I’m sure I have made the 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 evangelism at worst.
Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century English preacher and author, 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 year 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 is obviously laughing out loud. I think it’s closer to the reality than the brooding, serious portraits we typically see.
Though we sometimes try to turn Jesus into a frowning, rule-checking law enforcer – I don’t believe he was. In fact, I believe he was probably the life of the party.
Remember, his first miracle was turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana (which I’ve also heard referred to as “restocking the bar”). As we know, this more casual (though not less serious) approach to faithfulness didn’t sit well the law and order types of Jesus’ 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 experience of that joy in many different ways. I could take the easy way out and say that as Christians we are all 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!
Duty and obligation, while still perfectly acceptable motives for action, don’t inspire me the same way as Jesus’ call to love and serve do. Jesus offers the opportunity to share in the work of God and to thereby experience firsthand the joy of God’s kingdom. That kind of invitation requires us to respond. I hope you will join me for the party.