January 23, 2021

Stupid Evangelical Tricks: Five

stupidtricks.jpgIt’s been a while since I did an old-school “iMonk-rants-about-evangelicals” post, but all of them are still there in the essays department. Someone could assume- wrongly, I assure you- that those criticisms all came from the days when I was a Calvinist, and now that I’ve jumped off that bus, I have no problems with anything going on anywhere. Not true at all, to say the least. I’m more aware of the problems in evangelicalism than ever, and more grieved by many of them.

In my seven years of blogging on Internet Monk, I’ve covered a lot of ground in evaluating evangelicals. Unlike whack job critics who see Dallas Willard as the antiChrist, and eastern mysticism under every rock or like bunkered fundamentalist critics committed to their own version of exclusive infallible papism, I want to make my criticisms from a broadly “catholic” and post-evangelical point of view. (Yes, “post-evangelicalism” wants to keep a lot of evangelicalism intact. In fact, you will soon be reading several posts aimed at potential converts to the Roman Catholic Church, jumping up and down shouting, “Don’t do it!”)

So let’s check in with what the iMonk feels are some of the most egregious and foolish of current evangelical blunders. Here’s your raw meat (in no particular order, btw), people. Get your forks and find a good fire.

1. Eliminating All Hymns: Worship leaders and churches that have dumped the entire heritage of Christian hymnody tempt me to use words like “idiots,” but I’m trying to hold that for later, but it’s among the most stupid things evangelicals are doing.

I’m fully aware that hymns are musically challenging, but hymn recovery projects like the RUF Hymns Project can help you there. (Frankly, a lot of contemporary worship music is horrendously difficult to play, and a modest keyboard player can handle 90% of the best 500 hymns ever written.) I’m not trying to say a church needs to pursue a music program that ignores missional realities in pursuit of a mission to promote classical music. What I am saying is that the heritage of the top 100 hymns isn’t seen as an incredible gift to evangelicalism, and it has sustained, discipled and given words to evangelicals in ways you can’t discount. Throwing this away is ridiculous.

There’s another good point about preserving the heritage of hymnody: it’s already been sorted out by history. Go pick up a hymnal from 150 years ago, and you will find as many bad songs as you’re hearing on K-Love today, but a modern hymnal (Trinity, Celebration, Baptist) has sorted through those hymns to the best of the best. In other words, we know how God has used “Man of Sorrows” and “Immortal, Invisible.”

Evangelicals should find a way to keep the heritage of great hymns alive. Dumping them entirely for secular and CCM music is a dumb move and evidence that too many churches are leaving important decisions to the wrong people.

2. Goofy Youth Minister Style Preaching: It’s beginning to become clear to me that there’s a stylistic issue that’s consuming a lot of young preachers. Some of you won’t like what I am going to say but I promise you 1) I am a youth minister and 2) I’ve spoken to thousands of young people. I’m a fan of a lot of what I hear from many young pastors, and I know what’s going on…..but…..

Preaching has some basics. When Mark Driscoll suggests that Chris Rock is the preaching teacher you need, I am wincing. The preaching teacher you need is someone like Lloyd-Jones, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson or Al Martin. Chris Rock- or Mark Driscoll- is the influence you need to ADD to BASIC PREACHING ESSENTIALS in order to speak in some settings.

Basics? Yeah…Expository. In the text. Organized. Balanced. Applicatory. Good questions. Illustrations that serve, not drive. Christ-centered. Original. Gospel-fueled. Open Bible. Earnest. Evangelistic.

You won’t learn that from a comedian. You will learn some things from comedians that will make you a better communicator. But not a good communicator. Be a solid, trust-worthy, serious Biblical teacher, then you can try to be Matt Chandler.

3. No Church Membership: Oh brother. The church is not an audience. It’s not a crowd that watches a show. It’s not a fan club. It’s a community. It has boundaries. Leadership doesn’t function in the church like a guy opening a store and filling it with customers. You are in it or you are out of it. Baptism is a door into a local church as well as the universal church. The Biblical passages on church shepherding/discipline are about real churches with real leaders and real boundaries. Creed, Confession, Covenant, Constitution (and by laws.) Your church needs all four.

I realize this isn’t going to be the case with every church from day one, but it needs to be a project by year two, and a reality by year 3. Talk to people who have watched the first or second pastoral transition in a new church deconstruct a church.

I can’t say enough about the ministry and teaching of Mark Dever on the subject of the local church, leadership and church membership. This entire issue is what betrays an almost total lack of Biblical study on the part of a lot of young leaders. This is just a slouchy, lazy error among young evangelicals. What I suspect is the case in many situations is pastoral egos don’t want to have to answer to a congregation, so you have an “elder led” church- good- with no church membership- very, very bad.

4. The MegaChurch Agenda vs The Healthy Church Agenda: That sounds like an entire conference. Maybe it ought to be. Big churches have always driven evangelicalism. The influence of large church pastors has always been pervasive. I can’t imagine that will ever change.

Let me mention two pastors: Rick Warren is Rick Warren. You know his church. Ted Christman is the founding pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. He’s a man whose ministry I have watched for the last three decades. Both have done great jobs in their callings. One has a church of tens of thousands. One has a church of a couple of hundred. If we are going to reach our culture, we may need both, but we need hundreds and thousands of people like Ted and churches like HBC.

Who has the most to teach me? Right. Now who is the most likely to be plastered across every media that I am familiar with? Right.

What we have right now are thousands of young pastors and church leaders determined to build a mega-church. Not a solid church, or a doctrinally deep church, or a missionally involved church or a servant church or even a Biblically evangelistic church, but a big church. Big is the defining quality. That a mentor pastors a big church is the major qualifier to answer a question. It’s why Rick Warren is debating Sam Harris in Time, even though Ravi Zacharias could hand Harris his head on a platter.

The finest teacher of pastoral theology and preaching I’ve ever heard is Al Martin. You’ll never hear him unless you go looking. You can learn every thought Rick Warren’s ever had by just going to the book section at Wal-Mart.

I’m not saying megachurches aren’t healthy. I’m not trying to get rid of them. We need big churches in every city and in every region for lots of good reasons. But the megachurch AGENDA is different. We don’t need every church to make every decision on how to get more and more people in the building. We don’t need to have leaders who won’t go to a hospital or do a funeral because it doesn’t contribute to growth. We don’t need worship being judged by the applause meter.

Evangelicals are a Biblical people. The megachurch has a place in the Biblical message if we see what we’re about as a church planting movement. But the megachurch doesn’t have all the answers for most churches. When a small church begins to make decisions shadowing Rick Warren on the assumption that his megachurch embodies the Biblical model for every church, we’ve gone papal.

Get in your Bible and find what the church is ALL about. Quit trying to be the latest thing. No matter who your current church growth hero happens to be. Your church can learn from Mars Hill, but you probably aren’t Mars Hill, and the people in front of you- who may never be the congregation you have in your head- matter to God and need to matter to you.

5. Too Much Music: I said “too much music.” I could illustrate this by writing that sentence for 60% of the post, but I won’t be that obvious.

What’s going on right now seems to be this: The average church needs a band, a lead singer, a praise team, and 40 minutes of worship for “worship,” i.e. music. We’re going to stand the entire time. We’re going to sing what the musicians and worship leaders feel is “worshipful.” We’re going to do a lot of new songs, and we’re going to sing a lot of lyrics over again. Lights, sound and video projection are now essentials.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this picture, but there are a lot of actual and potential problems here. Let me cover some of them.

1) Too much music.
2) Not regulated by the leadership of the church.
3) Too much trouble, expense, rehearsal.
4) Aimed at a narrow age group.
5) Utterly excludes other age groups.
6) Enslaved to the new.
7) Standards set by a culture outside the church, often dominated by cultural addiction to entertainment.
8) Instead of using music to worship, we are using music to draw a crowd, and then justifying it.
9) Spiritual maturity of worship leaders is a back-burner issue in many cases.
10) Congregations are physically/emotionally exhausted before pastoral preaching appears.

There are more things that I could say, and that you could add.

I’m sure that you know I am appreciative of churches that can do this well. I have good friends that exercise their gifts in this kind of ministry and that’s great. But they will be the first to see some of the problems, and always the first to see that every church can’t do what their church does. When I read Mark Driscoll talk about how the search for musicians dominated his early years as a church planter, I’m just astonished that we are now heading in this direction as standard operating procedure in many- even most- evangelical churches.

Too much music, having too much influence in the church. Look at the New Testament, and compare what what the apostles say and do regarding music to what is happening in evangelicalism. We are way, way, way off the page. But we like it, and it’s working, so how can we be wrong. Right?

So there you go. The iMonk returns to his familiar criticisms of evangelicals. Some of our newer readers might need to go to the archives, essays and older essays tabs for more of this type of critique.

(Someone will want to know about bad theology. That’s another five, or ten, or fifteen……I’ll get to that later.)


  1. I am really interested in anyone who goes to a Holy Week service and gets the worst of contemporary evangelicalism.

  2. I attend an independent Pentecostal church and am on the worship team. I play drums (horrors!)

    Our worship leader is very much a fan of contemporary worship music and much of what we play comes straight off Christian Top-40 radio (ugh). We had our practice on Thursday for this Sunday’s worship, and I asked if we would be doing any traditional Easter hymns.

    What I got in response was how this song and that on Sunday’s playlist reflected realities of Easter concepts. Translation: Top-40.

    No “Up from the Grave He Arose.” No “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.” Not even the more contemporary “In Christ Alone.”

    As much as I love my church very much, that kind of oversight just gets me. It’s not just my church, though, as you pointed out, Michael. We’re losing not only the theological weight of the old hymnody, we’re losing our past. As we both know, modern Evangelicalism’s odd hands-off approach to our dusty heritage won’t bode well for our children. My family participates in a parachurch St. Nicholas celebration that has us singing all the old carols, and it’s distressing to see our kids can sing about Rudolph, but can’t follow “The First Noel.”

    Those of us over the age of 40 find ourselves in this quandary of having one foot in the past and one in the future. However, I don’t find this to be a disadvantage. Rather, I think the modern church’s issue of throwing all our weight to one foot only makes us more susceptible to falling.

  3. Hello,
    Amen on number 3! I hadn’t even thought about this when I was at my church in Texas. It was only since moving to Maryland that I found a church with this policy. I thank God for it.


  4. Are you saying baptism is the doorway into the Church (as well as into many local churches)?

    Isn’t that doorway supposed to be salvation, or possibly Christ himself, with baptism & discipleship as subsequent acts of obedience?

    Thanks for the insightful and thought-provoking article though.


  5. centuri0n says

    Phil linked here, and I’m going to link here. This is the best of you, iMonk, and even on an Easter Sunday it is worth noting thatthe church is not to serve our fancy but to proclaim Christ, and him crucified.

    This is exactly what I was talking about in our Ed Stetzer exchange, and I applaud you for recognizing these things.

  6. G’day, notmyopinion. Baptism is the doorway into the church in the New Testament [with repentance and faith, of course].

    Asking Jesus into your heart as the doorway into a personal experience with Christ [with optional church] is a 19th or even 20th century aberration.

    In the New Testament, baptism is clearly part of the process of becoming a Christian. But this is heresy in many quarters today.

    A good antidote to some modern ideas on salvation is to read chunks of the New Testament, instead of odd verses, which are often used to distort the bible’s teaching.

    [Michael, I think you’ll find the Warren-Harris debate is in Newsweek. I haven’t been a fan of Pastor Warren, but I don’t think he did a bad job.]

  7. To say that baptism is the normal Biblical description of entrance into the church (i.e. the recognized moment when faith is confessed) is a basic truth. That is not the same as saying Baptism saves – it doesn’t- or that it is necessary to salvation- it isn’t.

  8. You are capturing many important points here. We are drawing people to method, culture, media, rather than transforming those things and rather than drawing them to the magnificence of a Risen Lord and Almighty God through the every day living by the Holy Spirit.

  9. I am really interested in anyone who goes to a Holy Week service and gets the worst of contemporary evangelicalism.

    You rang?

    Our church only offered its usual Sunday morning service, and we had plans to be out of town, having lunch with at my parents’ house, so we went to another local church for a Saturday evening service.

    Mega-place, with the coffee shop and bookstore. I’m not at all opposed to coffee; in fact, I’m rather fond of it. But it does set the “see how hip we are!” tone.

    Started off well; we sang “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” which I enjoyed. The pastor started preaching immediately after, and it was good, so far, when he took a break and the choir started to perform.

    And perform they did, with a state-of-the-art, God knows how expensive sound system, video screens, and overly-exuberant “Look at me! Look at me!” director, and–and–interpretive dancers.

    Ugh. Just shoot me now. It was the loudest, most-attention seeking behavior ever. It had nothing to do with worship and everything to do with impressing newcomers and/or overcompensating for not being a noticed in high school.

    Then the pastor came back, and he was actually good, but I was completely turned off by the over-stimulating environment.

  10. It’s not just the evangelicals that are off the rails. On Easter morning, we attended a large, old downtown Episcopal church in the city we were visiting. The rector preached a lengthy sermon on how we can find our own PERSONAL resurrections. In fact, any time we find ourselves improving, even just a little bit, we should claim that as a personal resurrection. In fact, those resurrections might be so small that nobody notices them but us, but sure enough, those are resurrections. In fact, those are the only REAL resurrections. It was tragic. (“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”)

    There WAS wonderful scripture in the liturgy. God’s Word is good that way. But every song was completely un-sing-able and (to us) completely unfamiliar. We sang nary a “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” or “Up from the Grave He Arose.”

    It was a sad Easter while we were in that building. It made me think that the church Herself sometimes becomes the tomb. And the tomb is empty.


  11. That’s been my experience with local Episcopalian churches: come for the Bible readings, stay for the… um, uh… well, exactly.

    Okay, Michael, seriously. I always assumed you are a Calvinist. Have you written any posts explaining this? I had enjoyed bragging on my ecumenism, claiming that yes, I do read a “Calvinist” blogger.

    I have to go find some other way to seem open-minded now.

  12. Steven Barrett says

    I’ll take that real old time religion Rome has to offer any day, after having my fill of the P & W garbage for too many years (12) I’d care to admit to. What surprises me is how many young academics (professors) in the college town (which I’m keeping anonymous) I attend a Baptist church have allowed themselves to get sucked up into it.

    Praise and Worship: maybe three original lines and four boring notes, with a heavy side dish of hot air.

  13. It saddens me to see how brainwashed so many congregants are. Many of them are new Christians and unfortunately don’t have the maturity or expanded knowledge to recognize their selfish acts of worship. These churches call themselves “seeker driven”. Unfortunately, our Sunday time of worship does anything but give worth and glory to our God. The time is spent trying to make people and visitors feel comfortable, while being culturally sensitive..at the expense of a “touch-feely” gospel and music that satisfies their emotional need rather than directing their worship to God. I myself resigned from the praise team I once participated on and will soon be leaving the church. I don’t need to be on stage with a captive audience to worship my God. I also don’t have an ego that needs stroking. I just want to serve and worship my God in the way he commands it. Besides, worshipping is not for His benefit anyhow. God doesn’t require our worship. He already knows how great He is. The wonderful thing about worship is, God commands it of us, because He knows we will benefit from it, by becoming closer in our relationship with Him. It is part of the spiritual disciplines that help us come to know God better. I don’t want to worship God to get a spiritual buzz or high, I want to worship to honor Him and come to know Him more deeply.

    Who ever thought that worship is actually a gift from God. Interesting, isn’t it?

  14. I disagree with #3! I’ve regularly attended both Membership and Non-Membership churches and much preferred the latter which essentially calls everyone a friend. Out of my 47 years of life, I’ve spent 43 of those years in Membership churches. I’m still in one – been there 16 years and have not yet “joined”. It bugs me to even think that the person sitting on the pew next to me might not be a full-fledged member. Why bother with it? I’m a defacto member in another church in town and have since learned that they have over 300 members yet their Sunday attendance is around 100. What’s the benefit? They’d be wise to charge a $12/month membership fee.

  15. Walking to and fro says

    KATHY brought up the most important word so far:
    “brainwashed”. I suggest you find a reputable source for the techniques used in common by known cults, and see if you can honestly say there are NO parallels to what is to be found in these “services”. Oh, and I’m sure there’s been no knowing exploitation of these techniques, either. It must be a bizarre coincidence.
    I wonder if William L. Shirer would notice any similarities to the very cynical and practical nature of the spectacle that met his eyes in 1934. When you’re done being upset over the comparison, dear reader, please consider the ease with which large numbers of any people anywhere may slip into disastrous folly, and ask yourself if there wasn’t a feeling of unease present before these few words ever struck your eyes…

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