In his book ‘Faith Formation in a Secular Age’ (2017) Andrew Root suggests that the biggest motivation in society, that has infected the church – especially in youth ministry , is what seems the influence of the avoidance of boredom. And in the church this looks like:
Must make this event exciting – or no one will come along
Our new youthworker must be excited and innovative (always thinking of the new)
What will make the programme lively and attractive?
We cant be doing the same songs, we must do new ones every now and then!
Young people wont be interested in coming to sunday church, they must have their own meetings
And, some of this also plays out in worship songs, using screens, countdowns and smoke machines, even in an avoidance of reading the bible or meetings (these are deemed boring).
Is Andrew Root right?
in Faith Formation he tells the following story:
‘ A famous bible scholar was meeting up with a young muscle bound man who expressed to him his deep deep love for Jesus. Judging from his passionate excitement, the professor believed the young mans commitment, so they talked about faith and the bible. When the topic of sunday worship came up, the young man explained that he rarely went, telling the professor that it had none of the adrenaline of the workouts, that ultimately Sunday worship was just too boring.
‘I thought you loved Jesus’ the professor asked
‘i do’ said the young man, and said with genuine authenticity, I really do!”
So, the professor asked, ‘do you think you would be willing to die for Jesus?’
Now more reserved, the young man said ” Yes…yes, I think i would, yes I would die for Jesus’
‘So let me get this straight, the professor continued, you are willing to die for Jesus, but not be bored for Jesus?’ (Root, A, 2017, p7)
The point that the scholar would try and make from this is that is the importance of co-orporate worship. The inconsistency of boredom vs commitment.
But Root seeks a different point in Faith Formation, because in an age where the authentic experience is sought… think not adrenaline junkies of the 1990s, but the authenticity of the farmers market/homebaked bread/real music – then in such an age, anything is deemed disingenuous if it lacked connection to the depth of subjective desires.
Therefore to be bored in an age of authenticity is not simply unfortunate or unpleasant it is to be oppressed and got rid of. if we have responsibility for our own individual journey of spiritual life then why would we consider anything boring to be worthy and part of it? if its boring our needs are unmet… arent they?
On one hand is Root right?
Well hang on just a minute. He goes on:
Because if on one hand the church’s pursuit of youthfulness (see this post ) has created churches that are having a juvenile tantrum (Roots words not mine), then what an age of authenticity also reveals is that churches are criticised not for too much spirituality and depth, but not enough. It is as if they have somehow lost what they are meant to be. The depth of experience (found in the gym, or found travelling the world to ‘find oneself’) is not found in the church.
There are two issues here, and Im not sure even I can do both justice in the remainder of this piece. So, i will focus on the first of the two.
Has the church, in regard to youth ministry played the ‘avoiding boredom’ card far too often? and what has been its response..
- Make everything louder than everything else? Ie bigger and brighter music, churches, buildings, more attractive – keep up with the entertainment
- Work out what it might mean when people say that they are bored of church..?
Boredom might mean actually not being involved. Boredom might mean that it is too simple. Boredom might mean that it is not challenging enough. Not that it isnt loud enough. Boredom might mean that it isnt real, or authentic enough. And what might make church authentic… authentic relationships, authentic involvement, authentic respect and faith formation, authentic opportunity to make decisions. (see my post here on developing these) So often boredom has just caused a reaction of adopt technology, adopt fun, adopt noise.
Whats strangely interesting is that the churches that have fared better over the last 50 years are those which retained something of the youth movement of 50 years ago. Possessing the spirit of youthfulness is equated to authentic, because being and staying young is exactly that. In and amongst this is a pretty non existent space for what church is or isnt actually meant to be about. But is that to be the case today? im not too sure…
The possibility of divine action is somewhat minimised for the sake of authenticity, faith is not connected to divine action but meeting in an authentic way. In short, is God more present when im not bored..?
The challenge for those of us who are involved in ministry and youth ministry is not that we cave in to calls to make churches and meetings more youthful, not to cave in to the cries of ‘young people arent going to come to church, its boring’ . The task is not to cave into church being more entertaining, for this will, or has already caused significant problems, where faith formation has almost completely been abandoned for youthfulness.
The challenge is to try and develop opportunities for ministry and gifting, usefulness and meaningfulness, not just a bigger brighter, louder, more colourful experience. If young people want that, they can get it at a coldplay concert. And that might be more authentic. For a coldplay concert does exactly what it says on the tin.
It will take a huge amount of effort to stand up in a culture that prioritised youthfulness as authentic to say hang on, lets do something meaningful, real and faithful. That might take guts to do, yet the hamster wheel of continual youthfulness is only going to have one winner. And it not faith formation, or long term discipleship. It is not experience of God, not the kingdom experiences of generosity, giftedness, gratitude and rest that permeate in church and discipleship, and ministry of the kingdom (Root, p 202) .
Making church less boring again, may well be a legitimate question. The response to it is one that will shape church for the next 50 years. Yet strategy will kill essence (Mather) , so we might as well get on and do the work of the kingdom, that looks like the ministry of God in the world. Being authentically inauthentic in a world of youthfulness. Do the essence of God.
Oh… and making church meaningful, hopeful and dangerous. A sub cultural movement of justice seekers called by God towards peace and reconciliation, generosity and gratitude. Now – who might find that boring..?