Surprise! It’s one of the missing ingredients in today’s church.

Most church worship services and programs have become so predictable, so varnished, so rehearsed, and so scripted that any awe of God has been squeezed out. It seems there’s no time set aside for him to act.

I’m all for good planning and preparation. But we’ve forgotten how to plan time for spiritual spontaneity.

I respect certain aspects of ritual and tradition. But I worry about Jesus’ warning in Matthew 6:7: “Don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.”

Jesus demonstrated a flare for the unexpected. He played with surprise. While addressing a crowd he spontaneously created a teachable moment when some guys lowered a paralytic through the roof.

He turned a hillside worship into a surprise picnic with a few fish and loaves.

He unexpectedly challenged self-righteous accusers to throw the first stone.

People walked away from their encounters with Jesus chattering about his surprising, unexpected, spontaneous interactions.

When’s the last time you grabbed a friend at Starbucks and said, “You won’t believe what happened at church last weekend”?

Surprise. Awe. It’s something I’ve noticed in Christian churches in other countries I’ve visited in recent years. I remember a gathering of Cubans spontaneously breaking into unplanned songs after a remarkable and moving footwashing. The sense of God’s presence was palpable.

A few weeks ago hundreds of teenagers spontaneously moved out of a gym’s bleachers and gathered around a wooden cross during a time of pointed silence.

This week a young man told me how God jolted him into a deeper relationship with him through an unscripted, individualized prayer experiment during a Lifetree Café episode. Every week at Lifetree we build in times for God to surprise. He amazes me week after week.

George Barna reported the majority of today’s church goers say they rarely experience the presence of God during a worship service. Maybe nobody remembered to give God time and space to surprise.