Here we are now. Entertain us.

Do you remember way back in May 2007, Charlie and his brother Harry were sitting on a chair when Charlie bit Harry’s finger? The little guys broke the internet.

Do you remember the double rainbow of 2010?

Here we are now – entertain us. ~ Kurt Cobain

Like myself, you probably laughed at Charlie, the double rainbow and the innumerable amount of funny videos that went viral since.

Needless to say, these two videos are old news and the next big thing is being uploaded as I type this.

We love the next big thing.
The next innovative thing.
The next money making thing.
The next fashionable thing.
The next technological thing.
The next entertaining thing.
The next fitness thing.
The next dietary thing.
The next funny thing.

Here we are now. entertain us.

As preachers, we have to deliver a message every seven days. As worshippers, you are on the receiving end those messages  – every seven days. We all come to worship – every seven days.

Now, according to Jesus and the New Testament, He’s supposed to be smack dab in the centre of our worship – every seven days. Gathering around the same thing seems like a pretty tall order for people who are always in search of the next big thing.

Now, if us preachers present the gospel repeatedly in anticipated ways, with predictable phrases and pithy go-to sayings, we are inviting you to nod off.

Here’s the challenge. If, for fear of your impending boredom, we don’t preach about Jesus – every seven days, we’ve abandoned our call.

Preaching is, quite literally, proclaiming Christ and Him crucified. It’s supposed to be our jam. So if we aren’t speaking about Him, there’s someone more qualified to speak to you about the topic we decided to speak to you about.

Full disclosure here: if us pastors get off the Christ Alone bus, we’re of very little value to you. We’re not as inspiring as Margaret Thatcher, we don’t have the business acumen of Ken Blanchard and we’re not nearly as entertaining as Jimmy Fallon.

As Jared Wilson states in his book Gospel Wakefulness, “We must routinely present the unchanging gospel in a way that does justice to its earthshaking announcement. This doesn’t mean we need to set it up with a power ballad or dress it up. It means we present it like life or death stuff.”

If it’s not important to us as worshippers that Christ is presented weekly from the scriptures, or that our children grow up learning God’s law and God’s gospel, we will come into our churches like viral video junkies, tired of yesterdays-news-Jesus, looking for the preacher to give us our next double rainbow.

If Christ doesn’t need to be central, then any talk that inspires us to be better people is cool beans. Jesus got airtime in the last series, so this next series is about me? Perfect. Hearing about Jesus every seven days seems like overkill anyhow. Besides, I don’t care if my kids are taught the actual bible, so long as the teaching helps them develop good morals and ethics. Plus they like the roller coaster in the world class children’s program.

Here we are now. Entertain us.

Over in the other ditch, our ears can itch in a different way. In that ditch we’re so bored with the Lord, we assume Christ, bypass His grace and go straight to intellectual stimulus via academic lectures that are so theologically nuanced, Christ ends up playing the background to the finer points of theology. While our airtight doctrine is presented with a level of accuracy that would rival the church fathers who crafted the Westminster Catechism, the power of Christ and His grace can still be conspicuously missing from those types of sermons.

We can puff our chests out because our children memorized the catechisms, but if Jesus isn’t front and centre, they can grow up to be like mechanics who know where all the bolts go but have never experienced the joy of driving with the wind in their hair. They’re bored with the Lord too.

Here we are now. Entertai… meh. Intellectually stimulate us.

To borrow from Keller’s Center Church, we can preach entire sermons and never get to the business of giving people the good news of the actual gospel.

If us preachers worry that preaching about the grace of Christ will become monotonous, we will end up in a ludicrous search for the next double rainbow to preach about.

Instead of believing that Christ crucified is actually enough and pointing our churches to Him, we will read leadership and self help books with a highlighter, add scriptures to baptize the books and preach the concepts later. We will listen to inspiring business, management and leadership gurus and teach their principles as though they are God’s precepts. We will cut-and-paste scripture to preach on various aspects of our lives instead of preaching Christ whose Lordship informs every aspect of our lives.

That’s not hypothetical – I’ve done it. Christ have mercy.

I know what it’s like to sit in my office and wonder about what topic I should preach on next.  At the time, I was speaking every week to students. Sadly, I must confess that my process was never: ‘show them the grace of Christ, again, from this text.’

It wasn’t until God’s grace gripped my heart in 2010 that I realized that I was asking myself the wrong question. The question is not ‘what will I preach on next?’ but ‘where will I preach Christ from next?’

Am I being naive? Should a seasoned pastor come along and pat me on the head and say, “there, there little church planter. Sure you’ve been doing that for a year and a half every Sunday – but you can’t expect to preach Christ for the next 25 years and not have the church go numb.” Am I being unreasonable and simplistic?

Church history reveals that Christ-centred worship and preaching is utterly simple. It has a way of deconstructing the unnecessarily complex. The simplicity of a “Christ alone” gospel threatens the business plans of religious entrepreneurs who seek to convert the church from being an organized organism into an organization.

Therefore, given the simplicity of the gospel and our natural tendency to chase the next double rainbow, it would be naive for me to think that by preaching Christ week in and week out, nobody in the church would get get numb to the message. However ..

The apostle Paul said that the gospel is power. Therefore, spiritual numbness to Christ preached will be the exception – not the norm.

Consider what you believe about Jesus if you think that by consistently preaching Jesus, the church will lose the wonder of Jesus.

Consider what you believe about the grace of Christ if you think that by consistently preaching the grace of Christ the church will run off and spurn the grace of Christ.

Here we are now. Entertain us.

Jesus is a big enough deal to be the subject of every sermon. His pre-eminent shoulders can handle the weight.

When our affections find rest in the preaching of Christ, we are divinely ‘entertained’ by the gospel. Our souls find grace upon grace. Our restless hearts will come again and rest in God. The same goes for our children.

I Peter 1:12 tells us that even the angels long to gaze at the wonder of the gospel because it is eternally interesting. 

If the gospel isn’t interesting to us as worshippers, we’ll chase after the next double rainbow because our hearts are prone to wander.

If the gospel isn’t eternally interesting to us preachers, then we’ll cater to the wandering hearts of our churches because our hearts are also prone to wander.

In chasing our next double rainbow to preach, we’ll give the church baptized self help or clever theological lectures, hoping they shake our hands to tell us how deep we are or how life changing our divine self-help was.

The gospel is about a Person, not a set of principles.

Once you are liberated by the gospel of Christ’s grace, you become utterly enamoured with Him. There’s no end to the depth of His gospel. There’s no end to excavating Christ from the scriptures since He says in Luke 24 they’re all about Him. You will find that you can’t be satisfied with hearing about anything else in church but Christ preached.

Just as Paul prayed that Ephesus would grasp the magnitude of what they had been given, I pray that my family ad my church would also have this gospel ‘wakefulness’. May the Christ’s grace both stimulate our intellect and detonate in our hearts as He is preached to us.

My prayer for my church and yours is that we’d become enamoured with Christ alone. Thankfully, God’s rescuing grace has a reforming trajectory. May the Holy Spirit continue His work in us all.

Press on,

Paul

3 Comments on “Here we are now. Entertain us.

  1. Pingback: Links I Like, Vol. 19

  2. Hey Pastor Paul,

    This post seems to encapsulate your vision for a Gospel-centred church. Thanks for sharing it.

    You and I have had some conversations along the way of your journey toward being Gospel-centred, but i think this is the first time i’ve heard you mention the idea that “Christ-centred worship and preaching is utterly simple”; and additionally, almost in the same breath, that “the gospel is about a Person, not a set of principles”. Now, to my mind, a principle is simpler to understand than a person, and much simpler to understand than a person who happens to be The Second Person in the Trinity. But aside from that, I wonder if the church history you describe as demonstrating simple worship includes any mediaeval history? The reason i say this is because Gothic architecture doesn’t seem very simple to me, although it does strike me as a fascinating form of worship; the sort that even a heathen can admit and admire as at least entertaining. And that, to me, seems like an interesting distinction. How are we to prevent the worship of the Christian from being understood as entertainment by the heathen? But i suppose my primary question is really this: what role does Art play in our worship and preaching? Is there any art in sacred worship? Any art in articulation? Are we to care a brass button about Beauty in the church? Or do we simply allow ugliness and barbarism to dominate whatever else is not the utterly simple Gospel?

    I hope you and your family are well.

    LOVE you!

    gabe

    • Great insights here Gabe.

      In response to your comments regarding the mediaeval period / art in worship, my intention wasn’t to equate ‘simple gospel’ with ‘be plain in presenting or enjoying the gospel.’ I hope I haven’t communicated that. If showmanship is one ditch, then yawn inducing stoicism is the other.

      God’s instructions in the OT regarding His worship and His temple were elaborate, majestic and inspired awe. Worship in the NT and the 1st century church were obviously incredibly simple with the spread of the gospel being in humble house churches. When Phoebe delivered Romans to the house churches mentioned in Chapter 16, they probably didn’t have any real fascinating art forms in their worship to speak of. When Peter wrote to the Diaspora, I think I could say with confidence, their worship was as basic and uneventful as it gets – but using the 1st century as a template for art in worship would be just as wrong as using the mediaeval period as a template. (And I know you aren’t doing that.)

      I appreciate your thoughts on architecture as well. If I could get an old building in the centre of our city one day, I think that would be incredible. That’s probably my preference more than anything.

      To the degree that our art and our preaching directs the church to gaze toward Christ, it is helpful and good. To the degree that our art and our preaching directs the church to gaze at itself, it isn’t. I don’t have an artform hobbyhorse in one direction or the other.

      Whether worship is sophisticated and complex, inviting the church to raise their voices to something that sounds like Handel – or an unplugged, coffee house acoustic sound of praise, both are wonderful. But I can tell you as an uber-green church planter, you’ll roll with whatever gifts are in the room and make a beeline for the cross 🙂

      Thanks for your sharpening! All the best.

      Paul

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