A recent research project by the University of Essex has claimed to have identified the most boring jobs and hobbies in the world.
The five most boring jobs are: Data Analysis, Accounting, Insurance, Cleaning and Banking. The five most boring hobbies are: Sleeping, Religion, Watching Television, Observing Animals and Maths.
It will be no surprise to Christians living in our secular post-Christian context that our friends and neighbours consider our faith to be boring. We might be mildly offended and insist that the worship of the true and living God is anything but boring. We might try to claim that true Christianity is not a religion, in the sense of observing rules and performing rituals to earn favour with God, but a joyful response to God’s amazing grace in Christ.
However, we all know that church can sometimes be boring, and the observance of seemingly pointless rules and meaningless rituals is at the very least tedious. Much public Christianity – whether in school assemblies, at public occasions, or on ‘Thought for The Day’ – is truly mind-numbing. I remember attending a liberal church as a child and regularly resorting to counting the layers of bricks in the wall to pass the interminable time.
How should we respond to the fact that our culture regards our religion as boring? One mistake the church has regularly made is to try to make its faith more attractive by appropriating the categories of secular entertainment. Paul addressed this challenge in Corinth, where he refused to adopt the entertaining rhetoric of Greek culture and instead chose to preach the ‘foolish’ message of the cross, trusting that the Holy Spirit would reveal its true wisdom to those who heard.
Whilst there is no excuse for church ever to be done badly, it is ultimately self-defeating to think that we can achieve relevance and interest just by adopting the style of the most popular game shows. Preachers-turned-comics may draw a crowd for a while, but quickly feel dated. The church’s attempts to be in touch with the culture are usually at least ten years behind the times, and probably contribute to the impression of boredom.
Not boring but essential
Rather than attempting to meet the expectation of the culture, we need to have a firm confidence in the enduring truth, relevance and power of the gospel. Church will indeed seem boring to those who reject Christ, for whom the logically consistent alternative is to ‘eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’. We can never offer unbelievers something better than this. What we have to offer is authenticity and true hope in the face of the very real sufferings of life. Despite the negative perception they might have, the jobs that are identified as boring are in fact essential, and there will be times in life when we urgently need them. They won’t seem boring then.
The gospel does not need to be made interesting or relevant, but we need to be patient and wait for the times in life when people need what it has to offer. We must be authentic and consistent in our living and speaking so that when unbelievers do choose to come amongst us, drawn by the Spirit, they hear the prophetic and convicting word of God and recognise that ‘God is really amongst you’.
Discernment is required
One characteristic that made these hobbies seem boring to outsiders was that those who engaged in them kept speaking about them. Unduly persistent personal evangelism can confirm people in their stereotypical assumptions. Whilst we need to make the most of every opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with others, this does not mean that we need to be always speaking of Jesus, nor attempting to turn every conversation we have to the gospel. This will make us unwelcome bores. We need to exercise great discernment, as there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. In the New Testament the primary pattern for church members is to speak reactively as our good lives, and the hope that we have in face of suffering, prompt questions that demand a gospel answer.
So, let’s not be ashamed of the gospel because the world thinks that we are boring, nor change it to try to overcome their prejudices. Rather let’s have confidence that it alone is the power to save from the coming wrath – and this is not boring at all.
John Stevens is National Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC).