David Murray

Professor, Pastor, Author

Why is Church So Boring?

"A recent survey of people who used to be church members revealed that the main reason they stopped going to church was that they found it boring. It is difficult for many people to find worship a thrilling and moving experience." - R C Sproul

“'How awesome is this place!' This was Jacob’s response to being in the house of God. People do not normally feel that way in church. There is no sense of awe, no sense of being in the presence of One who makes us tremble. People in awe never complain that church is boring." - R C Sproul

The two quotes are from The Holiness of God by R C Sproul. The first identifies boredom as the main reason people stop going to church, and the second identifyies awe as the antidote to boredom.

Summary: More awe in church services = less boredom in church = less people leave church.

If Sproul is right, and I believe he is, how do we create more awe in our church services. Is this something only God can give, so we have to just wait for it to happen? Or is it something for which we are also responsible? 

Obviously, it’s God’s presence alone that can create awe, and therefore, ultimately, we are entirely dependent upon Him to choose to honor our worship services with His presence. However, there are important elements of human responsibility here too. God usually works through human means, and that puts obligations on the worship leader and the worshipping people.

The Worship Leader

In my own tradition, the preaching pastor is also the worship leader, and it’s that worship model I have primarily in mind here. However, most of this can also apply where the role is divided between two or more people.

1. Preparation. The worship leader should be prayerfully preparing for worship just as he prayerfully prepares his sermons. Far too often the pastor gives 15 hours to his sermon, 15 minutes to choosing songs, and 15 seconds to thinking about public prayer. He may pray for hours about his sermon and not at all for the singing, praying, and scripture reading. I’ve often found it helpful preparation to sing or listen to some Psalms in my office in the last few minutes before going to church.

2. Integration. The worship leader must ensure that the songs he chooses, the scripture reading, the prayer, and the spirit in which he conducts all this, fit the sermon theme. For example, there’s no point in having all praise songs if the sermon is about confession of sin. The prayer should also reflect at least some of the sermon content.

3. Organization. There should be a regular and recognized order to the worship so that the worshippers know what’s happening rather than just a haphazard free-for all, jumping from one thing to another without any rhyme nor reason. The Apostle Paul said that one of the ways to ensure that visiting worshippers are awed and stunned by the church’s worship is by orderliness and regularity (1 Cor. 14:23-32), not by novelty and unpredictability.

4. Conviction. No one is awed without conviction of sin. Look from Genesis to Revelation – from Jacob to Job to Isaiah to Ezekiel to Daniel to Peter to Thomas to Paul to John in Patmos – and you won’t find one example of any awed worshipper apart from them being first convicted of their sin. We’d love to go straight to doxology but there’s no shortcut past the valley of humiliation. Through song, prayer, and Scripture readings, worship leaders must remind people of their sin and sinfulness and lead them in confession.

5. Passion. Although some worship leaders sometimes take this way too far and the whole worship experience ends up in artificial emotionalism, which is more fleshly than spiritual, many in my more Reformed world take this to the other extreme and lead worship like a robot. If we look and sound bored, little surprise if those we are leading look and sound the same. If we’re not enthused, excited, and expectant, no one else is going to be.

6. Education. Perhaps the greatest need today is re-educating people about worship. We assume far too much. Do most people really know what worship is? Who’s it to? Who’s it for? Who is the God we are worshipping? A great start would be to give every worshipper Sproul’s book, The Holiness of God.

Next time, we’ll look at the responsibility of worshippers for creating awesome worship services. Meanwhile, what else do you think we can do to make our services more awe-full?

8 Sources of Joy vs. 6 Thieves of It

In a sermon on "Rejoice Always" (1 Thess. 5:16), John Macarthur listed eight sources of joy and then six thieves of joy. I’ve summarized them below. (Read or hear the whole sermon here).

Sources of Joy

1. The character of God. It is my understanding of the character and nature of God that anchors my joy.

2. Appreciation for the work of Jesus Christ. My favorite definition of a Christian? Somebody who worships in the Spirit of God, rejoices in Christ Jesus and puts no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3:3)

3. The ministry of the Holy Spirit. How can I not rejoice when I know the Spirit of God is leading me to understand the truth?

4. Spiritual blessings. Paul tells the Ephesians that God gives us everything we need out of the abundance of His riches. There’s only one reasonable response to that and that is joy, deep down joy.

5. Divine providence. Because God is a God of absolute sovereign providence, I rejoice because nothing is outside His plan.

6. Answered prayer. I rejoice that God answers prayer (John 16:24). That in itself is enough to keep the joy flowing.

7. The truth of Scripture. When the Word of Christ dwells in me richly, I end up speaking in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody and rejoicing in my heart because of the truth (Col. 3:16)

8. Christian fellowship. I don’t mind being around unconverted people, but I prefer to be with believers because there is a level of joy that I don’t experience with non-believers (1 Thess. 3:9)

Thieves of Joy

Macarthur says, “If you’re not rejoicing, there are maybe some reasons.”

1. You’re not a Christian: If there’s no joy in a Christian’s life that may be good evidence that that person is not a Christian, because this is a gift from God through Christ planted in the heart. There’s a well of joy in the believer.

2. Ignorance can steal your joy. If you have an aberrant theology, no wonder you don’t have any joy. Bad theology steals joy. If you believe you can lose your salvation, that will make you unhappy.

3. False expectations will steal your joy. If you expect Jesus to make you always healthy, wealthy, and happy, these are false expectations and a deadly set up.

4. Forgetfulness will steal your joy. It’s really good to just remember and remember and remember and remember the history of God’s goodness throughout redemptive history as well as throughout your life because it helps you draw from the well of joy.

5. Self-absorption will steal your joy. If you start worrying about all the little things in life that aren’t the way we want them that will steal your joy. Narcissistic self-centeredness and self-analysis, getting all caught up in trying to interpret every little thing in your life – that will steal it.

6. Being ruled by your feelings will steal your joy. Instead let truth control you and your feelings.

“The joyful Christian thinks more of his Lord than his personal difficulties, more of his spiritual riches in Christ than his poverty on earth, and more of his glorious fulfillment in heaven than his present pain. Therein lies our joy.” John Macarthur.

12 Ways to Make (and Keep) Friends

I recently wrote about being motivated to pursue biblical friendship, but how do we actually go about making and keeping friends? Thankfully, Jonathan Holmes’s excellent new book on biblical friendships is packed with tips on how to make, cultivate, and keep friends. Here are a few I picked out.

1. Cultivate the greatest friendship

“As the first and most important step, be encouraged in your friendship with Jesus Christ. Our Savior died for you so he could call you a friend! He is the faithful friend, the supreme friend. So cry out to him. Ask for the ability to understand biblical friendship better, and as a result to receive the grace and courage to pursue others with a glad heart.” (28)

Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx said: “[Friendships] take their beginning from Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ.”

2. Don’t make an idol of friendships:

“When we make a good thing into an ultimate thing, it becomes a bad thing. (39)

3. Change the measure of your life

“When we reflect on our lives, they are measured not by our incomes or good works, but by our relationships— by our friendships.” (Ed Welch quoted on p. 13).

4. Beware of substitutes

“There are three substitutes we frequently take for the real thing: social media friendships, specialized friendships [based on a common interest or activity], and selfish [purely what I can get out of it] friendships.”  (32)

“Technology, social media, and common interests are helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship, but friendship itself is always more than these.” (41)

5. Prepare for disappointments and discomfort

The book opens with typical stories of Christians who have been disappointed and frustrated in finding, making, and keeping Christian friends.

“This begins to get to the core of the problem: our sinful desire for control. We want friendships on our timetable, our terms of agreement. We do not want friendships that would move us out of our comfort zone.” (34)

6. Give the grace you have received

“If our individual walks with the Lord are so characterized by instability, imperfection, and weakness, why should we imagine that biblical friendships must somehow be seamless and perfect to be legitimate?” (97)

7. Read the Proverbs

  • Flee jealousy (Prov. 6:34; 27:4)
  • Be loyal (Prov. 20:6; 18:24)
  • Be truthful/honest (Prov. 28:23)
  • Keep confidences (Prov. 11:13)

8. Seek and promote spiritual good

“The willingness to engage in biblical candor for the sake of another’s spiritual good is one way in which biblical friendship is obviously and dramatically different from those worldly substitutes that typically ignore unpleasant subjects.” (53)

9. Ask good questions

Here are some practical kickstarter questions, best asked thoughtfully and graciously:

  • How can I pray for you?
  • Where are you struggling?
  • Where have you experienced God’s grace in your struggle?
  • Where has God been up to good in your life recently?
  • What is bringing joy to your heart?
  • Where do you see me growing spiritually?
  • How can I be a better friend to you? (69)

10. Work it out in ordinary life

“By ‘redeeming ordinary moments,’ I simply mean that some of the regular activities of daily life can be enhanced as we do them with others. Everyday life can be experienced on a different level when shared in the context of biblical friendship.”  (98)

11. Recognize your psychological bandwidth is limited

“In his humanity, Jesus had limitations on his time and “psychological bandwidth,” just like you and I do. God chose to show us in his Word that even the divine Son could only maintain a limited number of what we are calling biblical friendships.” (84)

12. Dedicate time

“In his book A Meal With Jesus, Tim Chester records a 33 percent decrease in families eating together over the last 30 years and a 45 percent decrease in friends doing so.”  (67)

“If we want to have biblical friendships, we need to be people who relish the opportunity simply to talk. Ask yourself, Can I really expect to have a decent friendship of any kind— much less a biblical one— with someone I rarely talk to? Or someone I don’t talk to about my actual joys and struggles?”  (66-67)

Our friendships should be better, deeper, richer than anything the world enjoys.

The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes.

The Politics of Optimism

Over at RealClearPolitics.com Frank Donatelli analyzes why the Republicans are doing so well in swing states and how the GOP can build on this to win the White House in 2016. One of his points is the power of optimism:

Stay positive. The country faces problems at all levels, but candidates who project an optimistic attitude usually prevail. Democrats are hunkered down, ignoring Obama and seeking to deflect attention from him. In the swing states, they are spending massive amounts of money running negative ads against their opponents. The GOP must answer the charges, but not be dissuaded from their determination to offer hopeful solutions in contrast to those who now run Washington.

In The Optimistic Republican Story Everybody is Missing, Larry Kudlow anticipates the first 100 days of the expected new Republican Congress and suggests two Big Think thoughts.

First is optimism: We know what the problems are, we know what the solutions should be, and we can make these changes quickly. Second is a re-energized evangelism by the Republican party for pro-growth, market-oriented, consumer-driven, pro-family policies.

Later in the same article Kudlow again calls for an optimistic attitude and agenda:

But the key here is that the GOP regains its footing as the party of optimism and growth. A new Republican Congress should message that they’re tired of obsessing about Obama’s mistakes. Everybody knows about those. The trick now is to focus on solutions. On change. On saying, “We can do this. We can fix this.”

Fatalistic Pessimism

President Obama used optimism to great effect in his 2008 Presidential campaign. “Hope and Change” anyone? It didn’t take long, though, for him to slump into a deep fatalistic pessimism about himself, Congress, the country, and even the American people. His hope seems to have turned into despair, and most of the change has turned out for the worse.

His grim, negative, angry, and depressing demeanor has spread throughout the Democratic party, leaving a big open goal for Republicans, if they have the wit and savvy to take advantage of it. The American people are in desperate need of an injection of confident, upbeat, can-do, let’s roll leadership and policies.

Optimistic Evangelism

But optimism isn’t only a winning political strategy; it’s also compelling and persuasive evangelism. In such a negative and discouraging culture, surely the Christian church should be standing out as a beacon of real hope and lasting change. But is it?

Too often we are simply reflecting the culture rather than renewing it. Our spirits (and sermons) soar and sink with political success or failure. Our prayers seem to be driven by opinion polls more than the Holy Spirit. We hunker down in defensive mode, expecting little from God and getting even less.

I’m not for everyone buying Joel Osteen masks and teeth tomorrow, but surely the Gospel gives us far greater grounds for optimism than any political party or movement. The question is, are we projecting that? Are we communicating our solid and joyful hope in our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities.

God-Centered Optimism

Our hope is not in people, in ourselves, in the church, or in the world. Our hope is in God. He is able to change the worst person, the worst situation, and the worst nation. And even when he doesn’t change what’s going on around us, He can change us so that we are not dragged down like everyone else, but rather stand out as counter-cultural evangelists. As Martyn Lloyd Jones said:

The first thing the Bible tells us is that happiness is possible. And I emphasise that because this is the most staggering, the most surprising thing of all in a world like this; but it is the great message of the Bible. It comes to us as we are, and it says, ‘Happiness, blessedness is possible (True Happiness: An Exposition of Psalm 1).

About David Murray

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament and Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. He blogs at HeadHeartHand . and you can follow him on Twitter @DavidPMurray .

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