On the Paradox of “Modern” Churches
I originally posted this in March of 2006. While in the church I was attending and heavily involved in at the time, I began to believe that our message was being hijacked by the desire to seem socially “cool” and “relevant” by our immoral and inexperienced lead pastor. Whatever spirituality one claims to possess, there has to be a real power for it to be validated. My argument is just as true for Christianity as any other religion, and applies to the variety of churches including synagogues, mosques, temples, etc.: you can’t speak out of both sides of your mouth if you want your belief to be taken seriously.
Is the dramatic growth and swing from a more “traditional” church entity to the flashy “modern” (or even “post-modern”) type helping or hurting the message of the Gospel?
I thought about this a lot yesterday after a church meeting.
Here’s the paradox: churches at the vanguard of this new style attempt to attract people with flashy advertising, a professional worship band (or as close to one as possible), lots of media and A/V, a colorful and dynamic children’s ministry, “relevant” teaching with flashy messages and the list goes on and on. In short, we’re trying to attract people based on worldly marketing strategies taken directly from Madison Avenue.
How do you bridge that image (one that is culturally “hip” and “cool”; one that says “you NEED THIS!” in a very similar way to the way a clothing company says “you NEED THIS” or a car company; one that appeals to our culture’s out-of-control consumption of items and media) and the 180 degree “otherworldly” stance that Christ desires us to have? How do we tell and instruct people in the teachings of Christ unless we first teach them to understand the idea that we are not of this world and that we shouldn’t be buying into what the world has to offer in the first place? If we are placing all this emphasis on production and advertising, when do we remove the veil and actually teach Christ to the people who go to church?
So many times, I’ve heard people say things along the line of “we need a good production because these people are coming from the MTV generation and we have to compete with that” or “we want to remain relevant because the reason the church is on the decline in the United States is because it’s no longer relevant” [editors note: I have new ideas on why the Christian church is in decline in the US. I’ll post more on that later, but suffice it to say that religious abuse of power is incredibly visible and puts a sour taste in all of our mouths regardless of our spiritual persuasion.] In fact, “relevant” is a huge buzz word in the church today. Why? I don’t know. Isn’t it a bit contradictory to claim that the gospel has always been relevant but then say that the church needs to be constantly changing its method of attracting people?
I’m not saying that all of this is bad per se, but I’m saying that I believe the post-modern church is losing focus on what really matters: Christ. Sure, he’s there; but he’s mixed up with the status advertising and immoral consumption that, I believe, he’d personally be against if he were walking around Denver in the same way he walked around Palestine 2000 years ago.
There is a supernatural aspect of the early church (circa Acts) that I love. It was simple. People lived in love and community (both attributes that are “relevant” today). They didn’t need or desire much in the way of “stuff.” They sat around and talked about Jesus. Most importantly, God was there. They experienced Him. They felt Him. Sure, their culture was a part of their interaction with each other and God (by definition of the world culture, you can’t separate the two). However, their main focus was on Christ. It wasn’t a flashy advertisement that pops up when it’s opened, it was Jesus.
My heart longs to get back to this sort of simplicity in the gathering of believers. A real, personal, loving interaction between people and God stripped of the hype and marketing blitz and focused on Christ.