The church I grew up in was dull.
I used to go to Matins (morning prayer) which followed the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I found the canticles dreary and the hymns chosen from Ancient and Modern almost indistinguishable. The Rector, a quiet introverted man who didn’t much care for people, preached every week on the state of the world. Fifty years later his sermons could have been preached almost unaltered; only the details have changed. I used to while away the time gazing at the stained glass window opposite (the miraculous catch of fish) and reading the memorial tablet to an only son killed on the Somme. I would also choose a page of the hymnbook and see if I could find all the letters of the alphabet in order. (There were only about three pages where this worked; most pages stopped short in the search for a “q”).
Many people of my generation and after grew up in similar churches; it is not surprising that there has been a reaction. It is also not surprising that for some churches the reaction has tended towards the idea that “Jesus is fun and loved a party.”
For a time, this was particularly noticeable in children’s work, where games and gimmicks became the typical way to do things. “We try to wear them out with games and then we slip in a story,” said one children’s worker, talking about her junior church group. The message was clear: if it wasn’t fun, it wouldn’t engage the children and we would lose the next generation.
But for some churches this also applied to other aspects of church life: they were determined to prove that Christians were not boring. If people outside the church came along to fun church events – harvest suppers, duck races, Easter egg hunts – they would see that Christians were fun people who did fun things. Perhaps this would encourage them to join in… Perhaps they would start coming along on Sundays…
The problem is that “Jesus is fun and liked a party” is not the Gospel.
I am sure Jesus was fun in many ways; he certainly wasn’t dull. He also liked a party – we see him at the wedding at Cana, feeding five thousand people, enjoying himself with his friends…
But the Gospel is much more than this. It occupies a far deeper space, one that makes meaning of our lives, our deaths and the whole of creation. “Fun” barely scratches the surface.
We live in a culture, which like all cultures, is searching for meaning. But our personal lives can be so busy that it is possible for both Christians and non Christians to avoid doing this. The default seems to be that if this life is all there is, time is short, and we need to have as much fun as we can. Fun becomes the goal… and some churches seem to have accepted this, not necessarily for themselves, but in their approach to those who are not Christians.
This approach demeans non Christians who are just as much people as we are. If all we are offering them is “fun” there is far more fun to be had elsewhere. It is particularly demeaning to children who are not afraid to look at life afresh and make meaning.
Why offer them just the froth on the top?
As Rachel Nicholls put it, when commenting on poor all age talks: “Yes – they can be the direst of the dire – but isn’t that when they operate out of a weird anthropology (children are from a different planet called kiddy widdy land) and a weird theology (God is essentially boring, so rather than enter his presence together, let’s muck around instead).”