Do you Go to a Boring Church?

By Paul Koch

I was fortunate to be able to go to church last Sunday. It was one of the few times of the year when I’m on vacation, so I actually get to sit with my family in church on a Sunday morning. Now, going to church with me isn’t exactly an easy thing. Usually my poor wife must calm me down a few times, as I tend to be hypercritical of any congregation I visit. But for once church wasn’t anything too strange or out of the ordinary for me. It was a Lutheran church with the same hymnal in the pew that we use in my congregation. Their order of service was nice and simple and predictable. The sermon contained a clear distinction of Law and Gospel, the Lord’s Supper was celebrated, and the gifts were given.

Everything was great on the surface, but something kept bothering me about the whole affair. All the elements I value in a service, all the things I lead my congregation through every Sunday were there in this service. And yet it seems so boring and lifeless to me.

Now this wasn’t a critique of this particular congregation so much as it was a hard look at myself and my own practice in the ministry to which I’ve been called. During lunch I finally mustered up the courage to ask my wife the question that was really bothering me. I knew she would answer me honestly, and her opinion was one I valued more than most. I asked, “Is our church that boring?” And without much hesitation, she replied, “Yes.”

Now that hurt a bit, or at least it surprised me. I thought I was more charismatic, more dynamic in my leadership. But this was coming from a person who knew what she was talking about. She is no casual churchgoer, no wandering shopper of spiritual things. She taught 5 children to sit in church, to participate in the service, to sing the liturgy and confess their faith. And she did it alone. I was working, I was up front. But was it really boring? Was it something that was endured rather than celebrated?

Now, none of this seemed to bother my wife. The gifts of Christ were given and the whole focus of everything we did from the Invocation to the Benediction directed our attention away from ourselves and placed it firmly upon our Lord. Boring was okay. In fact, it might even be preferred over most other options that place entertainment as a higher value in worship. But she wasn’t going to pretend that it wasn’t boring, and perhaps neither could I, at least not anymore.

Now this led to a wonderful discussion about why we do what we do in church and if there is a way to improve it. A discussion of resources and proper focus and oversight required from a pastor. It confessed that it was weird to not be caught up in all the details of that particular service and just experience it. But was that experience powerful? Did it move me? Does any of that matter? Should it matter? Does it matter for my congregation? What about when they invite their friends to join us? Does it matter then? Should it?

All churches struggle with this to some degree. Whether they expressly know it and organize around solving it or they pretend like it isn’t an issue (my preferred way of dealing with it), it is a constant problem. Churches that pull out all the stops and look almost indistinguishable from a Christian concert know exactly what they are doing as their form and function serve to entertain those gathered. The same goes, I think, for all the smells and bells, the ultra-high church folks with their procession and incense and somewhat excessive bowing. They too know they are catering to and crafting an experience for their worshipers and devote a lot of resources to do so.

Do we really need to be concerned about such things? Are we being unfaithful if we don’t worry about it? Is it okay to be boring?

7 thoughts on “Do you Go to a Boring Church?

  1. It’s interesting to me, Paul, that I’m not the only one who thinks about these things. Marc Kappel and I talked about it a bit a few days ago. I don’t think it should be boring, if it can be helped – but within the boundaries of our own faithfulness to the task laid before us. In worship, we are providing the counsel of God and bringing the Sacraments, announcing forgiveness and leading the response of the congregation in prayer, confession, and worship. I’m sure there are other things involved that I am forgetting in the moment.

    On the other hand, it might be boring to sinners sometimes to go about those things. At other times some will have an emotional response, even a spiritual one – we’ve all seen that, too. The real question is, I think, do we trust what God promises he will do in those faithful tasks? Does the Word actually accomplish his purpose? Do the Sacraments really provide for forgiveness and life’s encouragement and comfort under the cross?

    A smart person once said to me, “Duty is ours. Events belong to God.” I think it’s enough.

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  2. I think liturgical worship is beautiful and faithful. I find it to be so special that I am worshipping our Lord and Savior much in the same way as those who have gone before me for many, many generations. What is the alternative to boring? Being entertaining? That’s certainly not the way to go. I understand the struggle, but I don’t really think there is a middle ground.

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  3. Boring to one may not be boring to another. But most things we do repetitiously can become mundane. I much like Rachel prefer my worship service to be reverent. We only need worry when the gifts are not present or when the focus turns from God to us. Worship is a time of reflection. It’s a time to put aside our earthly things and desires and pray praise and give thanks. So maybe we should be worried if we’re not bored?

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  4. I agree with you, Rachael, in principle; but I don’t really buy the premise of worship in a traditional fashion always being boring. It isn’t to you, or so it seems by your comments. It isn’t to me either, unless it comes out that way (human beings don’t always do things in a satisfying way) in some places and times. I also, don’t think the level of excitement matters as much as being faithful to the task of conducting worship to lay out God’s Word and his sacraments the way he gave them to us. Whatever we do with it, the Holy Spirit is at work in the instruments he gave us, along with his promises to do what he said as we use them.

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  5. At the risk of sounding scholastic: a thing is generally judged to be boring when either
    1. It does not do or give us what we want it to do or give us
    2. It is somewhat beyond our capacity to enact or understand
    3. We do not perceive its relevance to our current sense of “self”
    The liturgy, preaching, the Lord’s Supper… the Church’s proper ‘business’ will always be somewhat or occasionally boring from a human perspective, because unlike something tailored by our minds to perfectly suit our earthly needs (like a hot tub for instance !) this ‘business’ is the Word and it suits our real needs, which are most often not what we crave, comprehend, or feel attuned to.
    Is that good marketing? Is it good publicity? Good value? Good vibes? No….
    But it might be Good News. So– looking forward to being bored next Sunday!

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  6. Coming out of evangelicalism and entering into liturgical worship patterns where the “goods”- baptism, confession and absolution, forgiveness through the supper- are truly delivered is far from boring to me and likely to those with a similar backgrounds. I look forward to each part of the service, some elements more than others, knowing that God is truly doing things. I find the routine comforting and dependable.

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