northpoint, ipads, and christmas cheer :: can fun and reverence coexist?

December 13, 2010

This right here is fun.  And tech-savvy.  And musically righteous.

Here’s the thing…  iPads and iPhones (a nod to modern culture) and funny hats (entertainment) and secular music (a nod to modern culture) and a sense of humor (entertainment) are a comfortable part of the Sunday Morning experience at North Point Community Church.  By their methodology, it’s easy to see they are intentionally creating an entertaining venue…  and it’s fun

So…  the question of the day…  Is that bad?

Attractive to “seekers,” or according to Northpoint, “a church for the unchurched.”  And I really need to press the point here…  Is that bad?

What caught my attention as I viewed this funkalicious Christmas tech-fest on You Tube was the “like-dislike” count at the bottom of the viewing window.  Sure, over 3,000 have given their virtual thumbs-up.  But I was more interested in the 100+ who voiced their red-thumbed “dislike.”

Triple digits worth of “dislike.”  For musical awesome sauce via gadgetry.  How can this be??  And yet, I get it.  Because church is about reverence.  And worship.  And worship is about giving of ourselves in grateful devotion to God.  Church services are not for our entertainment – and the mixing of penitent adoration of the Almighty with “funny hats” is not only inappropriate… it’s vulgar.  Maybe even blasphemous.   Further still, we do a deeply dangerous disservice to “seekers” when we lure them into church for more of what the world has to offer, don’t we?  More production and slick camera angles and lighting and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”  We’re missing our golden opportunity to share the deeply counter-cultural message of Jesus, humiliated on our behalf, and come to earth as an infant.  A breathtaking descent from glory… and we give lost sinners “Feliz Navidad” auto-tuned for a laugh?

That is bad.  Right?

Although comments have been disabled for this video, I have friends whom I’m sure would be quick to punch that little red down-turned thumb of disapproval.  Maybe you did.  If your reverence for the Lord just can’t stomach this kind of “fun” and “church” in the same space, I totally understand.  I think there is valid reason for concern.  Northpoint’s methodology says something about their theology… 

I just ask this of my red-thumb pushing friends…  Consider that what you THINK this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church may not actually be what this video says about the theology of Northpoint Community Church.

Assumption #1:  Northpoint doesn’t value reverence – they treat God and the Sabbath with casual indifference rather than pious humility and devotion.

Assumption #2:  Northpoint believes they need to pander to culture, rather than creating a counter-culture, in order to connect with the unchurched.

Assumption #3:  Northpoint displays a fundamental misunderstanding of worship when they mix “entertainment” into the church service.

I’m here to challenge all of those assumptions.

On the first point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint DOES, in fact, know how to lead their congregation into times of deep, reverent worship?  Is it possible that they have a VERY clear understanding of worship, and that it is a sacrificial offering of ourselves to the Lord?  Is it possible that Northpoint sets aside times for communication with God that are intensely personal and reverent, while having the freedom to laugh together and have fun in community at other times?  I can answer that… yes they do.

I have seen, heard, and participated in worship with the Northpoint community.  Their reverence for God runs deep.  He is exalted as sovereign over all.  Remember that this video was only 7 minutes long.  What did they do with the other 76 minutes they were together that morning?  I bet the truth of the Word was shared.  I bet there was a time for people to think, and listen to God, and respond.  I bet reverent worship happened in that space.  Maybe a better question… considering that we are called to worship as an ongoing state of being, is there really anything wrong with taking 7 minutes out of the 110,880 minutes we have each week to have a little fun?

In response to the second point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint does not “pander to culture” because they don’t believe that the Gospel is “enough” to win the spiritually skeptical, but instead they “become all things to all men” (like Paul on Mars Hill in Athens) and speak the language of the culture (like Jesus did, using present day analogies to communicate timeless truth through parables) in order to START the conversation… to get the unchurched neighbor in the door… in order that they might hear the life-saving message of the Gospel?  I can answer that… yes they do.

In but not of.  IN but not of.  IN THE WORLD, but not of it.  “I do not pray that you take them out of the world…” Jesus asked His Father on our behalf (John 17), “but that you would keep them safe from the evil one.”  Again, how will our neighbors come to faith if they never hear the truth?  And if an iBand video on YouTube brings some curious visitors in the door… in the door of a church… where the Gospel is preached…  Is that bad?

In response to the third point, I’ll submit the following alternative…  Could it be that Northpoint is not sinfully engaged in irreverent license here, but instead is joyfully reflecting the freedom we have in Jesus?

Um…  I actually can’t answer that one.  Not for sure.  But I give them the benefit of the doubt.  Here’s why:

And this one is actually a really big deal.  I’m a deep believer in allowing FUN in church.  We are commanded over and over again to rejoice in the Lord, and that the JOY of the Lord is our strength.  Further, we are set free for freedom’s sake in Jesus Christ.  FREEDOM and JOY.  I’d submit that a theology that does not allow fun within the walls of the church is not somehow more pious.  It’s just less fun. 

Because I have seen the clear preaching of Law and Gospel from Northpoint, and because many many many many souls have been saved through this ministry, I trust that this yuletide iBand is simply in keeping with their clearly stated calling as a church… to be a church for the unchurched.  I trust that they know full well the difference between entertainment and worship.  I trust that they have learned that flash and production values might pique an unbeliever’s interest, but only Jesus can save a soul.  Bottom line…  I trust that God is at work there.

I’m deeply concerned that we understand our place before a Holy God.  That we know what it means to fear Him as the Sovereign King.  But I think Northpoint understands that, too.  I think they just enjoy being alive.  Maybe where you fall on the thumbs-up/thumbs-down scale with this technogeek carol fest in church has less to do with your theology and more to do with your assumptions.  Or maybe it says a whole bunch about mine.

What do you think?

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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.

7 responses to northpoint, ipads, and christmas cheer :: can fun and reverence coexist?

  1. The sound quality of the “instruments” wasn’t always the best, but they obviously have talent and it was innovative.
    I think I am safe in guessing that those songs wouldn’t have been showcased during a church service had they not been presented in such a unique manner, but I am with you on this one Josh, we need more fun in Church.

    Too many negatives in this statement for me to understand at first glance:
    “I’d submit that a theology that does not allow fun within the walls of the church is not somehow more pious. It’s just less fun.”
    I get it now, but I might take it a step further by asking this question: How can a church body accomplish disallowing fun without being legalistic?

    • Ding! We have a winner. 🙂 It’s nuanced, of course. I didn’t want to throw a slapstick sketch or silly children’s song into the service plan after a reverent time of worship, either. I’m just saying, I think there’s a time for BOTH. Reverence is a necessity for right-hearted worship. And FUN is a healthy – I’d even say indispensable – part of Christian faith.

      Thanks for checking in brother n8. High five your bride, too. Bless you guys.

  2. I just found this! And I’m so glad, too. After the countless 14-minute-long Lori Line christmas song arrangement offertories I’ve endured in my lifetime, I enjoy seeing someone mix it up. Without a doubt, it stepped on toes, but really — how many churches are ok with super long piano or flute or trumpet solos (basically entertainment)? Musical methodology aside, though. The idea that the Christian life equaled a boring, serious, and restricted life kept me from truly following Jesus for most of my high school career. If I thought that, and I’m a pastor’s kid, how many other people think that, too? Life with Jesus is full of joy and laughter and adventure and FUN. I do understand the need for reverence. But I don’t think that church should mean that we put on serious/reflective faces and only laugh when the pastor cracks a Norwegian joke.

    Anyway, I like what you had to say about this.

    • Liz, I think you nailed it. Joy and laughter and adventure and FUN.

      I have been having an ongoing conversation in the last week with some of my good friends about this stuff, because there are important verses to consider along the lines of “take up your cross…” “die to self…” “change your laughter into mourning…” I accept these parts of the Bible, too. There is a time for suffering, and self-sacrifice, and reverent quiet.

      But I also believe the Bible verses that say “the joy of the Lord is my strength” and “Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” In all seriousness, we are too serious sometimes. 🙂

      Glad you found the freedom of God’s gift of FUN. God bless, Liz. But I predict you’ll still hear many many years worth of Norwegian jokes from your dad. Just saying…

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