This past weekend, I worshipped with my family and some friends at a charismatic church in a city south of London. The service was not held in a typically English church building—it was, in fact, held in a theatre. Cynically, I could aver that such a venue is more than appropriate for a church tradition that ostensibly prizes performance above all else, and that the mirror ball dangling above the stage was more than mere coincidence due to the service’s location; but the fact is I quite liked the tiered theatre seating, and at no point did I feel that the worship band (consisting of a vocalist, a vocalist/guitarist, a bassist, a keyboardist, and a drummer) sought only to perform. Moreover, while the songs we sang were typical soft-rock worship choruses, the period of singing did not last too long, and there was definitely a discernible sense of progression in the songs’ ordering. So, strangely for me these days, I had no complaints.
Near the beginning of his sermon, the (guest) preacher began by asking us to open our Bibles or connect to the network—the times, they are a-changin’! And the preacher was engaging, self-deprecating, and often genuinely funny. The message, based on John 14:1-14, was nothing especially new—it was simply an encouragement for us to live as children of the Father so that God can do great things through us, illustrated with a handful or so of stories demonstrating the sorts of things God has done in the past and, by implication, could do in the future. As I say, the message was nothing especially new, but it was no less inspiring because of that.
However, my cynicism did emerge at times during the sermon. The preacher occasionally stressed the fact that doing great things for God was nothing less than an adventure. There was also an equally strong emphasis on God as our loving Father, which resulted in a quasi-altar call where people were invited down the stairs (theatre seating, remember) to the stage to be prayed for. And finally, the service closed with the ubiquitous Good Good Father (a song which is open to criticism and has been openly criticised) and a rather subdued dismissal (‘Okay, we’ve finished now . . .’). Now I suppose none of these things is a problem in and of itself, but my CynicometerTM was flashing lights at these points:
The preacher occasionally stressed the fact that doing great things for God was nothing less than an adventure . . . but does this mean that any form of the Christian life that is mundane, humdrum, everyday, etc., is less than an adventure? And why repeatedly use the word ‘adventure’—are we to seek novelty in our lives as Christians? Is the emphasis on adventure designed to cater for the large number of (presumably) twenty-somethings in the congregation? At times, I felt I was watching the sermonic equivalent of one of those holiday adverts where it seems that everyone wants to go rock climbing or clubbing or snorkelling when away from home.
And finally, you may have noticed that I have not mentioned intercessions. That’s because there weren’t any. There was a prayer time following Good Good Father, but it was limited to those in the congregation who had been affected by the sermon. This isn’t to say that the church itself is unconcerned with the outside world; judging by its literature, I have to make it clear that it is; but in this service, prayer was restricted to those going down to receive ‘prayer ministry’. Surely for a church service this is inadequate!
Cynically, then, I could say that the shadow side of the sermon conveyed the message that our ‘ordinary’ lives need to be spiced up, that God our Daddy will always be there to pick up the pieces if and when we mess up, and that intercession plays second fiddle to our personal and individual relationships with God. But on the other hand, I could say that the sermon conveyed the message that God can use ‘ordinary’ people to do extraordinary things (cf. John 14:12), that we need not fear going out into the world precisely because God is our loving Father who will move us through (not necessarily around) failure, and that when we are faithful to God, our lives are sort of an embodied intercession because we serve others in the name of Christ. I suppose as with any church service, charismatic or non-charismatic, this one was a typical mixture of good elements and bad elements. (But about Good Good Father, I have nothing constructive to say.)