I’m currently reading a book called Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, by Alan Noble. It suggests that our “distracted age” of ever-present social media, news, sports, streaming shows, etc., keeps us from reflecting on the deeper realities and questions of life. In one example, he points out how even in walking up the stairs, rather than be alone with ourselves and our thoughts for five seconds, we get on our phone.
He then goes on to apply this to the church, and say that what is needed is not just a “christianized” version of distraction or entertainment, but opportunities to reflect on the transcendent reality of God, sovereign over all and yet intimately present with his people.
“We’ve tried to communicate the gospel with cultural tools that are used to promote preferences, not transcendent, exclusive truths….We see the same trends at work in high-production church services that feel more like a concert and TED Talk than a sacred event. High-quality video clips interrupt the sermon. The pastor paces the stage with a headset mic, skillfully weaving facts, stories, and dramatic pauses. The young, fashionably dressed worship band puts on a performance at center stage. The lighting and volume make it clear who the congregation should be paying attention to. Each element of the service alludes to bits of popular culture that draw the audience in. The cumulative effect is to give the impression that the Christian faith is something akin to a good motivational conference. It is personally useful and exciting and entertaining, but not disruptive in the least. On the contrary, it fits rather nicely with your current lifestyle.”Alan Noble
He is not saying every one of these church practices is bad in and of itself, but that at some point, the overall effect is to present belief in God as just one more personal preference and church as one more source of entertainment, even distraction.
Now, I am sure most, if not all churches today, including ours, adopt this subconsciously more than they realize. But some of the practices and habits that churches adopt and encourage of its members are intentionally intended to push back against this: things like corporate readings of confessions and statements of faith; preaching through Scripture with the humility and confidence that it is God’s authoritative word; laboring in prayer, rather than quick, rote prayers; encouraging the sharing of Jesus as the exclusive way, truth and life in a pluralistic, postmodern society; and simply the act of regularly disrupting our schedules to gather with brothers and sisters in worship.
All that to say, our goal as church leaders isn’t to create a “product” or “experience” that fits neatly into your life and never makes you uncomfortable, never leads you to ask questions, and never leads to disruptive change. And knowing this upfront is helpful when assessing a church, or your involvement with it.