If you attend many evangelical churches in America, you are likely to see the entire church worship center arranged around a stage for a band so that the people can see the show that happens on a weekly basis. At North Point Community Church in Atlanta where Andy Stanley serves as pastor, it’s common to hear their band lead the people in songs such as “Free Bird” as they did back in 2013 or like the parody they performed near the end of the Christmas season in 2016. What a tragedy to for people to confuse such performances with worship. It seems that the light of the gospel has gone out completely in many evangelical settings.
This past Lord’s Day, I went to worship at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in the heart of London, and I was not entertained. The entire service was quite simple. Upon arrival, the deacons provided a warm greeting at the door and handed us a Bible for the service. As we took our seats, there was a board on the wall with numbers on it which directed our attention to the hymns that we would be singing. There was no music minister leading the congregation, no large expansive choir, no praise band, no screens with moving images, no smoke machines to add dramatic effect, no colored lights, no jokes were employed in the sermon, and nothing that seemed to be remotely designed to entertain the crowd.
And yes, there was a crowd. It was already dark by 6:30pm on Sunday evening, but the church was filled with people. They were ready for the moment when the pastor would take the pulpit. He came to open with prayer and Scripture reading, and then he directed us to open our hymnals to the first hymn where he then led us as we stood to our feet and worshipped God through song. There would be multiple hymns and Scripture readings before the sermon was delivered.
From an American context, it was quite simple. Some would perhaps even consider it quite boring in terms of a worship service when compared to our American evangelical worship context. When you talk to people about why they chose a specific church, far too often they talk about a specific program the church offers them or their children, the choir of the church, or how the “worship” makes them feel. Tragically, the once bright light of the gospel that exploded during the days of the Reformation is being greatly dimmed—and in some cases snuffed out altogether.
In many American church contexts, the lights are being turned off in the worship center so that people can have their eyes focused upon the stage. Rather than the sermon being central, now it’s the show. The show can find various forms from full rock concerts to self-help talks geared to make people feel a certain way. Doctrine has been overshadowed by drama and theology has been swapped for the trickery of pragmatic church growth schemes.
If we traveled back in time to the days prior to the Reformation, we would find the people starving to death spiritually and led by false shepherds to embrace the Roman Catholic Mass as the center of fellowship and worship of God. The false doctrine of transubstantiation loomed over the people.
As we move through the Reformation, the table was no longer central. The pulpit became central as the Word of God was brought to the people and the people were brought to the Word. The worship of God had been deformed and God raised up men who would lead people back to the Bible which would reform the worship practices of God’s people.
The Reformation was a rediscovery of God’s Word and an explosion of light and life. If you were to travel to Geneva and walk into St. Pierre’s Cathedral, you would find these words on the wall just behind the pulpit where Calvin thundered the Word: post tenebras lux—which means, after darkness light.
Tragically, Europe has fallen back into the abyss of darkness. Many of the once brightest churches and pulpits of the Reformation are now art galleries, museums, and coffee shops. Rather than worship centers, such campuses now serve as community centers.
As the gates of hell continue their assault upon God’s Church—we must not fall prey to the scandals, schemes, and cultural pressures. God desires to be worshipped and we must gather together for that purpose. Worship should be God centered rather than man centered. When a church comes to understand that reality—it will revolutionize their approach to worship and ministry. The holiness of God remains central and man’s dependence upon him is what drives the church’s worship through the blood of Christ.
Charles Spurgeon never attempted to entertain people in his day. In fact, regarding preaching, he said the following:
Avoid a sugared Gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek that Gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the Gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his Gospel soak into your soul. 
I’m grateful that London still has a church (among a few others as well) who are not organizing entertainment centers in order to put on a show for their community. Instead, they are providing the ordinary means of grace on a weekly basis where God’s people are spiritually nourished and encouraged to worship God.
The next time you think about your worship service, before you complain about it being boring or dull or stale—before you embrace the false idea that your church needs to do something other than the ordinary means of grace to attract the community—just remember that one of the most successful worship services is one that leaves you feeling as if you were not entertained in the slightest degree.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Sermons, 48.538.