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Noisy TV, Noisy Church

March 14, 2011

By Frederick Schmidt

This week's Wall Street Journal featured a marketplace article describing the "noisy projects" that the TV networks are going to test this spring in an effort to get noticed in an ever more competitive entertainment market. Noisy projects are stories and themes designed to attract the attention of viewers by relying on outrageous themes and offbeat concepts.

As the article notes, "Cops are packing magic powers. Criminals from the 1960s haven't aged. And a young Edgar Allen Poe is prowling 19th-century Boston as a private eye." If that doesn't work the networks also have a handful of shows with vulgar titles that they hope will draw viewers, including "Good Christian Bitches" and "The $#*! My Father Says."

There is a certain guilty pleasure in watching network executives act like desperate mainline church leaders looking for a way to hook a few warm bodies. But the pleasure of knowing that we churchgoers have company in the entertainment biz doesn't last very long.

After all, when it comes to the entertainment business, it's all about entertainment. If you like the premise that the show, "17th Precinct," will feature a story that combines the erstwhile '80s police drama "Hill Street Blues" with magic—by all means, tune in.

But when it comes to churches desperately pandering to every trend that seems to draw someone into a worship service, that's a different matter. Churches that try "noisy projects" in an effort to get a larger "market share" run the risk of losing big. (Examples include, but are not limited to short-cuts to clergy preparation; trendy off-beat approaches to worship; sermons that amount to little more than politics masquerading as theology; the wholesale abandonment of the liturgy; and sermons with vulgar titles.)

What's at stake?

God, for one thing.

Read the rest of this article at Patheos.com here.

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).

  
The Spiritual Landscape

Noisy TV, Noisy Church

It's time to drop our fascination with noisy church and ask ourselves what it might mean to be faithful.

By Frederick Schmidt, March 14, 2011


This week's Wall Street Journal featured a marketplace article describing the "noisy projects" that the TV networks are going to test this spring in an effort to get noticed in an ever more competitive entertainment market. Noisy projects are stories and themes designed to attract the attention of viewers by relying on outrageous themes and offbeat concepts.

As the article notes, "Cops are packing magic powers. Criminals from the 1960s haven't aged. And a young Edgar Allen Poe is prowling 19th-century Boston as a private eye." If that doesn't work the networks also have a handful of shows with vulgar titles that they hope will draw viewers, including "Good Christian Bitches" and "The $#*! My Father Says."

There is a certain guilty pleasure in watching network executives act like desperate mainline church leaders looking for a way to hook a few warm bodies. But the pleasure of knowing that we churchgoers have company in the entertainment biz doesn't last very long.

After all, when it comes to the entertainment business, it's all about entertainment. If you like the premise that the show, "17th Precinct," will feature a story that combines the erstwhile '80s police drama "Hill Street Blues" with magic—by all means, tune in.

But when it comes to churches desperately pandering to every trend that seems to draw someone into a worship service, that's a different matter. Churches that try "noisy projects" in an effort to get a larger "market share" run the risk of losing big. (Examples include, but are not limited to short-cuts to clergy preparation; trendy off-beat approaches to worship; sermons that amount to little more than politics masquerading as theology; the wholesale abandonment of the liturgy; and sermons with vulgar titles.)

What's at stake?

God, for one thing.

You can begin where people are. It would be folly not to. St. Paul knew this. So did Jesus. But the preaching that both of them did was based on the conviction that people need God. Rightly preached, the Gospel has never been about the effort to make people comfortable with where they are. It has always been about promoting new intimacy with God and eliminating the obstacles to it.

Mega-church pastors have already discovered this and they are exploring ways to address the problem. It turns out that bringing large numbers of people through the doors to hear dramatic preaching and great music doesn't necessarily form Christian souls.

Mainline churches don't need to adopt the abandoned strategies of their larger neighbors in the desperate effort to build a bigger church—unless you are just into learning things the hard way, again. In a world that is spiritual but not religious, where people "do God," but they don't "do religion," churches would do well to ask how they nurture a deeper sense of connection with God, rather than fill pews.

Another thing at stake is worship.

Christianity has always been alert to the needs of people, but the church at its best knows that entertainment isn't enough. Entertainment is a horizontal activity, with performers and an audience. A responsive audience may encourage a performer and the response of an audience may enhance a performance. But that's as good it gets and it's all about people.

Worship requires an experience of the transcendent, and the performance (if you want to call it that) points beyond itself to God. If that doesn't happen, worship doesn't happen.

 

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. is Director of Spiritual Formation and Associate Professor of Christian Spirituality at Southern Methodist University, Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, Texas. An Episcopal priest, he also serves as the director of the Episcopal studies program. He is the author of several books, including Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Luke (Morehouse, 2009) and What God Wants for Your Life (Harper One, 2005).

Schmidt's column, "The Spiritual Landscape," is published every Monday on the Mainline Protestant portal.


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