Ahh, the Olympics! That great quadrennial celebration of dedication, fortitude, drama, and patriotism!
I love the Olympics.
Unfortunately, I have not had much time to watch them this year. I did, however, get to have a conversation last night, though, that got me all caught up on what’s been going on.
But it also got me thinking, which is dangerous.
I began to think of the ways that members of the American church tend to treat church like we treat the Olympics. And, as much as I love the Games, I wish we’d stop using the same approach for our life as the Bride of Christ.
Viewing Worship As A Spectacle For Our Entertainment
The Olympics are entertaining. Most of us are mesmerized by the national pageantry, the dedication of the athletes, and the great human interest pieces the networks put together. We watch the Olympics because we are entertained by them.
And that’s ok.
But what about when we treat the church’s worship the same way? As a spectacle for our entertainment?
That’s a problem.
Don’t think we do it?
Have you ever gone out to eat with someone after a Sunday service? It seems that conversations over these meals inevitably includes at least one of the following statements:
“The atmosphere was so good today at church! When they did that spoken word breakdown in the middle of “My Chains Are Gone” I got goosebumps!”
“The music team was a little off today and I wish they wouldn’t do that one song.”
“Today’s message was so good! Pastor’s story about the fish and the donkey was hilarious!”
While there’s nothing wrong with talking about the service, the music, or the message over lunch on a Sunday, there’s a terrible temptation to evaluate those things on whether or not they “moved us” or whether or not we “got something” out of them.
But church worship isn’t supposed to entertain us: it’s supposed to glorify God and further his purposes in and through our lives. Reducing the worship service to something we evaluate on its capacity for amusing us is to imagine that it occupies the same space as the Olympic broadcast in our lives: something we watch rather than something we engage in.
Leave the Work to The Professionals
Which leads to a second way we treat church like the Olympics: we leave the work to the professionals.
Just like Joe the Plumber doesn’t compete as an Olympic figure skater, the average church-going person in the USA doesn’t serve in the church.
In the American church, we have predominantly accepted a model of ministry that draws a line between “normal” Christians (those who show up to events, throw a few dollars in the plate, and go home) and “professional” Christians (those who get paid to plan, advertise, and pull off church events).
But church is not defined in the Bible as a package of programs put on by professional pastors for the passive masses.
Just look at what Peter writes regarding the church:
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10, CSB)
He’s talking about the church as a gathering of people redeemed by God, not as a group of plebes sitting on the one hand and watching a group of pastors work on the other. The church as a whole is to be engaged in the task of representing, praising, and declaring the glory of God in the Gospel.
In the same letter, he later writes:
“Just as each one has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of the varied grace of God.”
The assumption in Peter’s vision of the church is that everyone is engaged, everyone is serving, and that such service is stewardship of God’s grace.
Leaving the work to the professionals is poor stewardship. Every member of the church actively engaged in the ministry of the church is the biblical ideal.
Something That Has No Lasting Impact On Our Lives
Finally, it’s often tempting to treat church as something that, like the Olympics, makes no lasting difference in our lives.
We’ve all been there: sitting there in front of the TV, munching on our potato chips, watching these lean, controlled, wired athletes accomplish seemingly superhuman feats. Then, it hits us: we’ve got to get in shape. We commit to sitting in front of the TV less, to eating fewer chips, to exercising more.
And then, four years later, we have the same thought as we sit in front of the TV again, eating our chips.
Too many Christians slog through their church years, listening to sermon after sermon, going to Bible study after Bible study, and yet there’s never a tangible difference in their lives. They still hate the same people they did when they started. They still have the same foul mouths they did before. It seems they never change.
Let’s be honest: sometimes “they” are “us.” Sure, we get inspired sometimes. Sure, we make promises of change. But, somehow, we never get around to it.
But church is supposed to be a radically transformative experience. As we interact with brothers and sisters and the Word and the Spirit, we’re supposed to start looking different.
Like the Olympics, so long as church is something that happens around us, in front of us, but not to us and never involving us, we’re never going to change.
In all these ways, and more, we treat church like we treat the Olympics. But there’s a better way: get involved. Engage. Plug in. Do something.
Don’t view worship as a source of entertainment. Instead, view it as your joyous responsibility in Christ. Sing loudly, pray fervently, listen expectantly, give joyfully, and wait patiently.
Don’t see ministry as the exclusive domain of professionals. Rather, see it as an opportunity for you to showcase God’s glory through the gifts he has given you. Don’t know where to start? Just ask where you can serve. And even if it’s just by cleaning toilets or rocking babies, give it all you’ve got.
And don’t expect church to not make any difference in your life. Instead, expect your engagement with brothers and sisters to be continually transforming you to look more like Jesus. Expect change, help others change, and allow yourself to be changed.
Let’s leave spectating for the Olympics and jump into being the church with both feet!