Not too long ago a friend who leads the music in his church mentioned to me that his pastor wanted their meetings to be more exciting.
Webster’s says exciting means “causing great enthusiasm and eagerness.” Certainly, nothing should cause greater enthusiasm and eagerness than meeting with the church to recount what God has done to save us from his wrath through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. All our sins are forgiven! We have been adopted into God’s family! Jesus has triumphed over sin, death, and hell! We are new creations! We are part of God’s unstoppable, unchangeable, unrelenting plan to have a people on earth who will display his glory, truth, righteousness, love, and compassion!
What can be more earth-shattering, soul-shaking, and EXCITING than rehearsing and reveling in those realities?
Boring or Exciting?
And yet, I didn’t sense that’s what my friend’s pastor was asking for. He saw that people were drifting and he wanted the worship leader to do something about it.
I understand the aversion to boring meetings. I’ve participated in them and led them. Awkward silences. Monotone speakers. No evident progression. Dull, disengaged repetition. People covertly checking their watches every five minutes. No sense of expectation. Or even interest.
In response, an increasing number of churches have sought to add elements to their gatherings that will make them more “exciting.” Meeting countdowns. Fast-paced videos. Engaging dramas. Creative humor. Breathless, energetic emcees. More upbeat songs. Smoke machines. Light shows. And a mindset that views dead space as the supreme excitement killer.
Getting the Goal Right
But our lives aren’t an unending string of exclamation points. Our meetings shouldn’t be either. (Neither should our emails, but that’s another topic).
Strictly speaking, God never says the goal of the church gathering is excitement. It’s edification for God’s glory. We meet to stir up one another to love and good works, not simply to have an emotionally electrifying time. We meet to behold God’s glory in Christ through his Word, responding in ways appropriate to his self-revelation (Heb. 10:24; 2 Cor. 3:18).
That doesn’t mean gathering as the church isn’t meant to be a soul stirring event. We have every reason when we’re together to be excited about what God has done for us in Christ. But that’s not the same as aiming for adrenaline-pumping, professionally produced, high energy, exciting gatherings alone. That approach leaves little room to engage in expressions normal for elect exiles on our way to a new home (1 Pet. 1:1-2). Expressions like disorientation (Ps. 42:1-5). Sorrow for sin (Ps. 38:1-8). Grief (Rom. 12:15). A humble awareness of our creatureliness before our Creator (Ps. 95:6-7). Not to mention reverence and awe (Heb. 12:28).
Our greatest need when we gather is not simply to feel excited, but to encounter God: to engage with the certainty of his sovereignty, the reality of his authority, the comfort of his mercy in Christ, and the promise of his grace. We need to be strengthened for the battles against the world, our flesh, and the devil that will confront us the moment we wake up Monday morning, if not before. Mere emotional excitement, however it might be produced, won’t be sufficient. We need God’s Word clearly expounded, God’s gospel clearly presented, and God’s presence clearly experienced. We need well crafted, intentional liturgies that cultivate God-honoring, Christ-exalting thoughts and desires (See Rhythms of Grace and Christ-Centered Worship for more on that). Our efforts to make our meetings exciting can actually end up obscuring what our congregations need the most.
Towards a More Profound Excitement
The alternative to making our meetings more “exciting” isn’t trying to bore people. But Sunday mornings aren’t New Year’s Eve celebrations. They aren’t rock concerts. They aren’t pep rallies. They aren’t World Cup finals. They’re something much more mundane, and at the same time something much more eternally and cosmically significant. Our plans, lights, smooth transitions, technology, videos, sound systems, visual effects, and creativity don’t make it so. Christ dwelling in the midst of his people through his Holy Spirit makes it so. That’s why if we understand what’s going on, sharing the bread and cup during communion can be one of the highlights of our week, transcending the greatest of world championship sports rivalries in its effect on us.
Every Sunday we get to gather with the saints Christ has redeemed and made one through his death on the cross. We join in with the hosts of heaven around the throne (Heb. 12:22-24). God speaks powerfully and personally to us through the preached word. The Triune God reveals himself and builds up the church through various gifts, acts of service, and activities (1 Cor. 12:4-6). What could be more thrilling?
Should our meetings be exciting? Absolutely. But let’s make sure they’re exciting for the right reasons. We’re remembering and celebrating the fact that Jesus, the Son of God, has clothed himself in our flesh, received God’s wrath in our place, risen from the dead, and is now reigning and interceding for his own until he returns to vanquish evil and spend eternity with his Bride, the Church.
And no matter how many times we’re reminded, that is exciting.
(You might also want to check out Should Worship Be Fun?)
Good article. Something needs to be said about this “forced’ problem in the Church. While a missionary in Europe, my husband was asked to speak at many different small churches. We learned to appreciate the down to earth-ness of the churches there. Then moving back to the U.S. the contrast was glaring. We Americans are trying too hard to make the church “experience” upbeat and positive. As if everyone should leave feeling happy. It all seems to phony and staged. God never meant for Church to be this way. We are a spiritual organism and our emotions should not be stuck in one gear. It is also Biblical and healthy to mourn, be convicted, and sober minded at church. Our joy goes beyond the external. But the way many churches act, it misrepresents to the congregation what the real Christian life is. So I say, lets be REAL in Church and stop the gimmicks. If the Gospel is being expounded week after week and it’s becoming clear to God’s people, there will be real Biblical joy without the church cheerleaders trying to produce it through carnal means.
Great reply. Liked it almost as much as the original article (which was fantastic as well, Bob). Thank you both for sharing. This whole concept is something that has been weighing on my heart and was thinking about it this morning before being led to this article.
I love that you’ve focused on those leading the service, but I’ve been struggling with how we change the “culture” of the those attending. For the following week after every service I hear comments, critiques, and criticisms on the music, the preaching, the “quality” and execution of the service, etc. It’s not hard to understand why pastors/churches try to refine their services hoping to make them more exciting. It’s sad that both sides have missed the fact that Sunday mornings are not supposed to be consumer driven experiences. It’s not about me getting what I want (quality, style, or otherwise) and it’s not up the the church to deliver it. I’m not sure who has to break the cycle first – but I long to walk away from a Sunday service only being able to talk about (and hear others talk about) the awe, splendor, and majesty of our King.
Thank you so much for this article. As a pastor who leads the music I am constantly worrying about our congregation being bored. I also wonder what my pastor means when he asks for the service to be “fresh.” Thank you for causing me to look up.
I was in a large church service once where the pastor came out after the smoke cleared and started heaving footballs into the crowd. The crowd went wild. It was a big college football weekend and every one wore their outfits, you know, team spirit.
I remember leaving in tears, pleading for God to have mercy on me (us).
Timely advice for my ministry! Thank you.
Re-read this blog. I don’t like artificial excitement, conjured up happiness, etc. However, I think when we encounter the Great Unpredictable One we should feel awe, exhilaration, and maybe excitement as we get to enter His presence and experience the great privilege we have in Jesus. On the other hand, I feel too often our “worship” can be just songs, mechanical, predictable, and down-right boring. I crave the former, but too often experience the latter. Yes, I know that is mostly my problem, but it doesn’t help when I can almost mouth the leader’s words and know verbatim the routine from the past several yeas.