Don’t Pull a LOST

1The 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 backwards. 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 of 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.

14 thoughts on “Don’t Pull a LOST”

  1. This is a great post about how we worship. Not such a great post about a TV show called Lost. Anybody who watched the entire show, and at least listened to the two head writers in an interview would know they did in fact have a master plan and knew how they wanted to end it all along with a beginning, middle and end.

    They originally submitted an outline to ABC of what they wanted to do. When it became huge a hit, it was the network who wanted to stretch it out for as long as they could like an accordion and made the writers “write for the middle” for much longer than they wanted, and add more to it. They finally locked in the last 3 seasons with an end for 2010 planned and worked toward it, episode count and all. Anybody who watched the last 3 seasons can see how much tighter and focused the plot got. People who don’t like the way it ended, didn’t like the way it ended, but for years they said they were going to go out in a way not everybody would like! Doesn’t sound random at all, if you ask me.

    It looks much better when Christians don’t get their opinions confused with facts and do a little more research on TV shows if they’re going to use them to make them their main point about a spiritual matter.

    Otherwise, I agree we need to consistently have a focused point when we get together for worship.


    1. Hey Steve. Great thoughts.

      There are views all over the map with respect to how much J.J. Abrams, Damon Lindelof, and Carlton Cuse knew from the beginning, or how much they were making up as they went along. To get into a LOST debate on this blog might be as futile as trying to defeat the smoke monster.

      In any case, even the creators did seem to admit in multiple interviews that, while the major arc was known from the beginning, there were indeed many weird elements introduced (hence my word “nonsense”) for no particular reason, and with no specific “why” in mind.

      And that’s my point for worship leaders: random elements of nonsense can detract from and cloud up the major arc of the gospel, just like the random elements of nonsense on LOST detracted, in my view, from what could have been a stronger story if it had all been connected better. I suppose we can blame ABC. 🙂

  2. You make some nice points about worship service flow and “theme” tie-in, however i do not believe all services need to be so fully orchestrated to be effective I reaching those both within and out of the fold.

  3. Great article, but all but one of your “weird” LOST references were original ideas that came from the first season and a half. One of the great things about the show was that there were so many weird, creepy, and mysterious things that happened (Polar bears, smoke monsters, visions of dead relatives, “others”, etc.). I think that if everything was neatly explained and tied up we’d end up being less interested over time. Plus, it’s hard for a show to keep such a large amount of actors on screen (availability, pay, …), inevitably leading to quick deaths and hanging storylines.

    I know your main point wasn’t to have a LOST debate, haha. It would be really nice to not have to sit through a performance during worship time; better to leave that for a song being played during communion or something, if at all. I still don’t understand the leaders who hold notes for an uncomfortable amount of time or try to quickly say the next line of a song right before everyone else is supposed to sing it. I’m always thinking, “Dude, I get it. The words are on a giant screen right behind you.” I’m sure most have great intentions, but like all of us, it doesn’t hurt to reflect regularly on our motivations.

  4. Jamie,
    Thank you for this post. As someone involved in the flow of our Sunday mornings this is a good reminder. Also, all your points about LOST is one of the major reasons I stopped watching the show.

  5. I’m not going to comment on LOST because the TV show was not the point of the post. The fact that people went on the tangent of discussing the show just proves how quickly non-central theme can draw us away.

    On of the ways the I see most modern pastors “pull a LOST” (to use the phrase from this article) is constant excursions into often humorous personal stories. “So, um, like, there was this one time with my kids, well, here’s the video…” sort of stuff, and I’m not talking occasionally either. I had one pastor for whom sermon time was 20%-40% stories, pictures, and even YouTube clips of him and/or his family. Seriously, Sunday was like live session of catching up on his Facebook as much as a sermon. And that’s the point: the man became the example of the message or even became the message itself on many occasions. (Sermon transcripts show that prior to a generation ago the great pastors of church history spoke little of themselves in the pulpit!) It seems Scriptural examples to make a point are old and moldy preaching, whereas the multimedia-sermon-about-me is the hot new sexiness that “makes more of a personal connection” (so it was explained to me) with the audience. Then there’s the skits, the “raise your hand if…” sort of audience participation ploys, and of course endless stints of banal comedy. Theme, gravitas, and thus the focus are all… LOST… amongst the milieu of God-only-knows-what-it’ll-be-this-week distractions to “keep it fun.”

    PS: Funny you should mention animations used for worship slides, as my church once used a series of international flags as rotating background for a song. These flags included many that had the Islamic “shahada” text, Islamic symbols, or other pagan symbols. I had to close my eyes for the song because half the time I looked up I was staring at some animated pagan symbol.

  6. Phil, there’s nothing wrong with getting a little Lost geekiness out of one’s system 🙂

    Great observation on looking at old sermon illustrations. Charles Spurgeon’s frequently have small anecdotes but by and large speak volumes of how he viewed his own experiences–nowhere near as important as the Word of God!

  7. Jaime – This was great! Good analogy too. I’ve been planning worship services for almost 10 years. Having the service “make sense” can be a challenge with baby dedications, special announcements, commissioning missions teams, special offerings, greeting guests, baptisms, teaching new songs, etc, etc, and etc. BUT coherency is still a worthy goal. And coherency doesn’t necessarily mean “thematic.” Just because the sermon is about XYZ doesn’t mean you have to sing a song about X followed by a song about Y and close the service with a song about Z. Much is gained in the area of coherency simply by letting your service be gospel-oriented.

    I hope a lot of people read this post!

  8. Good thoughts here. As a worship leader I usually strive to make the songs connect with each other and with the sermon. I often wonder if anyone in the congregation notices or cares those types of things.

    Many of my colleagues in the same role are the highly creative/artistic type which is a good thing (in general), but can lead to the odd appearance of “randomness”.

    To the person who commented about the leader giving a verbal prompt for the next line of the song … I laughed at that as I do it all the time. The folks who run the presentation software aren’t always the most musically inclined and need help from time to time to figure out where the song is going.

  9. Hi Jamie,
    I had to laugh at how much buzz your LOST analogy caused. I, too, was a devoted fan who was left bewildered at the end, but that’s neither here nor there. Thank you for the thoughtful principle behind the analogy, and for great practical examples. I loved the reminder at the end to maintain faithful consistency to the Good News and always point back to the Gospel.

    Also, as an aside, it’s so great to see so many male worship leaders commenting. I give piano lessons to some elementary age Christian boys and my vision is that one day they may be out on the front lines leading God’s people in worship they way you all do. Thank you all for your faithful service!

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