A Christian’s worst nightmare isn’t bad theology, hypocrisy or heresy—it’s boredom. Westernized Christianity has become addicted to entertainment, and we expect our sermons, worship and Sunday school classes to be filled with jokes, video clips, multimedia glitz and captivating illustrations.
Even our ministries and mission trips have become commercialized. We’re more likely to attend an exotic trip to India instead of volunteering locally simply because it’s more exciting—and almost every overseas mission trip now includes at least one “free day”—filled with beach excursions, tourist destinations and fun-filled adventures.
Local ministries are now becoming dependent on entertainment to attract volunteers, and something as simple as packing food for starving children must incorporate loud music, competitive games, contests and a feel-good party atmosphere. If we sacrifice time out of our weekend to help the poor—we expect something in return.
Entertainment can be a useful tool, and the best teachers and organizations utilize it to engage audiences and present complex ideas in creative and thought-provoking ways. Instead of eradicating entertainment, we should incorporate it within our critical thinking, work, worship and ministry. The problem is when we use entertainment to replace these things—or we become dependent on entertainment to do these things. Unfortunately, many Christians have lost the ability to take responsibility for their own spiritual growth without relying on entertainment.
A wise person once told me that the word ‘ministry’ is spelled ‘W-O-R-K.’ Living out the Gospel by serving others through love is often hard, difficult, painful, heartbreaking and frustrating. In a world where distractions abound and our attention spans seem to be getting shorter, our faith requires patience, humility, thoughtfulness and perseverance—virtues rarely associated with entertainment.
Drug addicts don’t often recover after only a few days or weeks or months or even years, and relationships aren’t mended overnight. Forgiveness isn’t automatically given via one phone call or text message. Peace doesn’t happen within minutes and Social Justice often requires a lifetime of dedication—there are rarely quick and easy solutions to life’s biggest problems.
So why do we abandon things so quickly? Why are we surprised when our friends and family don’t miraculously “get better” after only a few hours of us praying?
Entertainment has created Christians who are conditioned to avoid complicated messes and long-term commitments. Unlike television, we can’t just change the channel—but we try. This is the danger on relying too heavily on entertainment—it becomes the primary filter for how we perceive and react to our faith.
We ascribe value and meaning to things that are more captivating regardless of accuracy or truth. This is why preachers are more flamboyant and bloggers are more controversial and authors are more radical and theologians are more shocking—because it holds our attention.
We pay attention to viral videos, memes, famous pastors and bestselling authors because we associate fame and entertainment with worth—but this is the exact opposite of Christ’s message and ministry.
In a society saturated with entertainment venues, Christians often view the church as another form of amusement, and we expect it to satisfy our need for superficial pleasure. Instead of relying on Jesus to guide our faith, we often rely on Christian concerts, conventions, music, books, movies, speakers and retreats to inspire us towards spiritual growth. If the leadership offends us, the worship isn’t our preferred style or we start feeling uncomfortable—we leave and go somewhere else.
Our consumer mindset has trained us to believe that if something isn’t to our liking, we can find a better product—and plenty of other products exist within Christianity. There are churches with better kids’ ministries, summer camps, worship services, pastors, youth groups and outreach ministries, but our desire for satisfaction is rarely fulfilled beyond a faith in Christ—no matter what church or venue we attend.
In the New Testament, there were plenty of times when Jesus was entertaining—I can’t imagine being present during his stories, sermons and miracles—but we also can’t ignore the reality of the persecution, pushback, suffering and difficult work that was required to follow Christ.
Instead of being recipients and spectators, Christians need to start being participants—taking personal responsibility for our thoughts and actions instead of depending on others to entertain us. Much of our Christian life will be experienced in the mundane, arduous and grueling moments of life—we need to embrace this instead of fooling ourselves into believing our faith will be a constant source of fun, relaxation and entertainment.
This seems depressing at first, until we realize that peace, joy, hope and love happens beyond the context of entertainment, when we are in real communion with God and with each other—following Christ’s example to the best of our ability.
Stephen Mattson has written for Relevant, Sojourners, and The Burnside Writer’s Collective. He graduated from the Moody Bible Institute and is currently on staff at Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN. Follow him on Twitter @mikta.
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