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
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.