The ABC drama LOST had it all: great acting, lots of suspense, beautiful beaches and high ratings. Its fans were devoted, many to the point of obsession, and for a few years it was impossible to get away from the cultural phenomenon of this show, even in church. Many churches all over America had sermon series that were titled (you’ll never guess it) “LOST.” It was a really big deal.
Until the writers started throwing in random bits of nonsense.
Smoke monsters. Polar bears. The hatch. The countdown. The backwards whispering. The flash forwards and the flashes backward. The crazy time traveling lady. The “others.” Sometimes it was good. But a lot of the time it was all incredibly random. And it didn’t connect.
What happened? How did this top-rated show lose its way? It might have something to do with the fact that the show’s writers and creators never knew how they were going to end it. They were just making stuff up. Throwing in these random bits of nonsense with no idea how the bits came together.
And soon, the fans began to notice. Questions went unanswered. Mysteries unresolved. Storylines abandoned. The writers had to make up an ending that didn’t really make an awful lot of sense and didn’t really make anyone that happy.
It’s not a good idea for writers to just make stuff up without a master plan. You might get some good ratings to begin with and attract some buzz, but the proof is in the pudding, and people will eventually want to know that there’s something “there” there.
Sometimes, I see worship leaders who remind me of the writers of LOST. There’s some good stuff, which should be commended, but then on occasion there are random bits of nonsense.
Strong theology one song, then terrible theology the next.
Sing with us, now sit there and watch us, now stand and sing again, but now stand there during this killer guitar solo.
This song has a plain background, the next song has a candle background and the next song has us flying through the clouds (on a 10-second predictable loop). Why am I flying through the clouds? Am I hiding from the smoke-monster?
This Sunday, I’m chilled out and low-key and pretty accessible, but next Sunday, I’m going to bring the fire down from heaven and make this place rock!
The sermon was about the humility of Jesus, but the song we sang right after it was about heavenly storehouses laden with snow.
You get the point. What you see are things that don’t make an awful lot of sense. There’s not a thread running through everything, connecting different elements, creating consistency from week to week, providing security for your congregation, and crafting a narrative that’s clear, communicable and gripping.
And that’s what separates good books from bad books, good stories from bad stories and good TV shows from TV shows that lose their way.
If you don’t have a core conviction/plot/theme/narrative to which every scene, chapter, character and surprise points back to, then you’re in trouble.
Because it’s not so much that random is bad. It’s that nonsense is bad. You can have things (anthems, songs, instrumentation, etc.) that appear random at first, but actually end up making sense because you know that they connect, and the congregation eventually says, “Aha! That connects!”
But you can’t make nonsense work. Nonsense results in confusion.
So, with whatever authority you have over a worship ministry, a service, a team, a choir, a small group or whatever it is, do what you can to keep the core from being compromised by random bits of nonsense. It might mean saying no to a persistent soloist, a weak song, a good idea at a bad time or that persistent pull to compromise. It might mean devoting more time, prayer and preparation to making sure you’re engaging people effectively.
The integrity of your ministry largely rests on your ability to maintain a faithful consistency to the Good News, week after week after week. Tell the old, old story in as many ways as you can, connecting your songs and services together to point back to the Gospel.