Deadly Diversions: the Effects of an Entertainment Mentality on the Church

by Steven M. Johnson


The little boy came home from church with the same nickel his mother had given him, intending it for the contribution basket.  But, the youngster proudly announced that the preacher had met him at the door and he learned that you didn’t need a ticket to get in, so he saved his nickel.  Years ago, when worship and entertainment were much further removed from one another, that story seemed slightly amusing.  But today, one might simply cringe because of the growing threat posed to the Lord’s Church by the prevailing entertainment mentality in America.

Our culture’s entertainment mentality contributes to the loss of focus in worship.  From the sacrifices of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:3-4) to John’s rebuff by the angel (Revelation 22:8-9), it is clear that God is to be the recipient of our worship.  But, our cultural conditioning may lead elsewhere.  Rather than God being the divine spectator of worship, the inclination can be for most of the assembly to become watchers while a small segment performs.  Active worshippers are turned into passive observers, whose role it is to evaluate the quality of the performers.

The search for enjoyment also encourages a thirst for emotional stimulation rather than spiritual nourishment in the assembly.  This is a natural outgrowth of spectatorism.  Viewing oneself as an onlooker, the question becomes, “What did this activity do for me?”  Whereas, Jesus taught us to first seek the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), the pleasure minded worshiper questions whether or not his own needs have been met.  Such a worshiper comes to expect a certain level of entertainment quality.  The entire service must be fun, positive and uplifting, designed around the tastes of the religious consumer.  If expectations are not met, the seeker who knows all about channel-surfing can also become proficient at church-hopping.

While the attendee becomes the passive customer, the minister and few others who lead in the activities of worship come to be the performers.  Not only does this perpetuate the unbiblical clergy-laity distinction, it is also an insult to God, who alone is worthy of the sacrifice of praise from our lips (Hebrews 13:15).

A diversion mind-set likewise hampers our ability to concentrate.  It shrinks our attention span.  Our society yearns for the abbreviated.  Around-the-clock availability becomes simply “24/7.”  A movie isn’t Mission: Impossible 2, but is reduced instead to ‘M:I-2”.  Just as surely then comes the desire for shorter sermons, shorter services, or perhaps just a weekly thought would do.  But, God doesn’t agree, calling instead for a time and atmosphere conducive to contemplation. “Be still, and know that l am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalms 46: 10).  One wonders how those who require an “express worship” would have held up as Nehemiah read from the Book of the Law of the Lord for one-fourth of the day and for another fourth the people confessed and worshipped the Lord their God (Nehemiah 9:3). Or what would be their reaction as Paul spoke and continued his message until midnight (Acts 20:7)?

Finally, an attitude of amusement stifles the desire to reason about the truth.  In entertainment media, much of which is visually oriented, the goal is for those who watch to simply enjoy, not to think rationally or critically about what they are watching.  Thus the entertainment world is an ideal ally to the concept that there is no such thing as absolute truth.  On film, opposing views of reality may be presented as equally valid; suggesting that we can’t really be sure what is true, and possibly that it doesn’t matter anyway.

But the written Word is presented to us as available essential and worth the effort that is put forth to understand.  Jesus said that we are sanctified by the Word, which is truth (John 17:17), and that this truth is the source of our freedom (John 8:32).  Paul compelled us to undergo a renewing of mind and to prove the will of God (Romans 12:1-2).  Paul’s word for prove means to test, examine, scrutinize and discern, in order to recognize that which is genuine.  Peter admitted that some of what Paul wrote was “hard to understand” (II Peter 3:16), which simply means that sometimes we arrive at truth after diligence and exertion.

Luke obviously believed that evidence which supports the truth could be written, read and understood.  He wrote, “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write to you an orderly account, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the certainty of those things in which you were instructed” (Luke 1:3-4).

In order to protect ourselves from the perils associated with an entertainment mentality, we must be aware of these threats.  A preoccupation with that which entertains can alter the focus of our worship from God to man, it can substitute emotional joy for spiritual nourishment, it can hinder our ability to concentrate and it can squelch our intention to reason about God’s truth in a balanced way.  May we, as Paul cautioned, “Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (I Thessalonians 5:21-22).