Worshiptainment: An Idol in Our Lives and Our Churches that Must Be Brought Down
Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, A.W. Tozer, a highly respected pastor, author, and theologian, was concerned that people just wanted to be entertained, even when they came to church. His fear was that society in general was moving towards an insatiable desire to be entertained. It seems his fears were well-founded and the subject needs to be revisited once again.
Like many, I have been in public settings where people would normally be interacting but they were all staring at their phones. It seems the next tweet, Instagram photo, or Facebook post was more captivating than the people around them. And now, our reliance on social media for stimulation and entertainment has made its way into the church. Entertainment has, in many ways, become another possible master for us to choose from.
A recent article at Desiring God explores the reality that entertainment has become the master of choice for many people, even Christians. The author confesses that entertainment has been used “…to distract me from the guilt of sin, friction in relationships, or anxiety about work. It became what daily prayer and Bible reading should have been — a safe haven to retreat for rest and comfort.”
But the result of choosing entertainment as a master is that it will slowly draw us away from Christ:
“In Matthew 6:24, Jesus reveals that when we gravitate towards entertainment as a means of comfort, we’re moving further and further away from our Creator. The notion of two masters is, in fact, a fictitious tale. It’s impossible to have more than one. Jesus exposes an insightful reality: Love for one will cause hatred toward the other… Entertainment over-promises but under-delivers. It is unable to satisfy what our hearts truly long for. We want rest. We want comfort. But entertainment can only offer a temporary fix. As soon as we wake up from hours of binging on Netflix or scrolling through social media, our problems remain, still waiting to be confronted. And we’re faced with the truth that all we’ve done is put off the inevitable. Endless entertainment is a cruel master that seeks to devour our true joy and lead us away from Christ.”
It seems that as the culture has become more infatuated with entertainment, that so has the church. Many pastors and church leaders have lamented that getting people to Super Bowl parties, Halloween or Christmas celebrations is easy. But it seems few are interested in coming to prayer meetings or Bible studies. Our appetite for entertainment has polluted our understanding of what the church is, and what it means to gather as the body of Christ.
I was reading an article on “The Heresy of Worshiptainment” which struck close to home. I used to be a worship leader and I now realize that much of what I did was entertain. It was emotionally driven and designed to make people feel good; which is why the feelings wore off quickly – no substance.
The article pointed out several questions that should be asked regarding what our churches are doing. Defending against “worshiptainment” should be a priority churches give serious consideration to. The three questions are:
- Who or what is the spotlight really on?
- What message are we communicating?
- How are lives changed?
These are simple, yet introspective questions that need answers. In particular I think about the question of “what message are we communicating?” Some would have us believe that the message of the Bible is that we can have our “best life now” or that “prosperity is at the heart of the Gospel.” Those are dangerous messages that run counter to the clear writings or Scripture.
If I recall, Jesus invited people to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24) And I am fairly certain Jesus said that “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33). If our church is communicating a message that it is easy to follow Christ, or that it will not cost anything, we are preaching a false Gospel.
The question of “how are lives changed?” is equally important. The article addresses this question with an answer from A.W. Tozer when people try to justify their “worshiptainment” because it is “wining people”:
“Winning them to what? To true discipleship? To cross-carrying? To self-denial? To separation from the world? To crucifixion of the flesh? To holy living? To nobility of character? To a despising of the world’s treasures? To hard self-discipline? To love for God? To total committal to Christ?”
That answer cuts to the heart. Are we producing believers sold out to Christ, willing to do whatever He asks? Or are we entertaining people, making them feel warm and fuzzy while they continue in their sin?
I’m reminded of a song by Jimmy Needham called “Worship Is More Than A Song.” The lyrics, in part, read like this:
“Clear the stage,
And set the sound and lights ablaze
If that’s the measure you must take
To crust the idols.”
“Jerk the pews,
And all the decorations too
Until the congregation’s few
And have revival.”
The song goes on to remind us all that “worship is more than a song.”
Our society is focused on being entertained. But our purpose for gathering as the body of Christ is not entertainment. We are there to praise the Father, praise Jesus, and invite the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin and teach us through the preaching and studying of the Scriptures. Anything less is an idol that needs to be torn down. Any Gospel that elevates self or our own life is heresy. And the question that remains is whether Jesus, and his Gospel is enough to bring us back next week?
Watch the video of Jimmy Needham’s “Worship Is More Than A Song” below. I pray it reveals the idol in your life so you can begin tearing it down.