Words Matter - ENTERTAIN
“While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable:” Luke 8:8
“Contemporary worship is all about fun and entertainment”. It is a quote I have had uttered to me many times and that I have read more than I care to admit. The lights are dim, there may be a stage, there is a Pastor or speaker who moves around a lot and tells stories and it looks like a concert. For many people this is not worship and should not be the worship of the church, because it patterns itself after what people call the “entertainment” industry. Movies, concerts, coffee shops, places people go to check out of reality and be lost in someone else’ story.
In some cases I would agree that if you don’t understand the language or the communication style of the people in those environments it will look like a concert. I would also agree that there can be a danger in encouraging a “you sit back and relax and watch us worship for you” type of worship setting that is more likely to happen in contemporary and modern worship services than it might in traditional settings. But that is not just confined to the more contemporary environments as organs and organists can take over or play so loud or monotonously that it can have the same effect.
I want to say that our worship should absolutely entertain people! Some of you are curious and perhaps offended by that statement. Some of you might even be a little angry. Here’s the point I want to make when it comes to the value of entertainment related to worship. Webster’s dictionary defines entertain or entertaining with these three ideas (I put in the comments between the parenthesis):
: to have people as guests in your home or in a public place (such as a restaurant)
: to perform for (an audience) : to provide amusement for (someone) by singing, acting, etc.
: to keep, hold, or maintain in the mind (to hold one’s attention)
Have you ever thought of your church as a place that hosts guests? It is why the “greeter program” exists in your church, a modest attempt at acknowledging that we have guests who might enjoy a more comfortable entrance to our church home. We entertain guests with coffee, baked goods, pleasant smiles and conversation along with a cry room and other amenities to help a guest be comfortable. That is the church entertaining people.
The negative aspect of entertaining in worship has to deal with the idea of performance, which I will cover in another blog post. But the short of it is that providing amusement for people by telling stories, singing for them, acting out etc… is generally viewed as that poor form of entertainment. But that is precisely what a soloist does, or a choir might do, or an instrumentalist during the offering does. We wouldn’t use the word “amusement” we would say “edification”, but there is an element of performance.
The last one is the big one and it is the reason that I believe we need Pastors and communicators in worship that can entertain people. It’s knowing your people well enough and using the methods of communication at your disposal to hold a person’s attention. To help them understand the content (Law/Gospel/Justification/Sanctified living), we need to communicate in such a way as to hold their attention. Our hope is to entertain our congregation, translated, we hope that God will use our communication gift set to hold the attention of the people to the word of God and the message based on the text. Jesus himself often spoke in parables to hold people’s attention and to make points in ways that related to the audience he was speaking to, be it poor and bewildered or educated and pompous. Even his miracles would have entertained people in the best ways (think Lazarus). Jesus knew how to hold the attention of people.
Entertaining worship can be a negative thing when the focus is not on God and that is always the danger when people stand up and speak/sing for God regardless of the worship setting. But when our focus is on Jesus and when leaders understand their roles and can lead with servant leadership and confident humility, well let’s just say I hope everything we do entertains people for his sake!