Opinion: “Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit, excitement is not”




I looked around. I was the guest speaker in a large, successful church, and the service was hopping – literally. The congregation were well into the songs, and a gaggle of enthusiastic teens had rushed to the front of the auditorium to the edge of the stage, where they were dancing to the high energy tunes. On stage, the worship team were technically brilliant, the graphics on the huge screen behind them stunning. Each member of the band (there were about ten of them) looked like they had stepped out of a fashion magazine. Fabulous teeth that facilitated gleaming smiles, the ladies all young and beautiful, and the chaps all appeared to be sporting six-pack abs and fruit-of-many-workouts biceps. (I wondered if slightly overweight, average-looking folks were banned from the platform, but surely the ‘ugly’ quota would be more than fulfilled once I got up to preach.)

Everything looked great, but inwardly, something still wasn’t right with me. I often feel like that in church. Everyone else seems totally caught up in the holy moment, and I catch myself fretting; distracted; questioning; anxious. I feel more like a refugee than a local. Perhaps you know the feeling.

What’s wrong? I asked myself. This church had grown from a fledgling plant to a thriving congregation of 2,000 people in ten years, and had planted other congregations in that fruitful decade. I didn’t know the pastor well, but he came across as an authentic leader and a brilliant communicator. So what was up?

I wondered if I was struggling because this was the third service of the morning. I had sat through all the songs, announcements, the ‘spontaneous’ witty asides twice already, and perhaps this was just beginning to feel a little redundant.

But that was not it. My home church has three Sunday morning services, which means that I get to hear myself three times over when I preach. I’m used to repetition. And then I identified the source of my vague disquiet. These are great people. The music is wonderful.

And, beneath the surface, they are truly committed to the gospel – the financial giving of the church shows that they mean business and are willing to sacrifice to full their mission. It’s all good … but … it’s all just too exciting. I couldn’t attend this church regularly, because I can’t be that thrilled about being a Christian that regularly. Being ecstatic about being a follower of Jesus on a weekly basis is just beyond me.

As the thought registered, the worship leader stepped up a gear in terms of exhortation, yelled that Jesus was awesome, and with a hint of rebuke in his voice, commanded the now sweaty congregation to dance more, shout louder, clap together, because Jesus was worth it. Inwardly, I groaned.

Now don’t misunderstand me. Despite my 61 years, I can shout and clap and even bop with the best of them, even if my dancing does look a little uncoordinated and people have been known to want to call for medical assistance when I break into my jerky, frenetic moves. I love to see a congregation giving their best when they praise the Lord. Sullen, spectator churches depress me.

But I worry when church has to always be exciting. When every service has to be a breakthrough, when every gathering has to result in an eye-popping, life-altering encounter with God, and when we have to be excited all the time, surely some unhealthy traits emerge.

First off, life isn’t always exciting. On the contrary, I recently spoke to a young widow whose 35-year-old husband had just passed away following a brave, five-year battle with multiple brain tumours. She’s trusting all right, but she’s far from excited. There’s the danger that we reduce faith to having excited feelings, and then when those feelings fail to appear, we wonder where God has gone.

And then there’s the problem that looms if every service has to be awesome. Quite simply, we can end up faking it, over-egging what happens because we’re desperate for a result.

Surely sometimes church can be predictable. We get together, sing our songs, pray our prayers, open the great Book, ponder its meaning, affirm our faith, and go home. No mountaintop transfiguration experience required, just the people of God huddling together and reminding each other that they are the people of God, and that Jesus is still alive.

Surely we should make allowances for church to be rather ‘boring’ sometimes? The Early Church must have had at least a few services where they weren’t dancing on the tables. Some of their gatherings were punctuated by deep disagreements. And on one glorious occasion, the apostle Paul droned on for so long that a hapless young chap fell asleep and tumbled out of a window. OK, so they raised him up (that bit was exciting) and the slumber was explained by the lulling warmth of oil lamps burning rather than the apostle being tedious, but it happened nonetheless.

Boredom is part of tenacious relationships. Not every conversation with a trusted friend will necessarily be exhilarating. Marriage isn’t scintillating every day. Can’t the same be true of the collective relationships that we call church?

Recently, there’s been a call for worship songs that more accurately reflect the different seasons of life. There’s been a dearth of ‘songs of lament’ that can be used to express struggle, doubt and pain.

While I think such songs would be challenging to write (‘Let’s all stand together and sing number 47: I’m naffed off, how about you?’), surely there should be some songs that are appropriate for when a national disaster is announced, or that can express uncertainty, fear, or despair.

The great songbook of the Bible, the book of Psalms, contains plenty of these statements; frequently the psalmist asks, why, how long, and even “God, where have you gone?” Can we not create songs that express the full texture of life here on this broken planet?

Perhaps I should start a new organisation called the International Federation of Occasionally Boring and Predictable Churches. That’s silly, I know. Nobody would join. But we could at least give each other permission to truthfully say that life is not an endless hop, skip and jump, and that, at times, although we’re still trying to follow Jesus, we’re dragging our feet as we do so. Weekly exuberance is therefore not always required. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit; excitement is not.

This is an extract from Staying in the Boat by Jeff Lucas. It is published by CWR and available here:

All Photo Credits: Getty images

Jeff Lucas

Author and speaker Jeff Lucas travels internationally in a ministry of Bible teaching which carries a specific vision to encourage and equip the church. He is the author of fourteen books. He writes a monthly column for Christianity Magazine, as well as daily Bible notes for CWR entitled Lucas on Life Every Day.

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