So, I'm sitting here on a Saturday morning sipping a fabulous mug of Peet's coffee, and thinking some big thoughts - specifically, thoughts about church. That may seem kinda', well, obvious since church leadership is my career! But I mean more than just thinking about next Sunday's sermon, or the needs of our particular congregation at the moment, or the many activities that constitute the church calendar. I mean thinking about church: ho we do church, and why we do it the way we do it.
When it comes to "doing" church, the dominant paradigm in evangelicalism today is the Marketing model. Following the lead of the Willow Creeks and the Saddlebacks of the world, thousands of evangelical churches today are consumed with building little empires of programs and media-driven glitz that will draw a crowd in, ostensibly so they can hear about Jesus. The idea is not all bad: usually the motive is to "speak the language of the culture" as we communicate Christ. But in practice this usually leads to burnt-out pastors and volunteers who desperately try to outdo other churches with music, media, and family programs. Worse yet, this model fundamentally changes the church's mission. For if the goal is to be appealing to "unchurched" people, then one might expect that the less appealing aspects of the Christian faith would be downplayed. And this is precisely what is happening in many "Bible-believing" churches today.
Think about it: what aspects of Christian doctrine are most likely to be unappealing to a postmodern, individualistic culture like ours? The same aspects that have been unappealing to every culture in every time: ideas like sin, guilt, judgment, and the authority of God in the lives of men, just to name a few. Consider:
- is Jesus our maker, deserving of our submission and graciously offering us forgiveness of our rebellious nature against him, as the gospel has declared for the past two thousand years? Or...
- is Jesus the world's best self-help guru; a chummy chap who stands by ready to enhance our dreams, ameliorate our disappointments, and enable us to achieve our personal goals?
But this is about more than just preaching - it's about how we understand the church's entire mission. And it touches every facet of church life, from how funds are allocated to how the pastoral staff spends its time to what the participation of individual members looks like. If the goal is to market the gospel as a product, everything will be affected.
So why have I been thinking about all this lately? Well, two responses come to mind. First, the big picture always come to the fore when you're about to hire new staff, as Harvest is preparing to do. As our modestly sized church begins the process of seeking a full time associate pastor to work with worship & arts as well as other responsibilities, the "Marketing question" becomes important: how much of this person's time will be devoted to building performance-oriented programs and activities vs. supporting the church's core functions of biblical community, truth-based personal transformation, and serving our community as conduits of grace?
But second, the truth is I haven't been just thinking about these things lately. In fact, I've never stopped thinking about them since I first came to pastor at Harvest. As I told the church at that time, God impressed upon me a burden to help build the church in the mode of serious engagement with the Bible, and with the deep questions of life. I came here with the deep-seated conviction that the church marketing experiment of the past couple decades, though begun with admirable goals, has gone largely awry. And it's time to shut 'er down. It's time to get back to a deep, rich, and delightfully counter-cultural Christianity. A Christianity that challenges our natural perspective, and gives a greater meaning to all of human life. In other words, time to get back to historic Biblical Christianity.
So says this one man anyway. But enough of my musings. I'm wanting to hear from all of you too, because I want to engender a discussion here. Please consider posting up a response to this question: what church experience in your own past caused you to grow most notably as a Christian?