Last night i went to a college group called "Crave" at Saddleback Church. This church is MASSIVE. This is also the church who is led by Rick Warren, author of "the Purpose Driven Life", which i have not read. Aside from the quick judgements i have a tendency to make about mega churches and self helpish books, it is important to remember that the Word is proclaimed here at Saddleback. They are also very globally aware with a large HIV/AIDS initiative program (with which a graduate of taylor is big part) and many missions teams going out throughout the year. With that being said, here is my problem:
When my friend and I arrived, worship had already begun. And by worship i mean, rock concert. Light show, bass way to loud, everything way to loud. It was entertaining, thus it was distracting. However, what i was being distracted from was a bunch of worship songs in which the focus was on feeling. How God's love makes me feel. What about the deeper, more meaningful, less emotive implications of His love? These heavily emotive and contemporary songs definitely have their place, but when they take the place of those songs (primarily, but not limited to, hymns) which are so deep and rich in theology, then we know there is a problem. The choice of feely songs, coupled with the rock concert feel that was being promoted, perturbed me more than a bit. I'm not one to promote the traditional-like services, but i could have used a little organ or something. I felt like i was being bombarded with an ultra sensory experience, like they were trying to create a feeling within me. It bothers me when Christians decide that entertaining a person is the only way to move them. If we really believe what we believe, shouldn't the implications of what we believe be quite moving in and of itself. Enough to move mountains some might say.
As I sat thinking, and talking about this with some people afterwards, the words of my dear teacher from my high school expository writing class came to mind. Over a few classes we discussed what came to be called "the age of exposition" and "the age of show business". As may be clear to you, we currently live in the latter. Whereas in days past, the days of Abe Lincoln and the like, people would speak in a highly complex and expository manner that required much attention to retrieve the depth of the words, nowadays, those who speak in front of people tell jokes, recite anecdotes, tell moving stories, speak in short, often trite, sentences so as to not lose the focus of those who may be listening, to entertain, and to push people towards a feeling of joy, pain, empathy, or panic, whichever emotion best suits his or her purpose as a speaker. This is the age of show business. Entertain them, draw them in and create an emotion because if we can make them feel like they are in need of something or make them feel excited, then we have done our job. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG. Granted, often it is necessary to speak things in simple terms, so as not to lose people along the way, but we can't water things down and present a gospel that is based on the feeling that you get when you step into church. Its wrong and its a lie. And its sad.
The saddest part is that when this feeling disappears, what is this new believer left with? If you are drawn in based on a feeling, life without that feeling will seem wrong--after all, you were reeled in under the impression that Christianity creates that feeling. Christianity will turn out to be yet another spiritual disappointment. That is the tragedy of it all. Its not that it is bad to be entertained, but when entertainment giving way to emotion is substituted for exposition giving way to understanding (and then, most likely, emotion), a person is left with a poor substitute and is cheated out of something much more real.
I do, also, understand what a difficult job youth and college pastors have. How to be "relevant" and also retain some sort of "church-like" aspects. This is why i think that meetings like "Crave" are just a testament to the difficulty of finding a balance, and an example of a church that chose to be more "relevant" than traditional. Ok. thats fine. I just hope that this isn't where these students go for church. I hope that this sort of thing is considered more of a social gathering than a church service. That is my hope, but unfortunately i think i hope in vain.
I end with my favorite verse of one of my favorite hymns:
"Be thou my wisdom and Thou my true Word. I ever with Thee and Thou with me Lord. Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, sill be my vision, oh Ruler of all."