slugbug church :: enjoying your church without feeling guilty

November 16, 2009

 vw+logo

My first word was “Volkswagen.” 

I know, for most people, that glorious honor is bestowed upon “Momma,” or the occasional lucky “Dadda.”  Sorry mom and pop.  From what I’ve been told, from age one on up, I could point out a “Doot-a-dane” from miles away.  I’m quite certain that if I didn’t have five boys and a drum set to haul around weekly, I’d eschew my functional (yet very, very cool) 2000 Dodge Caravan for a little red Doot-a-Dane of my own.  Why?  Fahrvergnügen.  (Gesundheit.)

Volkswagen has one of the coolest marketing departments in history.  Back in 1989 they first launched their “Fahrvergnügen” (far-fig-noo-gun) campaign, teaching the world a new German word for “driving enjoyment.”  “Fahrvergnügen: It’s what makes a car a Volkswagen.”

Simple.  Brilliant.  The campaign was wildly successful… and I think partly because “Fahrvergnügen” is a funny word.  That’s why I’ve written it four times already in my first 150 words.  “Fahrvergnügen.”  I did it again.  “Fahrvergnügen.”  You’re smiling.

Volkswagen knows that joy is attractive.  I know… you are probably scrambling to get a pen so you can jot that on the back of your hand even now.  I’ll say it again.  “Fahrvergnügen.”  (That one was just for fun.  No extra charge.)  No, I mean this:  Joy is attractive.

Now Volkswagen has unveiled a new marketing campaign called “The Fun Theory.”  Go here for the full meal deal, or you can watch this to get the idea:

 

The Fun Theory.  Dedicated to the thought that something as simple as fun is the easiest way to change people’s behavior for the better.

OK…  WARNING:  Here’s where we practice redemption by taking something common to the culture and making a Biblically-based spiritual application.  Jesus did this all the time.  When he did it, it was called a “parable.”  He was much better at it than me.  But here we go…

A few years ago I remember reading a case study of the Children’s Ministry of a thriving, Bible believing, prevailing church.  Their Children’s Ministry Director was committed to the core to teaching scriptural truth to kids, and helping to further their spiritual growth through a relationship with Jesus Christ.  And do you know what she said was the #1 priority of their Sunday morning kids environment?  If you guessed “Fahrvergnügen,” you’re right on the money.

FUN.  Kids want to come back to an environment that is joyful.  Joy is attractive, and joy is a great motivator.  And kids that are motivated to come back can then be exposed to the TRUTH of the Bible… and they might “bring their parents” back, as well. 

Wait a minute, though.  There’s a problem here, right?  Not all of the truth of scripture is “fun.”  Much of it is very hard.  And if you set out to teach what the Bible really says – to kids or adults – you can’t teach love and grace and fluffy feel-good bunnies without revealing our NEED for grace…  sin, depravity, corruption, death.  Law and Gospel.

So what do I think about this “FUN” focus after all?

I love it.  We repeatedly remind our Children’s Ministry staff at Living Hope, “On Sunday morning, we have a ‘front porch’ mindset around here.  We are not only teaching the truth to our own kids, but to neighbors and friends who don’t have a church background at all.  I KNOW you will teach the Bible.  I TRUST your content because I know what matters most to you.  But as you prep each week for the Sunday experience ahead, ask yourself… How can we make this morning more FUN?”

Some of you right now are either uncomfortable or a little bit turned off.  Some of you may be downright angry.  You probably feel like I used to, that FUN in church = FRIVOLOUS.  That prioritizing joy by definition dumbs down or corrupts the true message of the Bible.  But I stand firm in my belief that message does not equal method.  And we are called to minister using all of our God-given creativity.  Further, I believe the full message of the Gospel itself prioritizes joy.  Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.”  The angels told the shepherds they had “good news of great joy!”  Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always!”  And he said it again… “Fahrvergnügen!”

So Children’s Ministry Team, go forth in joyful celebration of the truth of Jesus – and by jove, make your ministry a BLAST for those kiddos!

I’ll even go a step further…  (Insert here the very important disclaimer that “behavior modification” is not our primary goal in ministry.  That would be a law-heavy false gospel, based on do-it-yourself works-righteousness rather than the finished atoning work of Jesus on the cross.)  Disclaimer notwithstanding, there is freedom in Jesus.  We can bring people into contact with God’s truth (so He can do the necessary work on their hearts) in a creative environment.  Because, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  Yet somehow everybody with a church background laughs when I joke about the “proper” way to show emotions in church…  “Sad is OK.  Sad is good.  But don’t get too happy.  Don’t enjoy yourself.  Happy is dangerous.  And fun is BAD.”

Sounds a little bit ridiculous.  But isn’t it also a little bit true… in a lot of churches?

I’m OK enjoying my church.  I’ve made peace with it.  Freedom.  If a song we are singing to God in worship makes me feel like moving, I’m OK with it.  God knows my heart – and I still know that I am in the presence of the Holy One.  My enjoyment of the music does not mean I am any less reverent.  The same goes for our teaching.  When our pastor tells a story from his life experience, and it’s funny, I’m OK laughing.  I don’t look at my pastor skeptically, wondering if he is just “tickling our ears” with frivolous dumbed-down “gospel-lite.”  Nope.  Freedom.  He’s using parables to teach the full Truth of the Bible.

And I guess that’s the heart of this post after all.  “Fahrvergnügen” means the joy of driving.  Maybe we need to coin a new German phrase for the unencumbered-by-guilt-joy-of-church.  “Kirchevergnügen…”  (keer-keh-fig-noo-gun)  I don’t know if that’s going to stick…

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“slugbug church :: enjoying your church without feeling guilty” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

One response to slugbug church :: enjoying your church without feeling guilty

  1. Joy, indeed, is attractive… and contagious.