Friday, August 6, 2010

Why I'm Against the Awesomeness-Driven Church

Welcome to some new readers who are finding the blog through others linking to my last post titled The Awesomeness-Driven Church. I know some of you are having difficulty understanding my criticism. I'd like to assume you'd want to know my reasoning, although I can understand that the fellow who called me a legalist and a Pharisee might not. :-)

I'll begin by saying I spent roughly 14 years in churches that function under the same ruling philosophy of the "motocross on the stage" church. I served on church staff in two of them. I don't know if anyone uses the label "seeker sensitive church" any more, but that's what we called it back then. I was sold out on purpose-drivenness, made my pilgrimage to Willow's leadership conference, and became quite the apologist for the approach I now think misguided.

I only say all that to say the arguments being made in that recent post of mine are not anything new to me, not anything I've never considered or even thought myself. I know and appreciate and honor the desire to see lost people come to Christ. I know that's the motive. It's a good one. (I've even gone so far as to write a post once upon a time about some things I think the seeker movement got right. One of them, by the way, includes mention of creative arts.)

The strongest personal cause for my jumping ship was an experience I call "gospel wakefulness." You can poke around on the blog a bit to see what that means -- and I have a book coming out on the subject (by that title) next year (plug plug plug) -- but I will just say here that once I'd tasted the richness of the message of Christ-centered grace for my sin and brokenness, that's all I ever wanted. And I realized it's all I ever needed. Even when I didn't want it. Even when I found it boring or unattractive. The gospel is what I needed. I felt like I'd wasted 14 years.

And that's the biggest shift in thinking when it comes to worship services. Do we take the thing people need and treat it like medicine that must be administered with a spoonful of sugar? 'Cause that's what the "dirtbike on the stage" approach essentially means: we take something lost people find cool or appealing or attractive and use that to lure them in for the thing we know they don't find cool or appealing or attractive, thereby communicating that "Yes, we know this is the not so cool part" and then try to convince them it's really the important thing. But we've already demonstrated even we don't believe that. Or else we wouldn't feel compelled to dress it up with a dirtbike.

That's the personal reason. That doesn't really affect most of my critics too much, though, so I have another that might resonate more. The used-to-be-called-seeker-church places high emphasis on success or results. "We're growing," they say. "The proof is in the pudding." Indeed it is. Which is why I think the research results, only recently emerging, can be quite helpful too. I've written about them a few places. Here are the links:

Rethinking the Attractional Worship Paradigm
You Can't Program Discipleship
Reminder: The Show Is Not Working

Bottom line:
The discipleship deficit is so huge it can't be ignored.
The average attender of attractional churches is there 4-7 years before moving on to another.
The number of megachurches has grown; the number of Christians has not.

Those all add up to a big fat FAIL.

One more thing I'd add is that the "relevant" worship service is so mid-90's. I find it odd that these churches who pride themselves on relevance and innovation are doing the same ol' thing others have been doing for 20 years now. How many more "at the movies" or TV show-based series do we do before we stop claiming we're innovative?

But that's neither here nor there.

I am grateful for the gospel renaissance that appears to be burgeoning in evangelicalism. Bible Belt Christianity may indeed be collapsing, and the most mega of the attractional megachurches will likely survive, but so will the gospel-centered missional communities beginning to dot the landscape. I pray that it will increase, and I think it will, God willing, as more and more people in the inspirational circuses passing for worship services grow mature in the faith or encounter by God's grace a taste of the scandal of grace.


Bob Spencer said...

Here's something you didn't mention. When we don't make the Gospel "of first importance,: we stop making it of second, third, and forth importance too. Someone "attracted" to the church by the dirtbike (what's so attractive about that anyway, I mean it's not like it was being driven by a monkey or something!), will not necessarily run into the Gospel as well. Once removed from the center, it becomes less frequent on the fringes as well.

And besides, a non-central Gospel is probably not really the Gospel at all. It is good news in part because it IS central, the main thing, etc.

Jared said...

Bob, right.

I think the fundamental problem is a distrust that the gospel is actually power.

This kicks in especially when it is "out of season" and monkey-driving dirtbikes get more people into the church than preaching the gospel. People figure if the place is "stagnating" -- as one commenter said -- the gospel must not be working.

Randi Jo :) said...

I completely agree.

Though I am against the attractional --- focused on Sunday specatular way of "doing" church..... I DO still love so many in that arena and I see their hearts... I just disagree with their decisions on how to share their passions for God. but they are where they are...

It's amazing because I was 'all about' marketing and majored in it in school. Owned my own marketing business, marketed for an insurance company and I really felt God was leading me to use those talents to help "launch a church".... and through a year in that process God totally changed my perspective. He made is so clear to me that He didn't need MY (or anybody's) marketing 'talents'. Marketing THE message like a super red clearance day at Stevenson Honda was wrong wrong wrong.

I am disgusted at how I treated This beautiful earth shattering life changing message! When marketing the spectacular/event/attractional entertainment we are taking attention away from the gospel and that's that.

Jesus never had any problems reaching those far from Him and He never had to use 'tactics'. When it comes down to it.... These 'things' might 'fill' --- but it's water from a cup --- it is NOT the living water.

Until we drink fully from that living water alone - the spring that never dries --- we will always need more more more of the attraction - never fully being satisfied.

HE is the only thing.

I just can't imagine being held captive for your entire life... no hope of freedom... dark, empty, longing... and a Savior comes in and rescues you and heals every wound, fills every void..... how would you tell the world about this Savior and what He did!??! Would you spend your time trying to think of wonderful marketing techniques to "get people" to listen... make it a side dish to a spectacular entertaining event? ......

or would you be so blown away by what happened... that you believe in the power of THE Message And the Holy Spirit to touch people's hearts that you would share "JUST" that message of what He has done for you/me/all?

what does The message do for you? Is what He did enough for you... if not.. I'd figure out why.... and ask God to help make it enough!

If people need a fire show to be attracted to THe Message --- then I worry the followers are not on fire themselves.... so if it doesn't set US on fire --- why should it set them on fire?

Roberta said...

Acts 2$7b, "...And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."

The Lord does it and we don't. Rest in Him and do good. Right now at our church we have about 20 members. We are older and don't have energy or money. We are trusting God to add to our number. Meanwhile we have each taken a job to do in the church and in the community.

Jason said...

I know my next statement is going to irritate some readers and make them jump to the reply button immediately but hear me out first. Contrary to some beliefs, preaching the Word of God isn't going to bring in everyone and have them accept Christ. In fact, if your church is just preaching the Word, you'll miss out on reaching a whole segment of the world.

I'll pause while you mentally wish John Piper would take some of his free time to travel to Tennessee and hit me with a large print ESV Study Bible.

During my youth, I attended a Wesleyan church in Coleville, PA. Every Sunday meant going to church with my Grandpap and then dinner together. My parents didn't go but they always made sure I went with Grandpap. I loved Church, I loved hearing about Jesus. It was a church that many who I've seen comment on Jared's blog would have enjoyed attending because of it's preaching and teaching.

I was the lone 12 year old kid in the high school Sunday School class. (There were no other kids between 10-14 in our church so they put me in with the high schoolers.) The Pastor came in one morning and told the teacher he was going to teach class. He proceeded to rail against the evils of rock and roll and asked each kid if they listened to "Christian Rock." The other kids lied and said they didn't but at 12 I was still naive enough to think you didn't lie to a Pastor in church. I said I did. He got in face and told me I was going to hell and that he would be sitting down my parents and Grandfather in an attempt to save my soul. He then laid into a bunch of Bible verses about hell. Screaming in my face. I was 12.

I told my grandpap later that day I didn't want to be a part of a church that acted like that. To his credit, he never forced me to go back. He continued to show me Christ in how he loved me, spoke to me and provided Godly wisdom. He spoke to me about Christ. He just never forced me to go back to that church because to me the preaching of someone bringing down "the Word" lined up with someone telling me I was going to hell for listening to Petra.

Jason said...

(Part 2)

As the years went along, I went to many churches. Almost all of them were churches that didn't have glitz or motorcycles on the stage. It had people in suits and ties. People who didn't look like me, think like me or act like me. They all brought out "the Word" to hammer on something within me in a manner that was neither loving nor Christ like. The moment someone jumped to a pulpit, cracked open the Bible and started coming down on some sin, I was already gone.

In 1994...12 years after I said I wouldn't go back to church with my Grandpap...I saw a Christian rock video at 3am on a Sunday morning that I didn't think stunk. My girlfriend at the time bought me the tape of the band. I started listening to Christian rock again after a 12 year hiatus. (Although I did listen to Stryper in that time but I wasn't listening for the message in the lyrics.) After a few months of listening to the music and not attending any churches at all, I fell to my knees in my bedroom and accepted Christ. It was just me and altar call, no round of applause...just a Savior and a lost child.

Then I tried to find a church and all I could find were the same kind as my youth and I found myself feeling the same way. I didn't want to have that kind of angry, hateful Christ. I bounced around for months until I found a Baptist church that would do something like a motorcycle jump now and then but also preached from the Word. They made me feel comfortable...they made me feel like I was actually welcome and not just a warm body for them to change into their version of a Christian.

Don't get me wrong...I know the value of the Word to teach, instruct, correct and edify. I'm not downplaying the power of the Word when I say these things. I just think we as humans have messed up with a lot of people and in a lot of ways. There are a lot of people who are now where I used to be...and an environment where you're just bringing the word with a few hymns in a plain package will bring back the memories of the mistakes of humans past.

Now, churches like the motorcycles can go overboard and water down Christ's message. I don't disagree. I just think we can't swing the pendulum entirely to the other direction because reality is that in doing so you're going to drive people away from Christ.

Anonymous said...

Jared-thanks for your comments. I agree with what you are saying. We've done many "outreach" nights for our youth...and we've never seen one kid become integrated into our church from them. It could be that our outreach nights really stink, or we're terrible at following up, etc. Regardless, we've seen the most numerical growth when kids invite other kids to our Sunday school class. Nothing fancy. Just bible study and discussion and fellowship.

Roberta said...

Freedom in Christ is important in a church and legalisms should be discouraged. I was fortunate because my parents took me to a church where I could be free in Christ. While my Baptist friends didn't dance or go to movies I did both. I also listened to rock and roll. But still the Baptist kids memorized scripture while I didn't. So there is a delicate balance. But love is the most important thing. We need to love others enough to tell them the truth. It might involve a motorcycle jump.

Jim Jacobson said...

Jared, good stuff. I too am sick of this direction in the church. One of the phrases that gets tossed around is that "God deserves our best," or "God deserves excellence." I certainly desire to have our church give him the best worship and attention, but that has zero to do with production, and everything to do with brokenness and humility.

Nate said...

I don't blame your assessment at all, Jared. I don't mind being called "judgemntal" for thinkng that Motocross stunts in church scream "church is really awesome," and having a problem because that is decidedly not the NT's message. i know a lot of people probably think those kinds of stunts are really "sticking it to the fundies" or something. Unfortunately if all I have to choose from is Gospel free conservatism or adolescent male posturing to build up the Sunday event, I'll probably just skip church and go have a picnic by myself.

I like circuses, but not when I come to hear the Gospel.

Jacob Riggs said...

Hey Jared,

Your thoughts on this issue ring true with me in several different ways. I have even written similar things, and gotten similar push back (even from people whom I didn't expect).

It seems that when we talk about relying on the message of the gospel as the only source of power for salvation, and that we shouldn't rely on our methods, etc., that people think that means we're promoting an idea that church should be done in the same way it was in the Colonial era or something. Piano, organ, hymns only for music (if you even have instruments), straight traditional in every way.

When I talk about these things, that's not what I necessarily mean. I think best from a 50,000 ft view, so it's tough for me to envision the details of what gospel-centered ministry looks like, if it doesn't look like a sweet concert and a dirt bike guy followed by a magician followed by a sermonette.

What I'd like to read from you is some specifics on what this kind of ministry should look like. If what we're talking about isn't the appropriate way, and it doesn't work, then what does?

What should the building look like? What should the stage look like? Should there be a stage? What kind of music should there be?

I have a feeling others would find that kind of post beneficial as well.

Rachael Melody said...

I currently attend two churches. One is a Baptist church that frequently uses "gimmicky" messages - for example, this morning's message included Rose Royce's "At The Car Wash," and there were several child-sized cars on the stage area. I don't think the pastor intends to be gimmicky. Rather, he's trying to make a connection for us, trying to use something from our "real world" in order to relate to the gospel. The messages are fun, and entertaining, and I learn things from them, but I don't know that they'd compel me to fall to my knees and ask Jesus into my heart.

Now, my other church has little to no gimmicks. We meet in a pole barn (previous meeting places include a car repair shop, a hotel conference room, and a park), and myself, my husband, and my sister and her husband are the worship team. We're not the greatest, but we give it our all. The message is usually straight from the Bible, sometimes reading sections of the Bible and then talking about them. While there aren't really any gimmicks in this church, there is a PASSION that I don't find in a lot of places. The people attending that church are truly *desperate* for God, desperate to know Him more and to do His will. Maybe we don't always know HOW to do his will, but we're passionate about learning more about God and becoming closer to Him.

I think that's the key difference. Gimmicks aside, if your church doesn't have a passion for God and His Word, newcomers aren't going to develop a passion either.