He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
T.S. Eliot once said, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” Those words seem truer than ever. At no other point in human history has the world offered so many ways to dodge reality. We can avoid dealing with broken relationships by immersing ourselves in pixilated worlds of synthesized social interaction. Instead of parenting our children when they throw eruptive tantrums, we can put an iPad in their hands to placate them. Such constant exposure to entertainment has even altered everyday vocabulary. Terms like “binge-watching” and “emoji” were nonexistent just a few short years ago.
In other words, it is no longer necessary to “bear reality”—what with customized digital kingdoms at our finger tips. After all, why stop being entertained and face a reality that you ultimately can’t control, when, with just a swipe of the hand, you can ascend to a godlike status of control digitally? And so we’ve come to avoid the inconvenient facts of life by staring at a screen in a zombie-like state for much of the day.
A Dangerous Misperception of Church
It’s no surprise, then, that our digital fixation has deeply affected the local church. It seems as though postmodern believers (even mature ones) tend to evaluate a congregation and the competency of its leadership based on how much it resonates with them subjectively. In other words, we’re looking for a certain standard of preaching, a Hillsong-caliber worship band, and top notch amenities in a kid’s ministry. And if we can’t find it at Church A, we’ll give Church B a chance to wow us.
While there’s much to be said about ministering with excellence, it can’t be overstated how much our sweeping exposure to entertainment has perpetuated this outlook on congregational life. After all, if every online resource we use caters to our every whim, why shouldn’t the church?
But the Bible fiercely challenges us here. It pushes back on our dangerous misperceptions of the purpose and function of a local church. In Ephesians 4:11-14 (quoted above), the apostle Paul gets to the heart of the matter by clarifying the role of the congregation in the lives of believers, beginning with its leadership.
If he were speaking to us today, Paul would probably tell us that we don’t gather with the church to be entertained, but to be matured—to grow up into the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” He would rebuke us for seeing the church’s leaders as spiritual entertainers. And he would remind us that such leadership is appointed by Christ to “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” Moreover, I believe that Paul would warn us against being “tossed to and fro” by the ever-changing tides of the entertainment age. He would voice concern that our worldview is probably being shaped by what we view on Netflix more than what we read in our Bibles. Simply put, by refusing to stop coddling our worldliness, we’ll never experience life in the local church for all it’s worth. And, as a result, we will languish spiritually.
The contrast between Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 4 and our cultural norms couldn’t be more stark, which helps us to see what’s at stake: our worship. Therefore, we must step back into reality as we prepare for the Lord’s Day. Why? Because that’s what true worship requires. Worship is man’s joyful and humble response to the reality of God’s holiness, the Gospel’s trueness, the world’s need, and the bright future that awaits us in Christ. So let’s jump off our dizzying entertainment carousel together and get real with God. That’s the only way we will ever come to our senses and realize that Jesus is lightyears better than the world’s entertainment.
Liturgy for Sunday, November 08, 2015:
Call to Worship: Psalm 138:1-2
Confession & Assurance: 1 John 4:9-10
Benediction: Ephesians 3:20-21