A couple of weeks ago someone from our church posted a John Wimber quote on my Facebook page. Wimber wrote, “I’m concerned the Church has become more of a theatre experience, rather than a meeting place for people to encounter & interact with God. People don’t need more entertainment; they need to encounter the King.”
It’s a great quote, and I certainly agree with the sentiment of it, but I felt there was a reason this man posted the quote – a reason that was more than it being just a great quote. I asked him and I was right. He said he came across the quote when I was promoting our recent Good Friday service and it appeared to him that the service could perhaps contain entertainment.
All of this got me thinking about the question “Is it wrong for the church to entertain people?” Before I give my thoughts on this let me say that I agree with John Wimber in that entertainment is not the church’s purpose or goal. He was observing a phenomena that was rising in his day when the church was becoming increasingly a “theatre” experience that was more seeker-sensitive than Spirit-sensitive. I believe the main reasons we are to gather are to encounter God, grow deeper in our relationship with Him as well as to strengthen our relationships with each other.
But is it wrong to entertain people in the process of achieving these goals? Are they mutually exclusive? If we entertain people do they not encounter God? Can people only encounter and interact with the King if they are not entertained?
For answers to these questions we need look no further than the way Jesus taught as well as the content of the Bible. The vast majority of Jesus’ teaching was in story form (Parables). Telling stories was the primary entertainment of the masses in Jesus’ time. After a long discourse (recorded in Mark 12) that contained stories, an amazing answer to religious leaders who were trying to trap Jesus, and then a blunt rebuke to one of the leading religious sects (the Sadducees) the people were enthralled. Mark says, “The large crowd listened to him with delight” (Mark 12:37). Were they entertained? Absolutely! They were rapt. Their emotions were stirred. I can hear them whooping and cheering. Jesus entertained people and, while they were engaged, they encountered and interacted with God.
The Bible is full of language and writing that entertains people – there’s history, poetry, stories, drama, suspense, hyperbole, miracles, sinister plots (think Haman and Esther), proverbs, songs, fantasy, humor and a whole lot more. God could have given us a two-sided A4 page with “Things to do” on one side and “Things not to do” on the other, but instead He gave us a book that engages and entertains the imagination and enables us to encounter Him on every page.
Unfortunately many churches today see life in black and white and shades of grey. What a shame when the very nature of God in creation is so full of colour and entertainment that engages our senses. See the incredible variety of animals and plants, taste the amazing foods, smell the aromas of coffee & freshly baked bread, hear the sounds of birds singing their song, let sand run through your fingers on a warm day. God’s creation entertains and engages us and through it we can encounter Him. Should not the church gathering reflect these same qualities? I love encountering God in our church and all of the ingredients of our services make this possible.
In Jesus’ day people were entertained by stories. Today telling stories is still a big way of engaging people and communicating truth. In Today’s society however, we are blessed with technology. We can communicate, engage and yes, entertain people through film, social media, drama, dance, music, lights, pictures, artwork and so much more. In an age where the adult attention span has reduced to an average of six minutes I believe that entertaining people is even more important because if they tune out how will we communicate life-changing truth?
Is it wrong for the church to entertain people? Not at all!
Rob Buckingham is the senior pastor of Bayside Church – www.baysidechurch.com.au