December 12, 2019

Tuesday with Michael Spencer: Our Little Parades

Tuesday with Michael Spencer
Our Little Parades

“A Real Church for Real People.” “A warm, loving fellowship of people who care about you!!” “Come hear practical, spirit-anointed messages by a man of God.” “Continuous Revival!!” “A Church with Christ at Heart and You in Mind.” “Such and Such Church: Where You Matter.” “People Being Transformed By the Power of God.” “Healing and Miracles in Every Service.” “Where God Touches Lives!!” “Dynamic Music from our Praise Band will take you into the presence of God.” “A dynamic youth program!” (Dynamic is very good.)

Ok. Ok. Enough. What is going on here? From the bowels of some church growth conference has come the worldly wisdom that we need to “cast a vision” of who we are. In other words, exaggerate up a storm to outdo the other guy. Lure, lie, woo, beg, pretend, spin, deceive, tell a whopper. So what if the actual congregation is not quite what is advertised? So what if the pressure is now on to produce the goods? We’re trying to see ourselves in a way that others will find appealing. This is fine with cars or Jacuzzis, but not with churches. I know it makes a cool brochure, but that’s not the point.

The Gospel is not about how wonderful the church is or how dynamic the pastor is or how friendly the people are. If that is all true, word will get out, trust me. If you have to put it on a billboard or an ad or video, it’s spin. And the Gospel isn’t spin about us. It’s a straightforward proclamation about Christ. Remember? “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery…” (I Thessalonians 2:3-5)

When people are told that the church has all the benefits of a store or a club or a product, they are not hearing the message of sinners saved by grace through faith, not are they being prepared to hear it in a real community of fallen people gathered around the cross. They are hearing the crafted ploy of exaggeration, and sooner or later they will figure it out. The pastor may be a whiz, but he won’t visit grandma in the hospital. The church may have a heart for God, but nobody invited you over for dinner. The Spirit is moving in the services, but not you are remarkably similar to the person who walked in the door six months ago, problems and all. And that dynamic youth pastor ran off with some kid’s mom. Welcome to the real world.

I have a lot of people in self-imposed church exile who write to me, and I am beginning to believe that part of the problem is too many of them believed it. The ads. The hype. The spin. The video intro. The actual truth about people and the institutions they build may be disillusioning and embarrassing, but it’s important. It’s very important for those of us who worship a God of truth to put the focus on Him and His Gospel instead of our little parades.

I don’t want to see the church become a pop-up ad proclaiming instant weight loss from grapefruit pills. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting there fast. Its time to ask the image enthusiasts to spend some time keeping it real and a little less time tinkering with the graphics on the projection system.

I believe it was Job who said “Please be quiet! That’s the smartest thing you could do.” (Job 13:5)

Comments

  1. In the spirit of Job I’m not gonna say anything 🙂

  2. I had an argument/discussion with my Pentecostal co-worker about this very subject the other day. He seemed to think that every Christian should feel and say superlative things about their own congregation, like the guy who used to introduce Jerry Falwell Sr.’s Old Time Gospel Hour TV program, “From the Most Wonderful Church in World”, or something to that effect. I vehemently disagreed, and let’s just say we did not resolve our differences about the matter.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      So a church has to sound 24/7 like a late-night Infomercial hosted by a PR flack tripping on Meth?
      “BUT WAIT! THERE”S MORE!”

  3. “I don’t want to see the church become a pop-up ad proclaiming instant weight loss from grapefruit pills. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting there fast.”

    Too late. The Baptist church down the road from us mails out flyers every year extolling us neighbors to join them in their “Christian weight loss” program. Dunno if grapefruit pills are involved, and I’m not inclined to go find out.

  4. senecagriggs says

    I do believe my church [ relatively small – 150 attendees ] IS a warm congregation that goes out of it’s way to greet unfamiliar faces and welcome them to the service.

    In other ways; we are a typical Evangelical church – singing, praying, teaching of the Word. Adult and children’s Sunday School and the side emphasis of small groups.

    Every time there’s a 5th Sunday we have a potluck.

  5. I have to confess that Lutheran churches do their own version of this. We for some reason concluded it is important for each congregation to have a mission statement. I have no idea why. I don’t understand it for businesses, either. The result (for both churches and businesses) invariably is pure blather. We use different vocabulary than Evangelical blather, but it amounts to the same thing. I do occasionally see Lutheran churches adopting Evangelical blather, which is telling in ways they did not intend.

    • Even better when they literally use the word “mission” in the mission statement itself…*palm to forehead*

      I can understand having a vision, and even setting goals (although that’s a whole separate issue), but when the mission statement is front and center on the website, then it has crossed over to being a “business”.

      • And yes, in both church and in business, “blather” reigns supreme, despite all the conversation to the contrary.

      • “Even better when they literally use the word “mission” in the mission statement itself…*palm to forehead*”

        Just so long as the mission statement does not morph into an “ammunition statement” then I am OK with that 🙂

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > The result (for both churches and businesses) invariably is pure blather

      This.

    • Richard,

      I think it’s because Identity has become the focus of every group over the past couple of decades or so. The mission statement, I think, is supposed to encapsulate what the group’s identity is – what it’s “about”. I think the reason churches concoct them is because they’ve been caught up in the business model for a while, so what businesses do churches do, too, to show they’re au courant and to single themselves out from other churches for attractional purposes (Come be with us – we’re just like you…).

      I agree with you.

      Dana

  6. This is church as a business. Promote, Market, Sell, do whatever you have to do to get butts in the seats and dollars in the offering. Accomplish those two things, you are a successful church. The “worship service” and programs are products, the attenders are consumers. Better make sure they like your product better than the church/business down the road or they might leave. For too many people, both the leadership and members, this is what church has become.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      I have some compassion for church-as-a-business. Existing is expensive. Owning a building, and worse a parking lot, is EXPENSIVE. Pastors are employees at the end of the day, and they as employees should be paid a living wage, have health care, be able to afford housing and their children’s education. I get all those things.

      It is frustrating that church’s won’t just own that. They have buildings – and parking lots! – which are empty ~90% of the time. HELLO!

      Seriously, every church should hire a Business Manager to manage the church’s assets from a revenue perspective. And thus allow the church to just be the church

      I believe being honest would allow a lot more honesty. Just say “Hey, we do have to deal with this revenue problem. So we are going to put people in the corner office to deal with that, so the rest of us can think clearly about being the church.”

      It might even bring many churches into closer contact with their communities.

      Wouldn’t work everywhere, but many urban/inner-suburban are leaving real money on the floor, and then selling their soul for peanuts in order to keep the lights on.

      Sorry. Maybe that’s a rant.

      • ATW, your comment is realistic and wise. There is certainly an institutional aspect of the church and it should be entrusted to people gifted and able in sound institutional thinking and practice. IMO, it should be done so well that it is mostly invisible to the actual experience the vast majority of the congregation and community have of the church. Yet it should also be utterly transparent with regard to accountability and access for those who wish to understand its workings.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        My writing partner’s church (in a rural area) has its parking lot used as the local park-and-ride lot on weekdays.

        • A lot of churches, at least in our area but I’m sure in others as well, have a Farmer’s Market in the parking lot on Saturdays during the non-winter months.

  7. Iain Lovejoy says

    Churchgoers are not, to my mind, consumers: they are (depending on how you want to look at it, since they amount to the same thing) students come to learn or patients come to be cured, and in either case it is Christ, not the church or it’s pastor who is the teacher / healer. If you have what they need, if Christ is present in your church, people will come, and stay, and others will come because they want it, too: you don’t need to plug a product.
    It seems to me (and it’s easy for me to say as I’m not a pastor looking out on an empty church) that if people are finding God in the church next door that ought to be an occasion for joy, not envy. It should I think be a church’s job to look after and help towards God that part of the flock that God has given it, rather than worry about whether it is getting its fair share.

  8. Scot McKnight touched on this issue as he reviewed Willow Creek’s job description for the new lead pastor:

    “Now some observations about the job description: First, no Jesus, no Christ, no Bible, no gospel — that is, in the main words. They are buried into tiny words or they are not there. Amazing. Jesus appears twice. Christ once. God four times. Bible not at all. Gospel not at all. What’s a pastor job description without these terms prominent?
    Second, the focus is “Willow” as in “We are Willow Creek.” Also Barrington, Chicago, and South (as in South Barrington). This is an advertisement seeking someone who can carry on the Willow Creek brand.
    Third, the biggest two words of substance in the job description’s Word Cloud are “pastor” and “leadership.” Leadership is hardly a significant term in the NT for the calling of pastors…I see some things that are cringe-worthy: “motivate and inspire high-capacity men and women to use their gifts to further the vision.” What about the 95% who aren’t high-capacity? This is so Willow-speak, so Hybels-speak. And, I don’t know what to make of this one: “Has life experience in connecting with professionals, entrepreneurs, and people who have outwardly made it in life but are seeking significance.”

    https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2019/09/16/willow-creek-whats-a-pastor/

    • Burro (Mule) says

      I think this is something endemic to humanity and Christianity.

      When the Jews ran Christianity, it was recognizably a religion
      When the Greeks adopted it, they turned it into a philosophy
      When the Romans adopted it, they turned it into a system of governance
      The Welsh made it something to sing about
      The Irish turned it into something to fight over
      The English turned it into a system of etiquette
      And of course, the Americans turned it into a business.

    • RDavid, thanks for bringing this to our attention. We’ll run a post about it tomorrow.

  9. Off topic – Mike, can you send me Rick’s email?

  10. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    CM — WHERE DID YOU GET THAT ILLO AT THE TOP?
    All that’s missing are animated sparkling teeth in the smile!