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.

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About johnnywey

Welcome to A Regular Expression. This blog is designed to reflect my thoughts on life, music, software design, Apple, faith, philosophy, and whatever else I can think of.

Posted on September 21, 2007, in General, Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I understand what you are saying about the hype of Christianity. Its the tee shirt that reads “Jesus is my hommie.” I think somewhere in our daily struggle to find the spiritual fountain of youth, we have lost sight and respect for God. We, as true Christians know this. However, here is our reality.
    Our society is complex and blended. We have step parents, ex spouses, parenting time, traffic jams, therapy sessions and self-help books to deal with every subject imaginable. We have women shelters, boy scouts, gay pride and greed. Our world is a combination of chaos, green peace and VH1 Best Week Ever. We thrive on being healthy but we can’t eat bc we might gain weight. We want to be stable but deep down, we want to be wealthy. Not everyone, but most. My point you ask? our society is complicated and I think SOME churches attempt to customize their beliefs to serve a world we NOW live in. Is that wrong?
    Granted, I enjoy Jesus being simple, His expectations for us is not that complex. “HEY, lets LOVE one another….Lets not kill each other..” Simple right? He gave us stories, He spent his life giving us examples “OK now people…see how Satan comes in and tries to use words and plays on our emotions to tempt us but see how I turned him away and gave him NO power?” We don’t listen, we still argue, we still are bitter and we still make things way too complicated, now the church has to formulate a way to get our attention back. Sometimes we are like fish in a lake, swimming around and once we see something shiny, Hold on, whatever that shiny thing is, we need it. Some churches good…some churches bad.
    Well, lets see, lets check out a small church. OK, the worship is boring, the pastor is decent enough but something is missing. OK, lets go to a big church. OK, here it is, pastor is shouting, the worship is amazing and there is enough “small groups” to handle every addiction, single spirit and life topic known. Oh Man..this church is too big because now I feel so small and overwhelmed. In this place, I can watch the pastor on stage, tv screen, go out in the hall, he is there too, on TV, echoing a message on surround sound…for a moment, I thought I was at the Broncos game. YEP, the point is, what we thirst for is Jesus and instead, we get Christ Like Cola with holy ghost carbonation. Its tasty but leaves you…well…thirsty.
    My biggest worry for our society today is lack of relentlessness for Christ. Do you ever wonder why only a small percentage pursue God relentlessly and the larger half only want the comfort of Christ? I’m not saying I’m perfect and I don’t know what I’m doing 100% of the time but I lived in both worlds. I want to know who God is, without me in the equation. Even if God sent me a text message (you know bc God has the new IPhone) and wrote “Hey, I’m not doing anything for you today, chill with the emails.” I would still read about Him while listening to Casting Crowns. Believe it or not, some people only want God on Hallmark cards and funerals. Others want him to come down on a white horse and say “Ta Da” turn a tree into a bird or something and go back to heaven. Other’s want him to stop the war, floods or a cheating spouse. Then there is a group of Christians, looking at everyone and asking “Okay God, you want us to do what now?” and then we all stare at each other and sigh. Point is….church used to be a specialized restaurant but now it is a buffet, either way, isn’t the goal to offer food to be fed? its up to us to Google (aka the Bible) the recipes and stir up our our dietary menu.

  2. Hey Johnny,

    I could not agree with you more on this. Well stated!

    -n

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