“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

That's Entertainment

I want to preface this post with a statement: I am not naming names in this post; not because I want to protect those I am speaking of, but because, when names are used, people tend to forget the problem and focus on a person.

I recently read an article where a well-known pastor was being interviewed. He was being asked about the role of the mega-church in our society. The first thing I noticed is that he spent much of his time presenting his credentials. For example, several times he mentioned that he was a VERY successful author, and leader of a VERY large church, as if these were, in and of themselves, somehow pertinent to his ability to speak of the faith. I wonder; would they allow Jesus Christ to speak at the conference? This same Jesus Christ, when speaking of the committment required to follow Him, pared his followers down from thousands to twelve. (John 6) He certainly would not be a hit amongst the Church Growth Movement (CGM) groups out there today! Jesus knew that the people were simply following Him for the bread that He provided, and were not interested in actually becoming true disciples of His.

Many of the so-called preaching magazines today are not focused on building up the pastor, but in offering up a modern 'bread' in the form of cool 'effects' that you can add to the worship 'experience' which will keep people attending. Some examples are; proper lighting for a worship experience, the correct illustration at the correct time, physically moving the location of the worship team to keep people in a state of expectancy, etc. These are nothing more than various forms of bread to keep the people coming back for more. Clearly we see a move away from the faith and a move towards entertainment. But understand that this is not new! Jesus experienced people following Him for the entertainment as well.

How many people attend mega-churches because of the wonderful music, or the fun events, or the interesting illustrations using large-scale military equipment (I am not exaggerating)? Or worse yet, attend because they can 'blend in' and safely attend with no accountability? In other words, how many attend because of the 'bread' that is being offered? How many would attend if next week there were no lights, no videos, no cool gimmicks, etc. What if the the pastor came out and gave a sermon and that was it? No special effects, no special music, or lighting, simply reading of God's Word.

When Ezra read the Word of God to the people, in a sermon lasting all day and night, they fell on their faces and repented, seeking God. Why don't we see that in our churches? We have trained people to have their needs met, not to meet with God.

When it comes down to it, I believe that pastors are called to equip the saints for the works of ministry, doing this by edifying the saints, teaching on the beauty of God's grace, the awesomeness of His Holiness, yet at the same time preaching in order to see sinners convicted of their sin. This runs counter to many of the shallow sermons I have heard coming from pulpits today. Many of the ones I have witnessed have involved philosophical dissertations on how to be better at parenting, or cooking low-carb food, or sex. These are all real sermons that I heard myself!

One very well-known pastorprenuer, (that is the title of a book out now, but I like how it sums up many of these folks), even preached several sermons (on sex) without ever opening his Bible, referring to it only when he held it up at the beginning of his service in order to chant the 'official' liturgy that he has developed. He, like so many others, use the Bible as a magic amulet, pulling it out only to 'proof-text' a point he is trying to make, rather than reading it and providing some exposition of the text in order to provide true application in the lives of his congregation.

Now, I am not against 'mega-churches' per se; although many have claimed that it is out of envy that pastors at smaller churches are so cynical about CGM. For example, I had one CGM pastor tell me, 'Well, you simply don't have what it takes to grow a church into the thousands', and that was his reasoning as to why I was against what his church was doing. No, I am not against mega-churches, but I am against the goal of creating a mega-church using any method that is deemed successful. God does not function by the adage, "The end justifies the means", that is pragmatism, not God! God wants to bring glory to Himself, NOT to a church, or particular preacher.

Truth be known; sure I would love to have a larger church, but I also realize that it is God who builds the church, and all of the methods that the modern church has borrowed from the world may increase the numbers, but it is God who provides the true increase. There will be many tares amidst the wheat, and Christ Himself said that the world will hate us when we are preaching the gospel in its proper form.

When I see pastors getting their pictures on the cover of Time magazine and being asked to speak at major secular conferences, I watch what they say. Not because it is a sin to receive accolades, but because that is a moment when the opportunity for the gospel to reach a wider crowd is at its zenith, and how these men respond will tell whether or not they are 'preachers'. Alas, all too often, nary a word concerning the gospel comes out, rather they spew forth some idealogically 'safe' non-gospel, sometimes they even mention Jesus' name (albeit in a very general way, not as Savior and Lord) a couple of times to ensure that everyone is at least aware that they profess some form of Christianity and they are not simply Dr. Phil wannabes.

It is no longer in vogue to preach the gospel in its true form, because, as one of the guru's of the modern church movement says, people don't want to be 'scolded'! Funny, that seems to run contrary to the very book that they proclaim to be following! If you read any of Paul's writings, I think you would find that he was 'scolding', and truth be known, the regeneration which every pastor should desire to see in his congregation comes about by conviction of our sin. 1st Thessalonians opens up with the fact that the gospel came to the church in Thessalonika with CONVICTION, in Acts 2 we find that men, upon hearing the gospel, were pierced in their hearts by the message.

How is it that these men get it so wrong? These men who have degrees, and knowledge etc.? It is simple; they are using the world's ways to 'woo' people to Christ, and their churches are growing larger all the time, and the money and fame is flowing. I don't say that these men are any different than I might be in the same situation (I would pray that I not be, but that is something for another post). My point is that we are warned about the allure of fame and fortune, and when I hear these men spouting the numbers in their church, or the volume of books they sell, and then using that as a basis for their 'authority' on the Christian faith, I tend to be leery. The world would say that it is hard to argue with success, but as a pastor I would say that these things are meaningless unless the true gospel is being preached.

In Jesus' time the biggest 'church' was run by the Priesthood, they had big, beautiful buildings, they had people flocking to the temple, yet Christ seemed disinterested in this. As a matter of fact, when the disciples spoke of the beauty of the Temple, and the size of the grounds, Jesus tells them that none of the stones would be in place, and all would be thrown down. In other words, that big beautiful building would be destroyed. The enduring aspect of the church is the gospel, NOT the facilities.

With all of this being said, I would like to make it clear that I am not some backwoods Luddite, eschewing any modern technologies. However, when the message is overshadowed by modern methods, then I believe that we are wrong. What these (CGM) men have done with the church is made it consumer- based, rather than God-centered. If people want consumer needs met, then let them shop at Wal-Mart (another post about my feelings regarding Wal-Mart may be in the offing); the job of a pastor is to preach the gospel that is so unpopular; that message which has the audacity to say that man is desperately sinful and in need of a Savior, that God Himself provided that Savior, and that by placing our faith in Him, we are found righteous. Man is not a little bad, he is fallen, let us proclaim that and then follow immediately with the GOOD NEWS, which is that we can be picked up from our fallen state and brought into the presence of God!

Telling people how to be better people may make them nicer, but it won't provide salvation. Let us return to the gospel and leave the entertainment to others!


Ryan said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Well said brother.

Ray said...

Thanks... I really don't believe that most of the people are bad, per se, but that they simply have abandoned the gospel and are preaching something that they THINK might be the gospel, and while it is effective in a certain type of growth, I don't believe that it is proper...