I was sitting in a very modern American Church on Sunday. As we walked up to the building, the notion that this is what we have become made me uneasy. There was an outdoor playground with a number of kids scampering around—occasionally shouting their uncontrollable pleasure. Basketball goals were out for the teens. There was a patio pavilion with a large projection television streaming the service. After church, the football game was playing. Inside there were coffee and tea stations along the wall and there’s always something to eat available. The sanctuary, if that name is still appropriate, was dark and theatrical. The lowered stage had color changing stage lights. The audience sat in theater chairs ascending by rows from the stage to the back. The speaker stood between a small podium, with a props to be used in an illustration, and a wide screen monitor, used to guide us through our fill-in-the-blank sermon guide. It felt more like a TED Talk than a sermon. It was just so, … reasonable.
Though the bible was referenced, the sermon was so disturbingly practical it could have been deduced from life experiences alone. There was no need for revelation. Just a powerless recognition of how life works.Tweet
A familiar troubling despair began to settle on me. I wondered if this was the future of church? Is this where the people of God are really to be found? Are these the followers of a crucified Christ, choosing to take up their cross in pursuit of Him. I tried desperately to hold back the rising cynicism and to think more critically about my feelings. It would be easy to slide into the increasingly comfortable clothes of nostalgic old-timer, critical of everything clashing with my preferences. Knowing the risk, something still didn’t feel right. The contrast between the biblical picture of the people of God and what I was amongst was too stark to ignore.
26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.1 Corinthians 1:26–29 (NASB95)
Is this what happens when we are no longer the church of the foolish and the weak but the wise and the strong? When we consider our calling, do we find that there are indeed many wise, many mighty and many noble? Maybe we are no longer the base and despised that God has chosen. This felt like church without sacrifice. Church without suffering. Believe me, I’m not a suffering seeker. I avoid it like everyone else. But according to Jesus, all those who desire to live Godly would suffer persecuted. We were supposed to endure suffering as a good soldier.
No doubt there were people there who were suffering. Life is never easy. There are real concerns like chronic illness, mental health struggles, and abuse to name a few. These should never be minimized. But the cross of Christ brings a suffering all it’s own. It’s a suffering for righteousness sake. A suffering for the cause of Christ seemed to be missing.
I don’t think our lack of suffering is a result of our religious liberty. I believe it’s a lack of conviction. Excluding, of course, the kooky mean-spirited religious zealots on the fringe. Our preaching is no longer a proclamation of truth. Our preachers are not heralds any longer — they’ve become life coaches. They are not calling us to faith but gently nudging and persuading us with “biblical principles” that will benefit us if we will put them into practice.
The word of God has authority and it must be preached in “a spirit and form worthy of it’s truth.”Tweet
I don’t remember who said that, but I believe it’s true. We are preaching without pain. It costs us little. We are picking apart that which was intended to be taken as a whole, building sermons with slick topical titles intended to scratch where people itch. Because we wont go to them, we are desperate to get them to come to us. I’m afraid we will find it’s only their ears we have been scratching.
I’m not looking for tribal agreement. Nor am I intending to stoke the fires of the mega church bashers. I’m looking for reflection and wise counsel. If you feel the urge to say amen or go off on the evils of church in the comments within minutes of reading, please don’t. Wait until you’ve had time to simmer down and think clearly. I am honestly conflicted. I’d like to think I’m wrong. If I am, I wouldn’t feel so alone. I’m looking for honest and thoughtful feedback. I promise, I will listen and consider, and maybe even change. After all, I was one of the people sitting in that church. As the church goes, so go I. I am wedded to it’s Head. Is this the future of church? And more importantly, is it okay? Or is this just what happens when you get older? I’d love to hear from you.
I’m also confused about the cosmetic of the church. Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth will pass away,But My words will not pass away. The gospel of Christ should be the focus,not the music,not the praise dancers or the large crowds. Our people are perishing for the lack of knowledge. The church is under attack our focus has changed.
The way we are moving I only see the knowledge problem getting worse. But I have to believe that the Lord knows what He’s doing with His church.
The first church I first attended before, I believe, was truly saved had theatrical skits, movie scenes on a large screen, modern applications to current events or other popular tv shows or movies, and a rock band with exciting music amongst other entertainments. I enjoyed it, it felt comfortable, modern, and welcoming. If I remember back correctly I believe I came away with a sense of motivation to live a “better life”, whether through advice on abstainance from alcohol and sex or becoming more charitable and moral. I remember clip from our pastor interviewing a psychologist with how biblical values apply.
My motivation didn’t last long and I re embraced my sin.
It wasn’t until someone shared the gospel with me and i felt confronted with my sinfulness did I know that God had saved me.
I don’t know if that first church was particularly helpful in my understanding of the gospel. Since then I’ve been able to see a comparison between that first church and some others. I don’t think hope is lost
Vincent, thank you for sharing your story. I believe it will be helpful to many. Your response is thoughtful and reflective.
I’m also concerned that the kind of church you described will become the norm. But that God lead you to faith despite that church is encouraging. All hope is not lost. Blessings.
Wow! This was something that I was meditating on this morning even before reading this article. As a minister I respect said of our American church experience today, “the focus is no longer if people are saved or unsaved, it’s if they’re churched or unchurched”. There are actually “christian” organizations that help new churches do community demographic research. They find out how many people are a certain ethnicity, how many elderly, how many single-parents, etc, so that they can cater their ministry to meet the needs of the community in order to attract more members. (i.e. Basketball goals for teens; coffee and tea stations along the wall, a dark and theatrical ‘sanctuary’) It’s the seeker-sensitive, positive self-esteem centric church of today that has as its primary goal the betterment of the parishioners and not the glory of God. Tragically, in most of these circles, God is a means to an end. There is a grievingly unbiblical “gospel” song I heard growing up that said “Stop by the church sometime. Something may be said to help you on your way if you stop by the church sometime.” I can’t help but believe that this is the way a majority of people in mainstream American evangelicalism feel, whether they would say it consciously or not. We want a “word” that can be used in our everyday, individual lives that allows for us to fulfill our dreams and visions, with a thin veneer of praise and “worship” of God included. If it doesn’t have as its ultimate objective a benefit for us, we aren’t interested.
John MacArthur preached a sermon entitled “What to Look for in a Pastor” several years ago that I believe articulates your concern when you were in that church this past Sunday, and mine…
[“As a pastor, I understand my responsibility is not to the community; it is not to the culture; it is not to the people down the street. I’m not supposed to be entertaining to them, clever enough to suck them in. I’m not going to redefine the church so that nonbelievers are happy and content, and enjoying it. My responsibility is a very simple one. And it is to follow the great Shepherd in the pursuit of the sanctification of His flock, through the Word. That’s my mandate. And my reward will be based on faithfulness to that. Or my lack of reward will be based on unfaithfulness to that.”
“Let me give you another obvious comment, the Bible was written for believers…The Bible was not written for nonbelievers. So, what happens when you decide that your church is going to be designed to reach nonbelievers? The next thing is to say, ‘Well we can’t do Bible exposition. They don’t like it. They don’t want to hear it. And if we’re going to reach them, we’ve got to do something different. We’ve got to find their kind of style. We’ve got to find their kind of music, and we’ve got to find a kind of message that they can connect with, because they certainly can’t connect with an hour long exposition of the Bible.’ And you know what? They are absolutely right!”
“You can’t teach the Bible to nonbelievers. They will reject it. And so what does the church do? In its effort to make unbelievers content with the church, it eliminates what the people of God need, in a time when the sewage out of the world is drowning the people of God, and they get no help from their shepherds.”]
Keep sharing your thoughts, Trevor. They are definitely needed and I appreciate being prodded to chew on Scripture as a result.
I hear your passion for the church Vince. It’s a great encouragement to me that I’m not alone. I will keep sharing my thoughts. And it sounds like you have much to say also. Blessings
I would reconsider the thought that the Bible “was not written for nonbelievers”, Vince S. That was the explicit purpose of John’s gospel (John 20:30-31).
Pastor Trevor Calhoun:
The Bible tells us what the immediate future of the church is and it seems to resonate with the concerns you raised:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:
2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,
4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Tim. 4:1-5 NASB)
Thanks for sharing this an making efforts to preach God’s Word faithfully!!!
Thanks for the feedback Joe. I will keep doing what I can.