What Happened to Wonder?

Posted by | December 01, 2010 | Church Communications | 18 Comments

About a month ago I went with some friends to see Sigur Ros frontman jonsi on his solo tour stop in Chicago at The Vic.

It was, without a doubt, one of the most awe-inspiring live performances I’ve ever been a part of. For over an hour-and-a-half I sat spellbound with a sold out audience watching live music synched with video, crazy instruments and costumes, dance, and one of the most intense encore sets I’ve ever seen [I recorded some video you can see here.] I was truly in awe, utterly speechless at the end of the performance.

When the lights came on at the conclusion of the show I turned to my friend Dave and said, “Why can’t the church do anything like this?”

That was a loaded statement so let me unpack it real quick.

I left that concert feeling something I hadn’t felt in a long time… a sense of awe and wonder.

Most leaders today look back to the book of Acts for a picture of what the church should be. We often site Acts 2:42-27 that depicts the community and life that thrived in the first church. It says,

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Pretty awesome, huh?

I think in a lot of ways, churches are recovering what it means to be Church.

Today we have some of the most incredible communicators that are proclaiming and teaching the truth of God’s Word. With the click of a mouse we have access to hundreds of podcasts and messages from teachers, pastors and scholars around the globe. We can even read the Bible on our smartphones.

We’ve realized that the church isn’t a building or a place we go and it’s not something we do…  it’s something we are actively a part of, finding our place and serving Christ together.

We understand the value of living life in community. We get that life is meant to be lived out with others, walking with one another through the difficult times and the good times.

We’re taking seriously the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves and are taking up the cause of those who are marginalized and rejected. We’re fighting against injustice, caring for orphans and widows, and providing for the physical and material needs of those in need.

If you really look and see what the Church is doing around the globe it’s pretty incredible, but there’s one thing in this passage that I think we’re missing.

While we have great teaching that engages the mind, value living in community with others and are caring for the needs of our neighbors locally and our brothers and sisters globally, I feel like we’re missing something… we’re missing the sense of awe, we are void of signs and wonders.

Some friends of mine recently took a trip to Italy where they toured the Vatican and other churches and cathedrals. The pictures they took [even though they weren’t technically allowed to] were stunning. All over the walls and domes of the cathedrals, the story of Gospel was captured through art… murals, stained glass, and statues. There’s something reverent about those old cathedrals. Something sacred. My friends weren’t even allowed to speak while they were inside. Some historians would say that in that time period those ancient cathedrals were constructed that the church saved the arts.

A lot has changed since then.  The Church looks, feels, and sounds very different.

There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.

Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel like in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.

Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffeeshops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”

I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.

On the opposite side of all of this is the idea that the message is all that matters.

While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.

I think we’ve created and cultivated excellent communicators who can explain and teach God’s Word with great conviction that engages the mind but is void of the ability to really capture people’s heart or emotion.  The Gospel is more than words, it’s power, and oftentimes we simply trust in the words and stifle what could make them truly powerful.

Today I believe, like so many others do, that the arts will save the church.

My good friend Blaine leads a team of artists at Willow Creek Community Church and he says that the artist is the new pastor and prophet. He says, “Every time you pick up a camera, a pen, a laptop, or a notebook, it is beauty-making at its most basic. And through your beauty-making, you are becoming the New Pastors of the 21st Century.”

So many churches have opted for either being completely focused on the message void of the arts or others shape a message around the arts, while some others wrestle what it means to live in the tension of both.

I firmly believe it’s both and, not either or. I believe that the artist and the pastor need to work together to communicate the message of the Gospel with more than words.

Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song. We have the ability to bring the light into darkness, to communicate the unseen and unknown and bring a glimpse of Heaven to earth.

I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen and heard to a world that is desperate for a sign.

I don’t have any answers here, I’m just raising the questions I’ve been wrestling with lately…

When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?

When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace?

When was the last time you felt and sensed God’s presence in a tangible way?

When was the last time your heart was truly moved?

Where is the sense of wonder?

Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.  - Psalm 40:5

About Tim Schraeder

Tim Schraeder is obsessed with all things social media. Having worked with some of the world’s largest churches and para-church organizations, he served as an evangelist for social media with a knack for connecting people and spreading ideas that matter. He’s been a consultant and coach as well as a sought-after speaker and author who helped write the book on communication and social media for the church. Today, Tim is passionate to help businesses and organizations connect, engage, and build loyal followers across all forms of social media. He is a die-hard Chicagoan who can be found in any neighborhood coffeeshop that has free wifi.

  • Guest

    Sounds like you pulled a good ol' fashioned one of these: http://stuffchristianslike.net/2010/11/the-jesus-

    • http://www.timschraeder.com Tim Schraeder

      :) I don't know about that, just trying to foster a good conversation!

    • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

      i do not see that at all. kind of lame you don't leave your name either.

  • Mark S

    The latest sense of wonder and awe that I've experienced was learning today that a 10 year old boy in our congregation no longer has any signs of brain cancer, even though 3 months ago it was the size of an orange behind his nose. His father, who is battling leukemia, is due for a check-up in a few weeks and we are continually praying that his news will follow suit.

    I think a sense of awe always comes with true stories of how God is working miracles in peoples' lives and the passage you quoted from Acts says it all in verse 43.

    Thanks for the thought provoking words!

    • http://www.timschraeder.com Tim Schraeder

      Amen! Stories are the most powerful ways to communicate wonder. That's so great to hear and will keep that child's father in my prayers!

  • Felicity

    I'll have to disagree with Guest about this being a Jesus Juke; this post is exactly in my thought process right now. Seems like so much division is related to this issue – I hate that. But I believe diversity in our art is part of the story. I'm interested in your thoughts on the "no production" church models I've been hearing about, Tim. How does that relate here?

    • http://worshipVJ.com Stephen Proctor

      I'd be interested in hearing about "no production" church models, too.

      I think the word "model" should be a red flag. Our "why" should strive to be in the same arena, but the "how" and "what" should look different for everyone.
      We need to return to the art of creating "sanctuaries"…places that are set apart…that give us a retreat from the norm….that are designed in order for us to focus on & worship Christ as a community. This isn't a place that God needs…He is everywhere. but we as the body need a place where we can limit our distractions. And every congregation is different, and thus needs different types of sanctuaries to nurture a soul environment.

      As soon as you follow a "model" or manual or formula, you destroy any chance of awe & wonder. B/c awe & wonder cannot be produced, programmed, rehearsed, packaged, branded, marketed, & formulated. It's as fragile as a whisper. And we cannot replicate it nor control the results/outcome of it.

      We need to stop focusing so much on the "content" and start focusing more on creating context (environment) that fosters art, creativity, story, awe & wonder.
      Like you said, Tim, it's both/and. Content AND Context. We've nailed the "content"…but we lack in "context" and we've gotten off track somehow.

      All environments require some level of production. But production is more than lights, sound & video.
      "No production" isn't the answer… the Sistene Chapel had more "production" than you could imagine.
      What I think some art-bent Christians are sick of is the constant unhealthy diet of "slick, flashy, programmed, expected, concert-style, stage-centered" worship services that visually point to man & his talents than a God who wants to draw us into Himself in a mysterious way. Sure, our talents are supposed to point to God & tell His Story, but the way we are doing it often times leaves us in the lime-light 100% of the time.

      Maybe awe & wonder takes place when a story is told well and you forget that the storyteller is even there.
      That's what happened to me at the Jonsi concert. I almost forgot Jonsi was there…I didn't look at him all the time. The Jonsi concert was bigger than Jonsi himself.

      Maybe we should stop focusing on the storytellers so much. i don't know.

      • http://www.jasonwidney.com Jason Widney

        I think churches are afraid of the people who are really capable of facilitating the awe and wonder. These people are people who cannot duplicate themselves, you cannot "train" a volunteer to facilitate it at multi-sites. The Church has moved away from having "Linchpins" as part of their teams. If you cannot duplicate yourself then you are looked down on as not a good leader. I feel like churches need to create an environment where these kind of people can really grow and develop and be ok if things get a little messy at times. I guarantee the things that filled the go tour with awe were not conceived or developed in a conference room. And was not a product of endless meeting where everyone gave their input and the end product ended up being a watered down version of the original artistic vision.

        • Stacy

          Well, well said, Jason.

          One word I like to think of is Mystery. Where is the unknown, unexplainable nature of God reflected in our programed-down-to-the-second services? How can we give space, in a corporate setting, to let God do something in our midst? Ugh. Just thinking about church, as I have known it, is exhausting and and makes me feel like it all was a waste of time and effort. Like I contributed to the inoculation of thousands. Bleh.

          I don't want answers all the time. I want MYSTERY.

  • http://www.jennyrain.com JennyRain

    I love this… because I've been praying about my "one word" for 2011 and keep coming back to "wonder" – I thought it meant for me personally – but I never thought it could also apply to my work too (I work full time at a church)… For me as a little girl, I used to be in awe and wonder every time I walked into Catholic church.

    Even though I am a part of a very pixellated, modern church now… I am still captured by wonder in liturgical settings that really exalt the "Bigness" of who God really is… for me, it isn't about just WHAT is done in a service, it is about WHERE you are and how much time is given to reverent, holy spaces

  • Rob

    I have always applauded the use of the arts to share the Gospel. I don't think there are any limits on the creative ways to express to others about God's personal love. A concern I see in some churches is the heavy leaning into the skills and abilities of their artistic staff, not leaning into the power of their First Love. Rev. 2:4

  • http://www.spudart.org spudart

    Yeah, i often find it's all about social time before the service. I like to spend my time before the service reading God's word, reflecting, praying. But that's just me being an extreme introvert. It's good to be social. And I should be happy that other people find their joy in being social before the service. It just makes me nervous. I like to be quiet and reflect on God and prepare myself for the service.

    One could say that I could do that at home before I come to church and then be social before church. And maybe I use the excuse to bury myself in my bible to not be social and that is wrong of me to do.

    But it brings me immense joy whenever we are asked to leave the church quietly. It reminds me of the respect for God and his place.

  • http://www.spudart.org spudart

    I also want to say that I really like your question of "what happened to wonder?" The same can be said of awe. I like to think about when was the last time I was truly in awe.

  • http://worshipVJ.com Stephen Proctor

    I don't even know where to start.
    This is the best blog post i've read in a long while!
    Tim, i owe you my couch after you letting me crash at your place during STORY. You need to come down to Nashville and hang for a few days…seriously.
    We are in the same conversations at Journey…it's an exciting discovery process.

    Our "cartography team" (creative arts/worship/etc) just started reading "The Art of Curating Worship" by Mark Pierson…you've heard me talk about it a LOT. ;)
    I think it would rock your world. It doesn't have all the answers, but will continue to fuel this discussion and provide a new language for what it is you (and I) are hoping for in the Church.

    You should publish this post in OUTSPOKEN.

  • http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com Kyle Reed

    Hopefully this isn't cheesy for me to do, but I wrote a post about what I called the "Wow Factor" in the church a little while back that I think better answers your questions and gives my thoughts
    you can read it here if you want http://thoughtsaboutnothing.com/the-wow-factor/

    But I think you bring up some great thoughts. I think a lot of it comes down to laziness. And not traditional laziness, but the Seth Godin version of lazy. The type of lazy that is unmotivated and really scared of what could be or what could happen. its like the process of being an artist or a creative is overwhelming and therefore we settle for second best. Just something that hit me as I read

  • Jack

    Tim, I had a bit of a freak out when you posted this, because I sat in church and wondered exactly the same thing. We're coming at it from different starting points, and ending up with the same conclusion. It's almost like an echo…. http://thescrapheap.wordpress.com/2010/11/28/i-we

  • Leanne

    I find the wonder and awe in seeing light in the darkness. Like the candles processing out of church Maundy Thursday night leaving us in darkness … and all the candles we light on Easter and Christmas… I also see the wonder and awe when kids go up to leave a prayer on our prayer wall. It doesn't have to be the Sistine Chapel to provoke the awe, it can be in the very small and the very human, y'know?

  • Bobby D

    Great essay Tim! Many people in today’s Western society are so absorbed in the mundane that they have forgotten what it feels like to be moved, by God or anything else. The question is how do we bring them back?

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