Every Sunday when I look out on the pews, I’m reminded of childhood. There’s always a child picking his nose, yawning, sleeping, tapping, sprawling over her parents, etc.
I remember many years sitting between my parents in the pew, gnawing on my arm like Yakko, Wakko, and Dot from Animaniacs, just trying to get away. In one hysterical episode entitled “Chairman of the Bored,” the Warners are tortured by the longest, most boring, one-sided monologue of their lives—thanks to the drone-like voice of guest Ben Stein.
Well, that’s how I often felt as a child growing up in church. And I see that look on the faces of our youth today. I even see it on the faces of millennials.
Why does church have to be so boring?
Think about what sometimes happens before the sermon. There’s either an old hymn that uses language no one uses anymore (what is an “Ebenezer,” anyway?), or there’s contemporary worship music that, in most churches, sounds like karaoke night at the local pub.
Think about the sermon itself. The bulk of the sermon is a long monologue, much like Ben Stein’s. Personally, I try to keep this monologue down to about thirty minutes when I preach—but still! That’s longer than most citizens are willing to bear—we’ll hit fast forward through the president’s State of the Union address several minutes in (and what he says affects our lives immediately—can’t always say the same for the modern sermon.) Perhaps the pastor manages to say all the right stuff, but he says it in a very dull manner, and you leave asking yourself, “so what?”
Think about what happens after the sermon. There’s another old hymn or contemporary worship song to sing. Didn’t we just do this? Taken as a whole, it’s easy to see why some people think church is boring.
Think about communion. From a child’s perspective, the Lord’s Supper is probably one of the dullest aspects of the service. At least today, children are typically allowed to stay in the service during communion. In the early church and middle ages, this wasn’t the case and children were dismissed from this part. There is nothing for children to do but sit still (after a long car ride, after at least one to two hours into the service, more sitting).
A kid might be thinking, “Ooh, I’d love to climb those stairs right now.” “What if I cracked a joke right in the middle of this somber silence? Would I get a few chuckles?” “I hear the chewing; I hear the slurping; I see everyone participating in something that doesn’t involve me.” “Now I have to listen to all the sporadic coughing after people drink the red stuff. I’m so bored!” Week after week, it’s easy to see how boredom can quickly set in, especially when we’re confronted with so many alternative options that are entertaining—Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, the movies, plays, the news, our favorite sports team, a ballgame, etc.
What if church is actually not boring? What if it’s just that we don’t seem to find the right things interesting? This is what I came to acknowledge after I stopped being an atheist. The reality is, a whole lot is going on in the weekly public gathering of God’s people on Sunday morning. In truth, there’s much more than meets the eye (or ear).
Jesus promised his disciples his abiding, enduring, personal presence, even after his ascension. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matt. 18:20). What this means is that the church is a community that God has gathered as his own. It’s a special—nay, sacred—community that the Triune God has chosen to bless with his presence whenever it comes together. Perhaps there is a problem with our thinking and not with the church after all.
The author of Hebrews understood how hard it is to consistently attend church. God, writing through the letter to the Hebrews, understands that sometimes we just don’t want to show up to church. And to this, he urges us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24–25).
The truth is, church is not all about us. Church is not what we think it should be. Church is not how we feel it should be, or even how we are feeling that day. Church is about God giving to us, and us giving to others. “Let us consider how to stir up one another,” the Bible says. This is a very we- and not a me-focused mentality.
There are many ways that just showing up to church all by itself, actually, helps to encourage others in the Christian life. My wife and I alternate with our youngest son in the cry room, and time and time again we’ve noticed that our bodily presence at church—by itself—does wonders for others. The pastor is glad we are there. Others notice that we’re there—and sometimes they are hoping to speak to us about something that morning! All of these are good things that help to build up the body of Christ through mutual encouragement and love. Church is, therefore, an exciting rather than boring occasion!
God is doing something every Sunday. He calls us to himself, forgives us, and sends us back out of the church doors to help the rest of the world.