I saw the Astronaut Farmer this week (about a C+ on the Patented Lancaster Scale), and it got me to thinking, Why do we go to the movies in the first place? Aren’t these the kinds of experiences we should be having in church?
Let’s admit it right now. We can never make church more comfortable than sleeping in. If we plan to get people in the door by advertising how relaxing our atmosphere is, we will lose that battle. For entertainment value, there is little chance we can compete with whatever crappy shows are on TV Sunday mornings. If we want an evangelism strategy, let’s turn to Jesus.
Okay, turn to Jesus. Sounds like a good idea. How did Jesus gain followers? Step 1: Damn the rich (Mark 10:25). Step 2: Turn away possible converts, especially those who might be influential (see previous, also possibly John 3). Step 3: Insult politicians (Luke 13:32). Step 4: Condemn the religious establishment (Matthew 23:15). Step 5: Pour out yourself for others. Okay, maybe that last one in particular is worth looking at.
Authentic undeserved love is rare in today’s world. Lots of people believe lots of things. Some of them, like the Islamic terrorists, are even willing to die for what they believe. Compared to what Jesus calls us to, that’s easy. We’re called to daily suffer, not for the sake of suffering, but in order that we may show love to others. God wants us to be people ready and willing to have our hearts broken, yet loving others as he does, without thought to the pain, to the loss, or to our own selfish natures. I would be the biggest hypocrite if I claimed that I do this. Daily, my life centers itself around, well, me. Back to changing the world.
People aren’t looking for comfort. They aren’t looking for entertainment, per se. Why is that what we’re hyping? We’re not selling Coca Cola or Tic-Tacs. Why do we hype church as a product, when its about Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith? Jesus is never comfortable. He’s confrontational; he’s unpredictable; he’s actually dangerous. Do you know what the irony is? Those are the very reasons people go to the movies.
Comfort really isn’t a high priority in film. Most of the successful movies in fact do just the opposite. Suspense, drama, mystery, these are the very opposite of comfort. Horror is one of the most popular genera of the day, and the very premise is to tingle the spine. Now here’s the rub: these are the things the Christian faith is full of! Have we stripped down our Faith until no mystery is left? Don’t we expect God to show up and disrupt our Sunday service? We have deemed him as powerless, put him in an old folks home, and visit once a week so he’ll like us more than his other children who don’t call.
People go to the movies to feel suspense, experience purpose, and relate to a transcendent reality. People go to the movies to watch what they should experience in a healthy church service. If our services don’t have the suspense of an awesome, wild God, who told Moses to free his people, told Abram to leave and never look back, and doesn’t think it rude to request an impossible task from us, we’ll never reach a generation longing for a spiritual reality. If our churches can’t tap into the faith a generations of saints before us, showing how the last 2000 years have paved the way for God’s next great work, we will never mobilize to accomplish what God has in mind. And if we can’t supply the only genuine spiritual experience, whether through song, dance, prayer, preaching, or the sacraments, we will lose the culture.
We may market ourselves, serve coffee, and make big banners with our names on them, but if we don’t dangerously love others, we’d be better off driving down to the Galaxy 14, buying a bag of popcorn and sitting in the dark.
If church doesn’t feel dangerous, maybe we should ask ourselves – is God really here? Next Sunday, expect God to disrupt things.
If I speak and behind me are videos and PowerPoints, but have not love, I only add to the cacophony. If I wrote the book on Systematic Theology, if I can root out sin in others, if I can build ministries touching thousands and thousands, but have not love, I am less than nothing. If I sacrifice everything, go overseas, and willing die for my faith, but have not love, I am completely, totally worthless.