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.