I’m sure I have made the same mistake many ministers and church leaders make when trying to encourage people to participate in the life of the church. Instead of talking about the joy and hope that can come from faith, we have placed the emphasis on obligation and duty. Instead of calling people to laughter and fun, we have approached the Good News with deadly seriousness. I believe this approach is counterproductive at best and the very opposite of real evangelism at worst.
Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century English preacher and scholar, once advised young preachers, “The horrors are poor bait. The world will never be converted to God until Christians cry less and laugh and sing more.” Hundreds of years earlier, St. Francis of
Assisi wrote, “Do you want to know one of the best ways to win over people and lead them to God? It consists of giving them joy and making them happy.”
I have a picture at home I picked up years ago that is called, simply, “Jesus Laughing.” In this picture, Jesus isn’t just smiling – he has his head tipped back and is obviously laughing out loud. Even though we sometimes want to turn Jesus into a frowning, rule checking law enforcer – I don’t think he was. In fact, I believe he was probably the life of the party nearly everywhere he went. As we know, this didn’t set well with the “law and order” types of his day and eventually led to his arrest and execution. But before Jesus could be
stopped, he revealed to us that the Kingdom of God is not a boring, life draining obligation – it’s a party!
God calls us to experience joy in our faith. Our church offers opportunities to grow in our faith and experience that joy in many ways. Of course, I could take the easy approach and say that as Christians we are obligated by our Christian duty to support the ministry of our church by our attendance, financial support, volunteer work, etc.; but that would be missing the point. As Jesus makes clear, God does not want dutiful givers, he wants cheerful givers.
I’ll be honest, duty and obligation don’t particularly inspire me either (although, some mornings they do get me up!). But the chance to share in the work of God in this place and to experience joy in his Spirit does. I hope you’ll join me for the party.