Lights, camera, action! I had come for worship service but landed at a flashing gospel praise production.
I hadn’t been to church in a while, backslider that I am, or so some “saints” call me. I chose to go to a church I sometimes visited before I altogether stopped regularly attending church a few years ago.
I walked through the door into the sanctuary. Immediately, I noticed how dark it was inside. I could hear music, see the shadows of people standing, swaying, praising. But why was the church so dark?
It soon became clear that it was all part of the set, apparently designed to usher worshippers into the proper frame of mind and spirit. To help us “feel” the awesomeness of God. A Sunday morning praise extravaganza.
Blue and purple lights bounced around the stage. Flashing white Hollywood lights beamed and crisscrossed the sanctuary as the praise and worship team bobbed and swayed. I felt like I had been teleported back to my first Parliament-Funkadelic concert. “Flash light,” I could have sung. ” . . . Neon light, ooh, stop light.” But I only stood and watched.
On the video screens flashed a psychedelic visualizer, pulsating with the rhythm. After the preacher prayed — house lights still down — the screens displayed an artist’s rendition of the hand of God, reaching down to man amid a shimmering night sky.
And, in the words of the Temptations, “And the band played on . . . ”
“A praise party going on,” the church sang, “right here.”
Except, I came to praise. Not to party.
I must have seemed like a fish out of water. I certainly felt like one. And neither the music or singing, nor all the lights and sparkle made me feel any closer to God than I did when I first walked through the church’s front door. In fact, it all made me feel farther from God.
I felt prodded by all the techno-gadgetry to become emotional rather than feeling free to engage in the kind of worship and praise that requires no pomp and circumstance, no elements of a major theatrical production. I felt as if I was being induced into a hypnotic state of spiritual euphoria by the on-stage stimuli that failed to lift my thoughts even beyond the ceiling. It was for me all simply a distraction, an impediment, to worship.
My dissatisfaction with church, and therefore my disappearance in recent years, apparently makes me part of the growing number of what the national Christian research firm Barna Group has identified as the “churchless.” In fact, there are 156 million churchless U.S. adults and children, according to Barna, with 76 percent having had “firsthand experience with one or more Christian churches” but who now seek to “better use their time in other ways.”
As one of the so-called churchless, I am more specifically among that subgroup that some researchers call “the dones” — those who once upon a time were fully immersed in the institutional church. But weary of church politics, abuses and even performance-based worship, we have abandoned ship, though not our faith.
We recognize the difference between flash and gimmick, and a spirit-led service. The kind of service that can help move one closer to the presence of a God whose splendor and glory are manifested by all creation itself. Any flashing lights or production, no matter how vibrant, pales in comparison.
My grandmother and the little old church mothers I grew up seeing praise and worship God without any frills, lights or cameras taught me that.
No props required. Just spirit and truth.
So I soon exited stage left.