04 Nov It’s Boring
Flashback to fall 2006…We had over 100 students crammed into the youth center (EPICenter) for a weekend retreat. It was loud, chaotic and none of our planning survived the first hour of our time together with the students. It was a glorious, beautiful mess.
When it came time for the first service element, the students detached almost instantly. Without the thrill of dodgeball and other group games, the students seemed ready to revolt. We were used to having a boisterous crowd but this was different – they were belligerent, defiant even.
When the adults gathered that night to reflect on the evening we named the spirit in the room we’d felt that night: boredom. The students treated the service as if it was boring.
The next morning we decided to name what had happened the night before.
The speaker that morning began with these words:
Only boring people get bored.
A hush fell over the sleep deprived students.
An appropriately timed silence let the weight of the words sink in.
You could feel the weight of those words stirring up a variety of reactions in the room – defensiveness, confusion, conviction.
Only boring people get bored.
He spoke the words again to ensure the students understood there was no judgement or anger in the words. At their core they were invitational but it would be up to the students to decide how they heard them.
Only boring people get bored…
It was an awesome retreat.
So yeah, we’ve all been bored in church before.
Many of us have sat there wondering…hoping…waiting…longing for the preacher to stop preaching, for the worship leader to bring the bridge to a decisive end, for the service to finally be over.
We’ve all been bored in church before.
However, are we sure our boredom is a sign that what we’re experiencing is actually boring?
What if our boredom says something more about us than it does about the service?
What if our boredom says more about the interpretation of our experience than it does of the thing we’re experiencing?
What if only boring people get bored?
Something I am more and more convinced of is our culture’s failure to do the necessary, next level work of interpreting our experience and emotions well. I’m not sure we really take the time to ask why – why we feel what we feel, why we think what we think, or why we do what we do.
In this case, have we ever stopped to ask, “Why am I bored in church”?
In seminary, one of the first things we’re taught is how to study the Bible. And one of the ways we’re taught to do this is to read and interpret the scriptures together in community. Think of the Bible like a wet rag (I know, I know… that sounds like a terrible image). If you want to get the water out of the rag, you got to squeeze it. But anyone can squeeze it and get a little water out. If you really want to get the water out, you’ve got to twist it and turn it. But there’s only so much you can do on your own. If you really, really want to get the water out, you need to hold one side of the rag while someone else holds the other and then you can squeeze, twist and turn it and you’ll get water out that you could never squeeze out on your own.
That’s a really simple and unnecessarily long way of saying if we’re going to interpret the Bible well; we’ve got to learn to read the Bible not only by ourselves, for ourselves, but together, in community with others and for the sake of others.
And the simple reason for this is we can’t see what we can’t see and we can’t know what we don’t know. We all have different experiences and our brains and minds function differently and reading with others allows us to see the Bible differently. If we need each other to interpret the Bible better, is it possible that we need each other to interpret our own experiences and emotions?
What if our culture’s fascination with the individual has actually prevented us from truly understanding ourselves – especially something like why boredom?
For example, Fred Rogers (yes, Mr. Rogers) once went to chapel at Asbury Seminary here on the Orlando Campus. Before Mr. Rogers became, well, Mr. Rogers, he attended seminary himself and eventually became an ordained Presbyterian minister. When Rogers came into the chapel, it was hard to ignore his presence so they asked him if there was anything he’d like to share with this group of future pastors.
Rogers went on to share how in seminary, he was being taught to preach and as a part of that, he had to listen to sermons and critique them. One day he sat and listened to a preacher preach and he just could find nothing of worth in the sermon. There were countless things Rogers critiqued that could have been better and different. The sermon concluded and as it did, Mr. Rogers noticed a woman next to him weeping. He asked if she was alright and she informed him that she had heard exactly what she had needed to hear that day – God had spoken to her through the message.
Rogers was struck – the very thing he’d rejected and found nothing of worth in this woman was encouraged and strengthened by.
And it changed him.
On his own, the interpretation of his experience said this was boring, pointless, a waste of time…
But together, in community, his experience was interpreted differently. God was there. This woman heard and saw what he missed.
The preacher was not the problem – his heart, his motive, his purposes for being there was.
He was so preoccupied that he missed what God was up to in the moment.
Have we all been bored in church before? Sure we have. I know I have. But I can’t help but wonder if our boredom is as much a reflection upon the thing we’re experiencing or upon our own the nature and condition of our own hearts.
It’s probably a little of both.
Maybe we need to stop asking “Why is church so boring?” and start asking, “Why do I get so bored?”
Only boring people get bored.
Let’s be less boring together.