rarely awakened by worship in the same way they are by, say, sports or movies. After admitting to his own passionate response to action movies, he writes:
Now the point: nobody, I notice, engages my sermons this way. Nobody seems viscerally involved, vicariously transported, by my exposition of 1 Corinthians or my teasing out of the nuances of the Chalcedonian Creed. Occasionally, on one of my better days, my humor tickles them. My urgency moves them. My pathos touches them. And, quite often, a number of people get physical during the singing—arms lifted high, head tilted back, eyes closed. Some even dance, in a Baptist kind of way, which is to say they weave their shoulders slightly and do a little two-step with their feet.
But no one seems to lose themselves. No one gets as personally involved in word and worship as my father did with linebackers or as I do with action heroes.
When I was in seminary, I pastored a small church. We worshiped between 50 and 60 on Sundays. It was small enough that I would feel the absence of one or two large families on a given Sunday.
This was a slight problem for me in the fall, during college football season. One of the families that anchored the church—a family I love dearly—were also the most passionate University of Georgia football fans I’ve ever met (which is saying something, believe me). They traveled by entourage to all the games, both home and away. When there was an away game on Saturday, I could count on their large corner of the church being empty the next day, as they were traveling home from wherever UGA had played.
I hated those away games! My only consolation, as an embittered, die-hard Georgia Tech fan, was found in their losing those away games. I wanted to say to visitors to church on that Sunday, “It’s not usually this empty! Come back next week! Georgia’s playing at home!”
But I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I became too indignant about it. “Why do so many people like sports and movies more than church?” Heck, I like sports and movies more than church! I mean, not all sports and not just any movie, but I get passionate about these things—and especially music—more than I get passionate about going to church. As a pastor, I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s true.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is, by all means, the greatest story ever told. But we know the ending already. Worship isn’t surprising or suspenseful. Besides, saying that we get more passionate about things other than church isn’t the same as saying that we regard these things as more important or more necessary. I’m not saying that our passions can’t become idolatrous, but they don’t necessarily become that way.
Moreover, I don’t like the false dichotomy that this article implies. It says that there’s this part of the world that belongs to God—like churchgoing—and this part of the world that doesn’t belong to God—like sports and movies.
One Thanksgiving many years ago, my mom tried to implement a new tradition. As we gathered around the table for the meal, Mom had each of us—children, grandchildren, in-laws, friends—say one thing that we were thankful to God for. Most of the responses weren’t very original. “I’m thankful for my family.” “I’m thankful for my health.” “I’m thankful for Jesus.” I wanted to gag!
When it was my turn, I said, “I’m thankful for Sleater-Kinney.” I had to explain to my un-hip relatives that they were (at the time; they’ve since broken up) an amazing female punk-rock trio out of Olympia, Washington, who had set my world on fire the previous year. I ♥ Sleater-Kinney! Seriously! I still do!
My sister Susan scolded me: “Brent, be serious!” But I was serious! One thing I was very thankful to God for over the previous year was Sleater-Kinney. I found God in their music.
One thing I’m passionately interested in communicating to my parishioners is this: If it’s good, it’s from God. That good game is from God. That good movie is from God. That good piece of music is from God. Every good gift, if it’s truly good, is from God. So our hearts should be overflowing with gratitude for these gifts as well.