The recent resurgence of Spurgeon study is a delight for those who appreciate his life and work. There is at least one clear reason for the rise of Spurgeon’s popularity: his day mirrors our day. Spurgeon saw all around him theological and moral decline. He was even asked once to preach at a circus but denied enthusiastically. Because Spurgeon spoke discerningly and clearly in his day, he speaks prophetically to our day.
Charles saw the dangers of the entertainment and amusement-driven church. Even today, many churches are tempted by a form of the attractional model, seeking to lure devotees through prizes, expensive giveaways, games, fairs, and promises of fun.
Lest we be tempted by the same schemes, Spurgeon rightly warns us of the danger in wielding Christ’s bride as a tool for frivolous amusement. An All-Round Ministry is a collection of Spurgeon’s Presidential Addresses at the Annual Conference of the Pastors’ College, from 1872-1890. In one of these sermons, “The Evils of the Present Time, and Our Object, Necessities, and Encouragements,” Spurgeon presents several arguments against the entertainment-driven church.
What does Spurgeon have to say about the attractional church model?
1) Our Mission Is Not Entertainment
Spurgeon remarks; “Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian Church to supply the world with amusements.” Humans need leisure, and the church can be a place of rest and recreation with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Our mission, however, is not to entertain the world; it is to save sinners through the preaching of the gospel. The world will provide entertainment and amusements enough. The church’s distinct offering and singular mission is the soul-rescuing gospel of Jesus.
2) A Focus on Entertainment Negates the Weightiness of the Cross
Spurgeon notes how one church put on a series of services focusing on special plays, concerts, recreational events, including rousing games of musical chairs. He laments that “this is to go on side by side with the preaching of Thy bleeding sacrifice, O Christ of God!”
If our mission is to urgently call sinners to repent, to speak of the realities of heaven and hell, and to lift up the spirits of the shamed and downcast with the grace of Christ crucified—can we do all this while playing musical chairs? The greater the push toward entertainment and amusement, the lesser the imperative of the gospel will truly be felt as imperative. So Spurgeon exhorts; “By the solemnities of death, and judgment, and eternity, I beseech you, keep yourselves clear of the follies, the inanities of the day.”
3) Frivolous Entertainment Will Attack the Preaching of Christ
In fact, not only are frivolity and the gospel incompatible, one will eventually destroy the other. No one can serve two masters, and neither can a church pursue both silly amusements and true gospel preaching. At some point, either the church will allow the seriousness of the preaching of the gospel to win the day, or the church will choose entertainment of its “customers” as its ultimate pursuit. When the latter choice is made, the urgent gospel of salvation from judgment will no longer be allowed to threaten the good vibes of the entertaining church. So Spurgeon warns; “…the preaching of Christ usually ceases when these frivolities come in. These things are so opposed in spirit, that one or the other will have to be dropped; and we know which it will be.”
Let us take a cue from Spurgeon. As ministers of the true gospel, we should cultivate churches of true rejoicing and rest. We do not find our rest in the kinds of weightless amusements the world offers so freely, and pursue amusements that may liven or distract for a moment, rather we make our aim the true gospel, the gospel of peace and joy.
Aaron Halvorsen lives in Olathe, Kansas, where he is a pastor at Community Bible Church. You can follow him on twitter.