Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Contra Pragmatism

The greatest threat to the gospel specific to today is the indirect challenge of pragmatism among evangelicals.
-- Mark Dever

Some random personal opinions (of mine) related to this issue of pragmatism in the Church:

1) There was a point at which a considered concern for removing unnecessary traditional or religious cultural barriers between seekers and churches became a passion for doing "whatever it takes" to get people in the doors. I don't know where that point was, and I'm sure it happened gradually, but it obviously resulted from changing a focus from saving souls to gaining numbers.

2) Consequently, and somewhat ironically, the current equivalent of the 80's-90's seeker churches are not really bringing the lost into the life of discipleship so much as they are attracting Christians who have become bored with their previous church.

3) Consequently, many churches have become suppliers of spiritual milk not to new believers but to "old" believers who have never matured into the desire for meat.

4) Worship time has become more entertainment driven not as a means to attract the lost but to ensure that a church's "show" is better than all the other churches' shows.

5) The embrace of pragmatism affects nearly all of a church's aims, so that even the largest churches with the most resources do not actually plant new churches so much as they are franchising themselves. We see this currently with the satellite church movement, in which large churches with popular teachers do not raise up pastors to plant missional churches elsewhere but set up "spin-offs" where the main church teacher is shown on video screen.
This means that either a) really big churches with lots of money and personnel are somehow unable to raise up and train quality teacher-pastors, or b) they are able to do so but prefer the attraction of the celebrity quotient of their pastor. Either of those options does not bode well for the state of the missional church.

6) The first question we must ask when planning teaching, music, creative elements, fundraisers, marketing and advertising -- basically anything the modern church does -- is not "What will attract people?", but "What will glorify God?" Those two questions are not always mutually exclusive, but the second one should always, always, always come first.

7) Fidelity to the Gospel should always trump "whatever it takes."

An earlier version of this post appeared at BCC is Broken.


Daniel said...

I don't disagree with any of this really. I've seen it all happen before.

The one thing I quibble with is that the "focus from saving souls to gaining numbers" is as black and white as it sounds.

I think many churches focus on numbers because they represent the souls of people. I don't think it's quite as cold as just focusing on a number and not caring about the person's soul.

NOW ... that's not a perfect description of all churches that focus on numbers and I know that there is a failure (among some) to actually preach the Gospel to those "numbers" once they're there, but I don't think it's fair to imply that churches who care about numbers have lost focus of the people's souls.

Jared said...

I don't think it's fair to imply that churches who care about numbers have lost focus of the people's souls.

With the church's embrace of the pragmatic spirit, I do believe that is what has happened. Paying lip service to soul-saving is not the same thing as really focusing or caring; otherwise, different steps would be taken than surface attraction.

But I know what you mean, and I agree that trying to attract and wanting to save are not mutually exclusive. I said as much in my "Theses" post a while back.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to attract.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify, Daniel.