In the summer of 2008 I discovered and read Thrilled to Death by Archibald Hart. I was surprised to find within the context of his book a reasonable critique and challenge to the way many of us do church. ‘To my Christian readers, I would also like to add that modern worship styles and spiritual practices, when not balanced with contemplative or reflective practices, can also contribute to the hijacking of the brain’s pleasure system.’
Reading that quote for the first time, I had an epiphany. Now I know why I feel drawn to those quiet preludes in the local Episcopal church. I am like a person whose body is short on potassium and thus craves the relief a banana can bring, or a person craving vitamin D who feels the warmth of the sun on her neck and things, ‘Wow, I need to do this more often.’ Preludes and what they stand for – quiet, peace, centeredness and the like – are necessary ingredients to a healthy spiritual life. They are among the means – the vitamins – necessary for a life of centered peace.
Unfortunately, reflective times in corporate worship have not been a priority in most contemporary worship services, which are dominated by high stimulation designed to keep the attention of people who are often not otherwise interested in worship. Fortunately, though, there is a renaissance happening across the country that is bringing corporate forms of contemplative practices back into our churches.
Hart helps us create a well-rounded way of seeing all the constituent parts of our lives as a seamless and connected whole. In the midst of all the variety in our life, including work, family, social activities, hobbies and so forth, he teaches us we also need to balance our lives with private mediation and corporate worship. Hart recommends Christian meditation and times of quiet contemplation and concentration focusing on the presence of God. He says too many of us are addicted to extreme forms of stimulation, bored with the ordinary, and developing widespread cases of anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure from the typical events of life). Hart says we are being thrilled to death by our endless pursuit of pleasure, and that in so doing we are becoming incapable of experiencing the very pleasure we seek.
Hart says anhedonia is true of the church too. Contrary to more liturgical traditions, many evangelicals prefer a worship style that is full of intensity and is stimulation driven. They want an elevating fix at church. But, Hart says, “I need to point out that a stimulation-driven spirituality is not conducive to lowered stress and tension or deeper transformation. In fact, many seek a fix when they go to church precisely because they are so stressed out all week that they cannot stand any lowering of their arousal on the weekend. It just puts them into a post-adrenaline bad humor. Unfortunately, many churches don’t teach and allow for contemplative practices, so Christians aren’t integrating them into their life. A highly stressed lifestyle finds low arousal discomforting, so our evangelical mantra has become ‘Bring on the excitement, and I’ll go to church.’
Our overemphasis on stimulation and excitement may come from a desire to connect with our present culture. We who care about evangelism know that we catch fish on their terms, not ours. But this can be a genius bit of missiology or the road to compromise. All evangelism is contextual. The challenge for the church is to be simultaneously geared to our times while being anchored to the Rock, Jesus, and the narrative and trajectory of Scripture. Speaking only for myself, I have to admit that I have erred on the side of trying desperately to provide enough excitement to get people to come to church. I now regret that I may have been inadvertently working against my own passionately stated mission: to make followers of Jesus.
We need to find ways to authentically connect contemplative practices into a life of centered peace, which is a powerful form of salt, light and evangelism in our day.
From: Giving Church Another Chance – Chapter 2
© Todd Hunter, Giving Church Another Chance, Used by Permission, IVP