December 5, 2020

The “Sermonator” and the Culture of Pizzazz

By Chaplain Mike

I cut my teeth as a preacher and pastor in the 1970’s and 80’s. There were not many evangelical ministers in my circles who, at one time or another, did not have serious schoolboy crushes on Chuck Swindoll.

Swindoll is the pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, the chancellor and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, a prominent radio preacher on Insight for Living, and a prolific author. Back in the day, he was evangelicalism’s star preacher and media face. I bought almost every one of his books and referred to them often for one thing—the illustrations. Guy could tell a story and make a point. “Gifted communicator” doesn’t begin to cover it. He had more charisma and talent in the nail of his little toe than I had in my whole body. He came across as warm, caring, genuine, and friendly. His Marines training showed in the confidence with which he carried himself and in the authority with which he spoke. A protegé of Howard Hendricks from Dallas Theological Seminary, he shared his mentor’s wit, humor, and infectious laugh. His smile could blind and overpower an army of critics.

Along with James Dobson, Chuck Swindoll was the heavy hitter in evangelical media in those days. He was Max Lucado, Beth Moore, Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen all rolled into one as far as his popularity and impact. He had a radio program, audio and video series, study guides to go along with his many bestselling books and his broadcast sermon series. He was a highly sought speaker at conferences and large Christian events. A friend once told me they had visited his church in Fullerton, CA, and saw people literally running from the parking lots to make sure they would get seats in the sanctuary to hear him preach.

I hasten to add that Chuck Swindoll is much more theologically grounded than any of the folks I mentioned above (and, after all, he became a seminary president). But in another sense it must be said that Swindoll’s celebrity-preacher status in evangelicalism arose directly from his gift as a popularizer. His radio ministry is called “Insight for Living,” and that tips you off as to his emphasis. Though he calls himself a “teacher,” I always thought of Swindoll as an “encourager,” a proponent of wisdom, a motivational speaker who happens to be a good pastor with a solid Biblical and theological foundation (at least in terms of classic dispensational theology).

Back then, however, he stood apart from his Bible-expositing peers and became evangelicalism’s star preacher on the strength of his matchless charisma and communication skills. To be blunt, he was entertaining. He made you laugh. (In one famous marketing poster for a book, Chuck straddled a motorcycle, donned riding gear, and with tongue-in-cheek, called himself “The Sermonator.”) His stories hit the emotional bullseye time and time again. In the psychological terminology that was so prevalent in that era, he came across as “authentic” and “transparent.” He could speak frankly to you and make you glad he did. His emphasis was not so much on knowing the Scriptures as it was on applying the Scriptures to life, and so he talked about marriage and family, and personal integrity, and real life issues in a way that few before him had done with such passion. And in this way he became one of the main bridges between the evangelical ethos of the past and that which became popular after him—the seeker-sensitive movement with its emphasis on speaking to people’s “felt needs” rather than being all “churchy.”

That’s why I found his recent interview with Skye Jethani so interesting. Leadership Journal published the piece, called, “The Problem with Pizzazz: Has entertainment replaced Scripture as the center of our worship?” Great question, and Swindoll worries that the answer is, “Yes.”

We live in a time with a lot of technology and media. We can create things virtually that look real. We have high-tech gadgets that were not available to previous generations. And we learned that we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it’s enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.

…Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.

But if we’re here to offer something the world can’t provide, why would I want to copy the world? There is plenty of television. There are plenty of talk shows. There are plenty of comedians. But there is not plenty of worship of the true and living God.

In my opinion, Chuck Swindoll makes some spot-on observations as he talks with Jethani about how the church has become enamored of technology, how worship has become a “show” that an audience attends rather than a meeting that takes place between God and his people, and on the importance of church leaders asking tough questions of themselves and one another about how much our programming mentality is taking energy away from the real work of the ministry—study, prayer, working with people. As an example of where we are placing our emphasis, he mentions one church that had twelve pastors, but seventeen on their media staff.

He is absolutely right, and I’m glad he has come out with these strong criticisms. We are missing the point, and Swindoll is unafraid to say it.

I try to keep it as simple as I can. I deliberately hold back. I don’t plan out every single phrase so that it’s timed exactly with a slick presentation. I deliberately leave room for the Spirit to lead.

We use video occasionally but about eight to ten times a year, no more. We’re not here to show videos. People have videos all week long. We use the screens for a song or two that we don’t know. Otherwise we’re using hymnals.

We try to keep it simple so that the pizzazz doesn’t become the reason to bring a neighbor. You have to come see the light show next week. Man, it is unbelievable! The thing will knock your socks off … Wrong. They can stay home and watch that on Friday night.

When you come Sunday, you’re going to focus on One who is eternal, and we’re all going to meet him together. And in doing so, we’re going to leave different than we came because we will have been in his awesome presence, and we will be ignited by the work of the Spirit within us.

At that point in the interview, Jethani asks a perceptive question: You are a very engaging communicator. Philip Yancey even said that ‘Charles Swindoll doesn’t have a boring bone in his body.’ Some might even say that you are very entertaining to listen to. How do you reconcile that with what you’ve just said about the dangers of being entertainment driven? How do you ensure that people attracted to your ministry are engaging it for the right reason?

Good query, but it doesn’t go far enough. For the question is not just how does one square preaching that may be entertaining with today’s entire culture of entertainment. We didn’t just wake up one morning and all of a sudden pastors and church leaders decided to focus on entertainment because of technology. This impulse of attracting people by giving them a good show runs deep in the veins of evangelicalism and has since the Great Awakenings. As for its present day manifestations, today’s technologies and church growth philosophies supporting their use were being formulated and developed in the very years when evangelicalism was rising and Chuck Swindoll became a “star.”

And that’s why the real question is, “Do you feel partly responsible for creating this culture of entertainment, given the way you emphasized “relevance” and held such celebrity status for your entertaining, popular-level preaching, writing, and media productions back when evangelicalism was rising as a cultural force in America?”

Chuck Swindoll was able to answer the first question pretty easily, just by saying, well yes I have gifts, but I try to be real and let people see I’m genuine and not just some slick presenter. The other question is more complex and much more difficult to address. And lest you miss my point, I am not trying to lay this whole problem at Swindoll’s feet. I am saying that it is easy to point a critical finger at current practices and at the same time fail to see that one may bear some blame for their existence and prevalence because of past actions and attitudes.

I know I do. I was part of that same evangelical system that brought James Dobson and Chuck Swindoll, contemporary Christian music, and the Christian media world into prominence. I bought Chuck’s books and if you heard me preach, you probably heard his stories and illustrations. I used his video series in church classes and small groups, and listened to his tapes and radio program in the car. Like multitudes of Christians, I thought the way of faithfulness to Jesus was to buy what the Christian market was promoting and selling. I wanted music I enjoyed, first and foremost. I wanted preachers to make me laugh as they told me how to live. I wanted everything wrapped in slick, attractive packaging. I wanted to look good, feel good, and I wanted everything I ingested to go down easy.

I confess. I helped lay some of the foundations for the Christian-industrial entertainment complex.

I’d like to give permission to some of the younger generation of leaders like Skye Jethani, who see that we have a big problem with this, to start asking even harder questions of their elders, like, “How did we get to this place, father?”

There is a whole generation of us that should hear that question and, in response, repent. But it may not happen. If repentance is real, you see, it doesn’t feel too good. And we’ve never liked that.


  1. I understand the point of this blog, but I’m unsure of how preachers should proceed from here. I think you would agree that easy to understand illustrations aren’t a bad thing nor is an entertaining speaker, so what is the balance between using these speaking gifts and not creating people who seek entertainment rather truth?

    • Good question, Tyler, and rather than just throw out an answer of my own here at the beginning of the comments, let’s let the other commenters weigh in. And don’t forget, the bigger question is the entire culture of entertainment that Swindoll bewails. That goes far beyond a preacher who is a good storyteller.

    • luke 24/46 this is what is written:The Crist will suffer and rise frome the dead on the third day and repentence and forgiveness of sin will be preanced in his name.

  2. It’s the Late Church with Reverend Letterman! 🙂

    • sarahmorgan says

      ouch, I once participated in a church where the model of Letterman and Paul Schaeffer was considered a good example to represent the interaction/relationship between the pastor & worship leader…at the time, I didn’t even think it was a bad thing (perhaps because that particular church was pretty God-focused in its services/worship, and was geared for twenty-somethings). But now that I’ve been wrung through the wringer of a couple of entertainment-based, people-exalting, non-God-focused evangelical churches, I’m kind of appalled by the idea.

  3. Encountering the Eternal One is an important quest that many more evangelicals have undertaken. I believe that quest is a significant reason why liturgical and sacramental forms of worship are attracting young and old as never before in our generation. And that same quest , for the bedrock reality of the Christian faith, is also propelling many believers to study surviving historic classic writings of the early church fathers.

    My wife and I greatly respect Chuck Swindoll and his gracious open Bible style of ministry. We’ve traveled with orgranization’s tour to Alaska and highly recommend the experience. And we find Stonebriar to be a spiritual oasis in these days of the performance driven “worship team” with all its choreographed staged steps.

    True worship is so much more than fellowship, lifestyle discussions, and entertainment driven staging with all the best media re-enforcement .

    As I mature in age, and hopefully attain some level of maturity in faith, I’m finding more importance in embracing the personal disicplines found in heatfelt worship as practiced by believers over the centuries. The historic church calendar of worship, confessions of faith, private prayer, meditation, and personal Bible study, each help prepare the way for living a Christ-centered life, serving others, and encountering our Heavenly Father on a deeper level.

    • Marv:

      I find this whole subject facinating yet I feel like I am looking at it as an outsider. I was not raised an Evangelical. I was raised Roman Catholic. Catholicism gave me many things but it was Evangelicalism that was clear that I could not “work my way into heaven”. I am not saying there is not a biblical understanding of salvation in the RC church, it is there, but underladen by things that muddy the waters. I am not interested in getting into a theology discussion about the RC. My own faith journey let me to a church that was sacramental/liturgical, evangelical and charismatic. What is interesting to me is to hear so many who were raised evangelical articulating its weaknesses. Personally, for me the missing piece was evangelicalism. However, in hearing evangelicals speak more on thier own background, I began to appreciate more and more the catholic roots I have and have retained. Its come as a surprise to me to hear of evangelicals-baptists especially-saying how thier faith is not attractive to them. I even heard about a Baptist pastor decry how thier were losing thier youth to the liturgy! This sounds strange to me, indeed. As my interest has not been to “steal” sheep from others and rather reach the unconverted to Christ, I am not much involved in the internal discussions of many evangelicals.But from time to time I do because I do identify as an evangelical, though not you typical one.

      God bless you on your faith journey. Personally, what I found was that once I understood salvation as a gift recieved, not earned, but lived, my catholic background made sense in a new way. It gave me a frame work to live out that personal relationship I entered into when I became an evangelical.

      • Guido, I just read about the church you are involved in, the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. Interesting. I had never heard of it before. I am glad that you have been able to learn from both the Catholic and evangelical worlds.

      • …the grass is always greener on the other side…

  4. And all the time that Swindoll was doing what you say he was doing, there were thousands who heard the gospel and accepted Christ, Then there were more thousands who were instructed and helped in their time of need. What is entertaining about someone telling a story and laughing when it is illustrating a truth that might make a point clearer? So, Swindoll is an engaging communicator. He was blessed by God to minister as he did and is doing. He was and is being used mightily by the Lord. I cannot agree that presenting a message with a little laughter and a joyous spirit is entertainment. Sure there is a time for seriousness, but sometimes you have to drag them into your corner so they will listen to the seriousness. Jethai’s assertion that some might say Swindoll is very entertaining is, by the very suggesting, treating Swindoll’s ministry with lack of respect. I have never once looked at Swindoll’s ministry as entertainment, and I think we had better be careful about stepping over the Lord’s work in this case.

    • Ardnas, I respect what you say here, and I have a great deal of respect for Swindoll too. I hope the post did not communicate that I don’t. Nevertheless, the problems of today’s evangelicalism did not come from nowhere. Many of them came from good, well-intentioned people. God used us all in spite of our short-sightedness and limitations.

      We are also seeing the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children.

      What you say here is the same answer you would get if you were to criticize today’s church entertainment culture. “Yes, but many are being reached and saved! Doesn’t that justify what we do?”

      • I guess I am not clear at what Swindoll did that has to be justified or was then justified. If bringing on the contemporary music is the problem, then perhaps you have a point that it set the stage for what we say is entertainment today. I have to say, however, that I never heard any contemporary music on any of Swindolls media programs. And taking advantage of the media to spread the gospel message as he did was a good thing.

        It is interesting also, that there was a time when a piano in the church was seriously frowned upon. It was honky tonk material straight of the bars. While I do not like the loud contemporary stuff, I do not believe it is considered entertainment to those who have it in their churches. I cannot relate in that way, but am I to say they cannot? Entertainment can happen in any format if the person of persons who are on stage are bringing attention to themselves by their dress and actions. Case in point. I went to a Christian concert several weeks ago where a traveling singing group was brough into the church. This church is considered conservative with very low key contemporary music only occasionally. Nothing but piano and organ there. This group sang and played some loud contempory. But the thing that bothered me most was, everytime one of them sang alone or was the obvious lead singer, they took a bow and the rest of the group pointed to them until everyone clapped. then they acknowledge the applause by putting one hand in the air. Now they were totally in the entertainment mode I would say.

    • Saying someone is entertaining is disrespecting their ministry?

      • If their ministry is billed as entertainment, no, but if their ministry is to preach the word of God, yes.

        • Seems to me if it’s entertaining, we should call it that. Of course, that’s not in this case a jab at Swindoll’s content. But lots of places have their stated goal to “win souls” or whatever but only a thin veil hides the fact that they’re basically trying to attract people with a show. Say we shouldn’t call a spade a spade sounds like “touch not the Lord’s annointed” stuff.

  5. Interesting….it almost seems as if there are two levels to evangelical Christianity. I was all too familar with the James Dobson, Chuck Colson, Bill Bright form all too well. (Where’s my barf bag….) However, I find this interview by Chuck Swindoll to be different. I’m reading “What Good is God” by Philip Yancy, and I am amazed the the first group of Christians I mention don’t call Yancy a heretic. He’s more than willing to discuss issues and topics that many Christians avoid all together. In the chapter I just finished Yancy is storng in his critique of the Bible college he went to. And he talked about the problems that culture creates. Yancy refernfes Swindoll in a couple of books that I have read. As I’ve aged I think I can see those same problems in what happened to me and others who distanced themself from Christianity. I really can’t stand the Bill Bright, James Dobson, John Piper approach to Christinaity. Too much certainity, manipulation of the Bible and engaging the culture war. However, I was taken back by Chuck Swindoll’s approach. Are there others like him? What happened to them? Where did they go? Did they more or less resign themself to another form of fundelicalism that is more known and associated today? Why is this the first time I am hearing Swindoll challenging the “system?”

    • They are out there, Eagle, faithfully and quietly ministering away in churches across the land. One of the things I respect about Swindoll is that he has always been grounded in the church and in the pastoral ministry.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        When I was roaming the post-Evangelical wilderness in the late Eighties and early Nineties, I sporadically attended Swindoll’s megachurch in Fullerton. I also read a few of his books.

        Swindoll was GENUINE. Even when he was preaching over the PA of a 5000+seat megachurch, he was GENUINE and REAL. When he gave examples of sin in his books, he always used himself as a bad example. (Without going into the usual spectacle; his life was apparently as mundane as mine, with none of the Juicy stuff you usually hear in testimonies.) Guy also did a hitch in the military and worked his way through seminary as a machinist — none of this being raised as a preacher from birth, with no experience outside of a church.

    • Yikes….sorry for the typos. I didn’t proof the post before posting. What I am trying to say is that in some circles Swindoll is referenced, I’ve noticed that in Yancy’s books. In other people that I referenced I really don’t recall him being referenced. Is Swindoll less popular in the Bill Bright, Chuck Colson or James Dobson circles?

      • Damaris says

        I think Yancey is an excellent writer, Eagle. Glad you’re enjoying him.

      • I’m not sure I know how to evaluate that, Eagle. Speaking only for myself, of the people you mentioned, only Swindoll ever resonated with me deeply, probably because I was, like him, a pastor. The others had parachurch ministries and didn’t speak to the ministry of the local church as directly or knowingly.

      • Josh in FW says

        My first Swindoll exposure was a biography of David (David: a man of passion & destiny) that I “won” at a family white elephant gift exchange. I think that was my best Christmas party win so far.

    • Cunnudda says

      You know, Eagle, your experience of Christianity was intense, but very narrow. Swindoll seems to this Lutheran to be very mainstream.

  6. I think some of the most powerful preachers and evangelists are the ones that encourage others to dive deeper into God’s Word. To me the term “Relevance” when it comes to Christianity is the spiritual equivalent of my neighbors dog taking a dump on my front lawn. Show me a parishioner that is only interested in a flashy presentation, and I will show you a milk-toast Christian that is led hither and dither by his/her emotions.

    I will take the apostle Paul over Dobson any day; I will take Blaise Pascal over Joyce Meyer, and Joel Osteen put together. Feed me some Justin Martyr and I will long to dive deeper into God’s Word. The new high-tech gospel is just another symptom of the disease that modern day Christianity is infected with .

    Thank you for the wonderful thought provoking post!

    • “Talk to me about the truth of religion, and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion, and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you do not understand.” –C.S. Lewis

      Meyer, Osteen, et al. are all about the consolations, not the truth or duties.

  7. George Whitefield was criticized in his day for his theatricality. Some thought he was using his pronounced gifts to manipulate the unwashed masses into a religious fervor that had little to do with true conversion. Apollos was probably a gifted speaker (though Paul definitely was not).

    Today, it’s no secret that popular pastors like Piper and Driscoll attract an audience at least in part because they are deeply gifted speakers; the former is highly expressive and passionate, and the later can be downright hilarious.

    I don’t see Swindoll as a showman, just a gregarious, gifted communicator. Is he partly responsible for creating the present culture of entertainment in the church, probably, but no no more than Apollos or Whitefield were in their days. It’s idolatry, and the sectarian impulse mixed with cheap, ubiquitous technology. The difference? The medium. Back then, it was relics and shrines. Now, it’s podcasts and sermon jams.

    • I think you make a great point here. Assuming Chuck was very much biblicaly grounded (albeit Dispensational) and was very much interested in biblicaly grounding people, to what responsibility do we lay at the feet of the people who chased after entertainment instead of those who were entertaining? So what Swindoll was entertaining? Does that mean he created the “need” for entertainment so prevalent in our churches. I think CM points this out when he talks about buying into the culture.

      The people have chosen their leaders, and they have formed them. The people created the culture of entertainment by voting with their feet and their $$$. That’s the problem with a Democratic/Capitalist culture, the people get what they want.

  8. Well, look at the good preaching on TV, look at David Jeremiah program, Charles Standly :program, both whom I believe are good men, and preachers, but the TV programs are design to be likable. They take their preaching package it into a neat 30 minute program with cute drama. to illustrate their message.

  9. dumb ox says

    I recently watched the Monty Python “Cheese Shop” skit on Youtube. In it, the customer played by Cleese asks the clerk played by palin if he had any of a long, long list of varieties of cheese, to each receiving the answer , “no”. Finally, Cleese says, “It’s not much of a cheese shop, is it?”, to which Palin answers that it’s the finest in the district “because it’s so clean”.

    I laughed until it reminded me too much of evangelicalism in it’s immense succcess at missing the point. Yes, all of us who have popularized the evangelical cheese shop are to blame, but there is no shame in now agreeing that it isn’t much of a cheese shop. I hear the crow-flavored humble pie is pretty good in the shop next door.

  10. Your mea culpa is shared, in that I have also aided and abetted the heretical buffoonery and superficial showboating which characterize the Christian-industrial entertainment complex. We were the first to jump into radio, experimenting long before it became “mass”, but it wasn’t anything new. George Whitefield’s flair for flamboyant oratory captivated thousands. Newsreels capture an athletic Billy Sunday careening around his podium. J. Frank Norris would whip up excitement by wheeling a cartload of whiskey into his sanctuary and ceremoniously smash the bottles in front of the altar. Since before the Revolution, everything has been up for grabs if it helps God attract peoples’ attention. If you look at evangelicalism from Whitefield onwards, you see media preachers who needed the publicity as much as the media needed a good story. But every time they penetrated culture, a bit more rubbed off on them as the sacred became a commodity, selling worship as business. In any transaction, there is a cost. You can see it in how the press made Moody a reluctant star, how it tainted Billy Sunday, how it “puffed” Graham, and made Jerry Falwell lunge after Tinky-Winky. Don’t get me started on TBN….

    I love Chuck Swindoll, and have admired him greatly for years. I don’t lump him into the heretical buffoonery and superficial showboating which characterize the Christian-industrial entertainment complex. I’d like to say he’s a modern day Charles Fuller in eliminating the emotional distance between speaker and us anonymous listeners; another America’s pastor. But there’s the rub. I already have a pastor, and he’s not it. I have never met the man and only know him through his media presence. We have all aided and abetted evangelical media, which primarily exists to serve the “tribe”, and that means us all of us as willing accomplices. We hear great teaching, often much better than heard on Sunday mornings after a week of responding to our midnight emergency calls, burying our friends, etc. More often than not we are influenced by our virtual churches than the one with bricks and mortar and real people and a pastor who knows us but loves us anyway. Yes, parachurch organizations are supposedly there to “support” the church, but the issue I see is that more often than not they incorrectly think the church is “not doing its job” and are set up to compete. Television and radio “ministries” introduce a paradigm shift of dualistic allegiance, full stop. We admittedly have become “high def” Christians like junkies who support them. The only solution I have found is to turn off the dial, stop church-hopping, and be the best sheep I can to encourage and support my local shepherd.

    • This is a perceptive comment, Stuart. There is Chuck Swindoll, the local church pastor, whose gifts may be so prodigious that they overflow the boundaries of his congregation.

      To the rest of us, there is Chuck Swindoll the author, radio preacher, media presence. It is this dichotomy that probably most troubles me. Like politics, all spirituality in the end is local. It is lived on the ground in a community of real, flesh and blood brethren and neighbors. It is developed under the tutelage of pastors and friends who can look me in the eye, hear my questions, and point me to Jesus. And I can do the same for them. On the other hand, the “virtual” church that technology and media creates produces people who subject themselves to an image that speaks. And this is the danger in the local church now that technology reigns in our midst. We “worship” because we are pumped up by lights and amplified music. We “hear the Word” when an image on the screen proclaims words. The problem goes far beyond “entertainment.” The problem is the denial of our humanity and human connections as essential to the spiritual life.

      • Now when you put it that way, I begin to relate. A lot of food for thought there. Unfortunately New England is not the best place to be when seeking a good local church where people truly want to be connected. In fact it is the contemporary media driven churches where the connections seem more prevelant. I do believe that is one reason why they are thriving.

      • Chaplain Mike, have you ever read “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman? I think you’d find it very relevant to this discussion.

        • Excellent read. You put your finger on what my brain was searching for as I read the post. Postman does discuss cultural avoidance. It is wider than the church. It does come from roots deep within the culture.

        • Yes, it’s a classic on this topic.

        • Thanks for the book recommendation.I have not heard of the book but upon investigating have found that it has been around a long time. Amazon does have it.

      • great comments.
        i’ve been having the same argument for a long time now with a friend of mine.
        he loves people like john MacArthur. i always say, “but you don’t really know him, and he dosn’t know you”. and my friend always responds, “he’s been in the ministry for 50 years, with a good reputation”. i try to tell him that this is exactly what they push into his head about him, and that he still dosn’t know him.
        they send him letters sometimes warning him about such a such a group or person. How can a ministry arbirarily send warnings to people they never met? and, who are already a part of a church, with a pastor and a congregation? at least my friend will discuss things with his pastor.

      • Cunnudda says

        OK, Chaplain Mike, but Swindoll fills a different niche for me. I listen in the car on the way places, and it’s another opportunity during the day to focus on God, with some good biblical exposition. Doesn’t replace anyone, or devalue my pastor.

      • I can see your direction here, Chap, but allow me to push back with some observations.

        1) many of your comments could apply to participation here at IMONK just as quickly and aptly as they do with Chuck”s listening audience. We don’t really know you, JeffD, Damaris, and the gang, though over the years, there is an element of this. Put another way, our IMONK conversations do not, and should not, take the place to congregational “one-anothering”, but aren’t the conversations and discussions here life producing nonetheless ?? I would hope so.

        2) OK, Chuck is certainly entertaining, but he does not seem to put the big priority on that, it’s the way GOD made him, and wouldn’t you rather listen to someone interesting than someone dull ?? Having listened to Chuck a few times, he does NOT seem to be the kind of preacher that puts the premium on creating clones, but on what the WORD says and how to live it out.

        3) As long as relevance is grounded in the person, work, and words of JESUS, then how can that be a bad thing ? I’ve never known Chuck to steer clear of the “hard” words of JESUS in order to give a message that is more upbeat, or more ‘hear-able’. I think he’s called it as he saw it in the word. I don’t see the problem here; and I’d note that most folks out in the audience are not nearly the theologians and wordsmiths that professional clergy are, they are mostly just sheep looking for some help and some food and shelter. This does not, of course excuse good exegesis and study, but I”ve never known Chuck to be weak on that.

        4) Sure he’s been “marketed”, but if someone is a very gifted speaker, teacher, writer, isn’t that just part of the cause and effect of the universe ?? People like to hear talented musicians and watch talented artists, also. Yes, he has had a huge following, but I dont’ see where he has compromised his message to get that following. He does NOT preach a “YOUR best life now”, but a life in CHRIST now according to biblical principles. I see a big difference there.

        Comments welcome. We need to do SOMETHING to make the resurrection life of CHRIST our message, and the gift of grace our offer, so I’m all ears how to help push in that direction.


        • This post is not just about Chuck. But he is a good representative of the face of evangelicalism at the time I’m writing about. It was moving into the “evangelical culture” stage. Because of technology like audio and video, and because of the system of creating and marketing Christian books and media, Chuck Swindoll the pastor of a local church became bigger than that. I have no doubt that he was able to maintain his own integrity through all that–I think CS is about as genuine as they come. So this is not a personal critique in that sense. It is a reflection on the seeds we plant, often unknowingly, by participating in or buying into the prevalent evangelical culture of the moment.

          As for Internet Monk, you have a point, and it is one which I have made too. About a year ago, I posted an essay called, “This is not where I live.” In it, here is how I describe what I hope this site is:

          It’s like a classroom on a day in which the prof leads a discussion, a forum in the public square, a group of strangers bellying up to the bar at a watering hole, hanging around the lounge at seminary, meeting people from other churches in the fellowship hall at a conference and sharing observations about the things you’re experiencing. You say a little something. You hear a little something. Then you go get coffee and move on. Eventually you go home.

          I also wrote this (please forgive the length)–

          My life happens in a small town in central Indiana. I live it with my wife, children, grandkids, and neighbors. My life involves talking with them, praying for them, helping them, being forgiven by them when I mess up. It’s eating meals together, talking about the little things we’ve done throughout the day, coordinating our schedules, staying in touch, keeping short accounts.

          My life involves helping coach my grandson’s Little League team and remembering how to talk to seven-year olds again. My life involves singing in the choir at my church, going to practice, cutting up with the rest of the tenors. In my life, I occasionally serve on some committee for our local school district, attend the high school baseball games because the coach is a good friend, greet fellow townsfolk at Walmart or Starbucks, or visit a friend in the hospital whose spouse is having surgery.

          Many hours of this life are spent doing my daily work as a hospice chaplain. I drive around the city, visiting folks in their homes, in hospitals, and other facilities. I have face-to-face conversations with them. Surprise! Most of these conversations don’t involve swapping the kinds of slogans I get in forwarded emails. No, these talks take place in the context of actual living and dying. We talk about what’s happening to someone’s body right in front of us. We talk about the feelings raised by this, the spiritual issues, and what dad’s going to do when his wife of 62 years walks through death’s door and leaves him behind.

          My fellow team members are a huge part of my life. We meet and talk and laugh together, respect the expertise each one brings to our work, consult on difficult questions, help each other in practical ways, and support each other when it all gets heavy. We also recognize that each person has a full and meaningful life outside the team, and so we try to be sensitive, caring, and available as friends for one another.

          This is life. Real life. Daily life. Faces. Flesh. Conversations. Decisions. Relationships.

          I’m worried about churches in our current electronic and cyber-culture. Reliance upon programmed approaches and technology can easily promote “sound-bite” theology, activity masquerading as meaningful interaction with others, and a culture that “takes stands” on the big issues of the day, but cares little for actually knowing and loving one’s neighbor.

          I’m sure Chuck Swindoll, among others, would agree with that. But I have to confess that my involvement in this work now is likely planting seeds that I am unaware of, some of which may produce good fruit, and some of which may produce the weeds that future generations of evangelicals will have to deal with.

          • Thanks for your thoughtful , and detailed, response. For some reason the path of Henri Nouwen jumped into my mind as I read your reply as perhaps a snapshot of someone who willingly and knowingly took up a trajectory outside of that of an “influencer”. Not to make him a prototype, but I think the life he embraced at L’Arche was real life, and the life of an accomplished lecturer, professor, and touring expert was something less.

            My situation in my local church came to mind also. We have two teaching pastors. The main guy is every bit as entertaining as Chuck, IMO. This is not bad, in and of itself, but I’ll admit that he can get by on his speaking prowess alone when his sermons themselves are just not that good. This is not often, his sermons are usually very good, but my point is that while the head guy “brings ’em in the door” so to speak, the OTHER guy, a gifted teacher in his own right, is mild and meek by comparison, and a little….no, a lot….geeky. He’s an IT trained, former dungeons and dragons metalhead turned to pastor. They BOTH have their place in the body, and are BOTH very gifted, albeit very different teachers. To your post: have we put such an emphasis on ‘seeker friendly” this and that so much that my geeky friend will ever have to stop worrying that he is not, and never will be, like the head guy.

            IS the gospel enough ? Is maintaining a faithfull presentation of the saving news enough, or do we need MORE Chucks/my head guy’s type ?? I think it is when we start making value statements based on entertainment strengths and weaknesses that we fall into trouble. One warning sign, IMO: watch for how your pastor uses humor, and how important it is that they are funny/liked. That deserves its own post, maybe, I digress.

            thanks for the push to higher things

          • Your last paragraph of that old post is getting reprinted and taped where I can see it. RECIRCULATE that peice, Chap; IMONKers like me need to “go home” once in awhile. Thanks.

  11. I am wondering if the change came with the “megachurch.” At that point, I believe, the Senior Pastor became CEO and the Elders became the Board of Directors and all of the other leaders became Vice-Presidents of such-and-such. Church has become a business with the main attention on congregation size and collection totals (“we need to keep the lights on and the buses running”). The house church movement may be the collective response; unfortunately, I am afraid that that may breed heresies if the doctrine is not well known or understood.

    • It’s an old complaint, and not one unique to Evangelicalism or the mega-church; this from a work published in 1321:

      ‘Down there, when you philosophize, you fail
      to follow one true path, so does the love of show
      preoccupy your mind and carry you away,

      and even this is tolerated here
      with less wrath than when holy Scripture
      is neglected or its doctrines are mistaught.

      ‘There is no thought among you of the blood it costs
      to sow the world with it, or how acceptable he is
      who humbly makes his way to it.

      ‘Each strives to gain attention by inventing new ideas,
      expounded by the preachers at some length —
      but the Gospel remains silent.

      …’Now preachers ply their trade with buffoonery and jokes,
      their cowls inflating if they get a laugh,
      and the people ask for nothing more.

  12. David Cornwell says

    When we hear a preacher or teacher who/what do we come away talking and thinking about? Is it the awesome speaking ability, stories, or humor? Is it entertainment to us? Personality? Or do we come away thinking about The Story and the One the Story is relating to us? Is it the awesome band or the Holy One? Preachers and churches can have all of these things, but if these things are primary and we come away hyped on the experience rather than hearing, seeing, tasting the One, something may be wrong.

    Liturgy and the elements of traditional worship provide safeguards to us. They don’t swell up the ego and turn us into entertainers. Being partakers of the Bread and Blood bring us to the Christ and is not a place where children are being entertained with noise and games. What we consume there is not the latest fad of the market place and its glitz.

    We need to be reminded that this is Holy work.

    • David:

      What elements of traditional worship are your referring to?



      • David Cornwell says

        Guido, you are making me think! In my opinion worship consists of several elements. Terminology for these elements will differ according to our own tradition. They have historical roots in the practice of the Church. Prayer is one element and consists necessarily of its own elements. Proclamation, which in many churches is preaching or the delivery of a homily. It can also be present in other ways. Another is giving. The Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, or communion, should be present according to tradition.

        Prayer consists of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

        Historical liturgies help give good form to these elements. The sacraments should not be neglected and should be a prominent aspect of proper worship.

        Whether these come to us in traditional ways, contemporary ways, or a combination isn’t as important as making sure they bring honor to God and not just to the form. That goes for all the elements and everything that goes into them. Worship isn’t about the band, the worship leader, the preacher, or the flashy presentation. Nor is it about the organ, piano, harp, choir, or whatever.

        I’ve seen other outlines which are slightly different or given different names.

        Also, I loved to listen to Chuck Swindoll back in the 1980’s era and always thought he brought honor to God, not to himself.

        I really have not presented this in a very organized or good way I’m afraid. So my apologies for that.

        Marge and I made a quick trip to Kentucky Saturday so she could be at her sister’s side at her death. They hugged and cried and said their last goodbyes Satuday evening. Sunday morning, at the nursing home, she died peacefully with us at her side. The funeral will be tomorrow. So, my brain and body is tired tonight, and if I don’t make sense, or I’ve left something out, forgive me.

        • David, I’m sorry for the death of your sister-in-law. May God bless her and keep her, make his face to shine upon her, and hold her in the palm of his hand.

        • David:

          My prayers are with you regarding your recent family loss. May God’s peace and grace be abundantly poured out on you and your family.

          Thanks for the prompt reply. I agree with how you are defining “traditional worship”. Where I live in the south, traditional in regards to worship means more whether or not what we sing in church is more contemporary or comes mostly or exclusively from the Baptist Hymn book.

          In general, its been my obervation that music STYLE had often become a battleground in the church. My take, and our take as a church body, is that a music style is not so much the point but the attitude of worship behind it. Sure, some “styles” may be more conducive to worship than others. But our thinking is that there are treasures both old and new and we should be thankful for both. Consequently, we fit a more contemporary type of worship sound as A PART of what we sing in worship witht the context of the liturgy.

        • My condolences on the death of your sister-in-law, David.

          Eternal rest grant to her, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her, and may she rest in peace. Amen.

      • Guido,

        I’m not quite sure what you are getting after in your question, so ignore this reply if it isn’t hitting the mark.

        Michael Spencer did a whole series on “Evangelical Liturgy” in August-November 2009 that contained much food for thought for me. The series stretched from August into November 2009. In the words of his introductory article (August 13,2009):

        “In these posts, I am going to survey the basic elements of a traditional Protestant worship service in a traditional Protestant setting. I will offer abbreviated commentary on each of those elements, with a purpose of explaining and unfolding what I see as the value of a traditional evangelical liturgy.

        This will be from the point of view of non-Anglican, non-Lutheran Protestantism, because….we simply never talk about this. … I [am] assuming that most evangelicals are aware that few of these elements are being used in the popular worship formats that have developed in post-Protestantism. I do want to feature the value of these elements, and make it clear that each one can, in widely varying settings, still make a contribution to gathered worship. ”

        If you go to the Archives section of the, go down to the “Evangelical Liturgy” section, then start out on page 4 of that section, you can find the beginning of that series. It ended up being 20+ articles. (Alternatively, you can go to August 2009 in the archives and start working your way through.)

  13. I don’t think being entertained in some sense of the word is wrong – I think it’s actually virtually impossible for humans to communicate with one another without us using things like humor, drama, etc. I imagine there were plenty of times when people laughed after Christ said certain things, and I think He said many things that have a humorous edge to them. I think the issue is when the entertainment becomes an end in and of itself, and that becomes what the church puts the majority of its effort into. It’s a bit like a steakhouse putting all of its effort into having an awesome salad bar and meanwhile their steaks suck (I know that’s kind of a lame analogy – I just can’t think of anything better at the moment).

    I don’t exactly know what the cure entirely is. The one thing I will say is that I simply think that many pastors use entertainment and gimmicks as a way to cover up their lack of intimacy with God. When I think of the pastors who have impacted me the most in my life, it’s men who I knew actually knew and communed with God. After you have seen the real, it become pretty much unbearable to sit through the fake.

    • Rhetoric is a wonderful thing. Ethos, pathos, and logos are all tools to communicate, convince, and inform, however if pathos (emotionally based discussion) is emphasized, it leads to weak arguments. I think what Mike’s post was about was that Swindoll doesn’t leave out ample logos (logical, rational arguments) and often bases his examples in a blend of ethos (personal credential based statements/stories) and pathos.

      Where I grew up in the fundamentalist baptist church, so many of my friends abandoned their faith because as they grew up they discovered that much of the sermon fodder was weak in logos. Few of us have made it out with intact faith.

  14. Pizazz isn’t necessarily bad, unless that is all you have or you use it to sugar-coat heresy. I think how Chesterton used his whit, wisdom, satire, story-telling, and even poetry to declare truth. Perhaps the point is that Pizazz isn’t bad, and it also isn’t necessary. The gospel can stand on its own. It just needs someone with the courage and humility to preach it. It doesn’t sound like Saint Paul was a great preacher, compared to the super-preachers to traveled through Corinth spreading heresy.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Pizazz isn’t necessarily bad, unless that is all you have…

      i.e. There has to be real substance behind the pizazz.

  15. Referring to technology, Swindoll states, ” we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it’s enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.”

    I agree with that, but it is not just ‘tech’ that led to the entertainment mentality. Going back decades further, A.W. Tozer railed against “the great god Entertainment.”

    Certainly, in our day, the biblical illiteracy has progressed at the furious modern pace.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Referring to technology, Swindoll states, ” we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago.”

      Putting Butts in Seats. (Except we don’t use the word “butts” and call our seats “pews”.) The same reason for every pro wrestling angle cataloged on Wrestlecrap.

    • Tozer on Worship, a little collection of his writings on worship is a great book and though his writings were from decades ago, they are absolutely relevant to the issues being discussed here today.

  16. Forgot one other point. Jesus’ parables had ‘pizazz.’

    • Only in the sense that they were designed to shock his audience into thinking, and usually they had more of an effect of making people mad. Jesus was never about being the “in” thing — He seemed almost to deliberately say and do things that alienated others, because He knew that those who stuck around were the ones who were serious about following Him.

  17. whew…

    raised Roman Catholic whose high profile types usually a litany of long passed saints…

    once i exited Catholicism for the Protestant/Evangelical/Pentecostal camps, i neither had to deal with any denominational baggage/loyalty/indoctrination, but was actually free to keep from putting on any pedestal teachers, leaders, Christian celebrities that i championed, bought their books, quoted religiously…

    i own one book by Dallas Willard. a few others from different authors that i no longer have in my possession. i have experienced a wide range of faith community expressions, but none has become for me someone i wish to emulate or think highly enough of that i want to point them out as someone of divinely appointed significance…

    the reason? i have found enough of theological perspectives i do not agree with. or political views. or delivery. or the subtle use of manipulation. or simply personality quirks i don’t find appealing. and since the theological principles are actually considerations separate from their human representative that claims strict adherence, there is enough of human contamination in any religious representation to simply see these men+women as sincere saints still flawed…

    i put no on on a pedestal. no celebrity on a shelf. no high profile type that promotes a specific ministry or focus or that is really beyond controversy…

    i learned there was no one of pristine credentials that could completely represent Jesus to me or the rest of the world. most of these people likable enough i am sure. might even enjoy a good glass of wine with most over a meal. could probably identify with common human elements of our experiences. but i do not have any need or even a tendency to point out with awe or reverence any one person, living or dead, that really could encapsulate my Christian faith journey better than my own. or to put it more clearly, a substitute entity that had all the answers or attitudes i could vicariously live thru…

    now, this is not to live in delusion thinking there are not movers+shakers in the kingdom that appear to be “articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use” (2Tim 2:20). and honor should be given where the work is worthy of such (1Tim 5:17). however, there is an early lesson learned in my Christian walk that resulted in numerous home bible study leaders or other types failing in their role model & showing themselves to be fully flawed human beings dealing with hidden issues that resulted in falling from their perch…

    i suppose there is an element of being skeptical of the persona built up around a person & the pristine reputation either given to them by others or allowed to be given to them by that very person. it is why i have not truly been Protestantized any more than i was Catholized in my religious upbringing.

    as much as i appreciate systematic theology whether from a Pentecostal bent or a Reformist slant, there are still sufficient theological points i find myself either withholding a conclusion or simply thinking it of no significance to my personal journey to date. i will not accept something as ‘gospel’ because so-and-so eloquently presents it, but i must discover for myself how it fits into my faith journey at any given moment…

    i have met some dear saints of different faith expressions that i do think best displayed a character of Jesus that seemed, well, undeniable. a simple faith or a time-worn quality replete with many Purple Heart medals earned as they ventured thru the Valley of the Shadow of Death numerous times. it is these dear saints, some living, some dead, that i appreciate were blessings in my life to help me understand that my faith was not in vain…

    since i am not a preacher with the added self-conscious factor of communicating to a live audience, i do not have any such champions. but i understand if i had to make a living out of doing such, i would want a role model i could learn from to help me get over my own insecurities…

    thank you Jesus for gifts in the church. and people that do use them to edify & equip the saints…

  18. Recently I have been having similar thoughts about a contemporary of Swindoll, Charles Stanley. Looking back, clearly he was laying the foundation with a message of “felt needs” intermixed with the illusion of expository teaching. Clearly, looking back, this laid the foundation that his son Andy built on much later and took in a way I am sure Swindoll and Stanley never anticipated.

    That serves as a warning in my own life. We never know what the best intentions now may lead to in the future.

    • Good comment, Allen. I think what I left out of the post is that Swindoll was one of the first prominent preachers to bring the concept of “relevance” to the forefront. Now he did so, not by technology, but by emphasizing “insights for living” through his preaching. Believe me, he was often criticized in seminary circles and Biblical studies classes for doing so. He may have helped to crack open a door that has now swung wide open.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        During my time in-country with some Pentecostal types, I noticed that when asked the traditional Pentecostal question “Which Gifts of the Spirit do you want?” I was one of the few to answer “Wisdom” amid a chorus of “Tongues, Tongues Tongues, Tongues, and Tongues”. Because to me Wisdom is the most important, the command control over all the others, telling you when to use the others and (more important) when NOT to.

        Swindoll may have introduced Relevance and Pizazz to the forefront, but Swindoll had Wisdom enough to know when to stop, lest too much Relevance and Pizazz consume the substance of the Gospel and obscure Christ. Those that came after him with Relevance and Pizazz had less Wisdom; some of them were Fools in the Proverbs sense, letting the Relevance and Pizazz overwhelm the substance. Now, in the Megachurch Experience, you have a further generation of Fools who have never known the substance, only the Pizazz. And all they have to offer IS the Pizazz, not the Substance.

    • i havn’t listened to a lot of Swindoll. (i don’t listen to the radio or tv at all really). but i would say from what i have heard that his messages are biblically based and exegitical and expository. i thought that giving practical application of the bible is the pinnacle of good preaching. the problem is when people start giving “insight for living” without the biblical connection. i don’t think Swindoll could be blamed for that. he seems to care a great deal about biblical integrity.
      the only problem i see is the oversight of depersonalizing the message. there is a disconnect, an estrangement, between the hearers and the speaker.

    • It has been said that the follower always does in the extreme what the leader does in moderation, and I think this is an example of that.

      I was at DTS while Chuck was the president. I’ve heard him speak many times. As 1st year students trying to adjust to 100+ degree humid Dallas weather, he told us that “Yes, you’ve moved to Hell. Get used to it.” He told the international students that in the U.S., we shower everyday, and they should adjust accordingly. As has been said many times in the posts, he’s honest and authentic.

      As for the criticism of the emphasis on “insights for living,” what are the Proverbs if not insights for living? Do not Peter and Paul root hope for today and tomorrow in the person and work of Christ. Does this not provide me some insight in how I should lead my life? I have no problems with applying scripture to one’s life as long as it is rooted in the person and work of Christ.

      I think Chuck has just been Chuck, but when others saw that “Chuck” was marketable, the game was on.

  19. All the posts on this topic have been brilliant, but i don’t see how they square with the other theme of posts about trusting in grace and then doing whatever you want. The latter seems far more compatible with seeker-sensitive approaches.


  20. There is a human element which can’t be lost in preaching. Attempts to strip all cultural elements from worship is impossible, inhuman, and may be heretical. A lot of evangelicals are now talking about transcending culture and are in danger of missing the point yet again. The issue is the Ultimate Concern. In Preaching where comfort, sentimentalism, personal success, nationalism, or church growth and survival are the ultimate concern, preaching, God, and religion itself are merely means to an end. In that case, pizazz is an eminence front. If God is the Ultimate Concern, then cultural elements can be used as aids. What is the alternative? Are we to measure the success of a pastor by how much King James English he or she uses? Is a great pastor one who puts you to sleep, but since we’re such “RADICAL” Christians we keep ourselves awake with Klingon pain sticks?

  21. i’m really tired of demographic/business model types telling me “you have to do this” and “you can’t do that” as if not using an overhead projector is somehow going to cost people their salvation.
    i think that the entertainment aspect of church is going in the wrong direction, less because of people like Swindoll, and more because of the lack of respect for long standing traditions. i’m reminded of a story i read in anthropology class about an american who travels to this remote village. he thinks their dwelling places are terribly primitive, and proceeds to alter his hut, only to be overwhelmed by bugs, and rained out. people don’t take the time to evalutate why “church” is conducted a certain way, and then make a mess of it.
    because we have ignored our heritage in favour of sheer innovation, we are paying a price. the question is, who’s cramming this innovation down our throats? i really really don’t think that it is the people (the sheep) making demands, nor people like Swindoll, but the assumptions of influencial people with bad philosophies. Swindoll might have inadvertenty made people wish their pastor was a better communicator, which is something. but it cannot blame Swindoll for the moster of innovation that pervades church today. swindoll is, after all, a pastor and not a strategist.

  22. Tyler, I don’t feel like we’ve fully addressed your question, “what is the balance between using these speaking gifts and not creating people who seek entertainment rather truth?”

    I think it comes down to: where do we believe the LIFE is found in our worship, preaching, etc.? When Paul told the Corinthians he was “determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified”, he was proving that the power of the gospel was not in the things we think are essential to engage people. (A proof that is obvious to us in hindsight, though Paul regularly struggled in his relevance to the Corinthians.)

    When you start to treat worship music or humorous anecdotes as the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down, then pretty soon a sugary placebo becomes not a delivery vehicle for the truth, but a palatable substitute for the truth.

    Paul’s balance with the Corinthians was to minister with “much fear and trembling”.
    “Our mouth has spoken freely to you, O Corinthians, our heart is opened wide.” There is a sacrificial love that permeates Paul’s ministry that provides the balance.

  23. I think some of this constant need for innovation comes the advent of mass media itself. When I was growing up, I didn’t demand entertainment in church because I had no idea there was such a thing. We had our standard, denominational hymnal and that is what church was all about. It didn’t really matter if church was boring or not, you just went. Once tv became overrun with tv preachers, once we saw the Billy Graham crusades, etc., we saw what others had, others who seemed more successful and happier, and wanted some of that, too. Unfortunately, I see almost a backlash now among liturgical churches who seem to want to become so ultra-liturgical they start crossing into entertainment as well. I read something a while back (maybe on this site!) that the recording industry, by it’s existance, did a great deal to kill church music as people who had been content with the local organist or choir now could hear the best of the best, often with all the flaws fixed, and suddenly, their own church musicians sounded pretty awful in comparison.

  24. i remember in our Redemptorist Fathers mission church on the west side of town we had a volunteer organist. a large woman that played the organ faithfully & sang, well, with the voice the Good Lord gave her…

    my dad was part of the choir that Rita attempted to coalesce into a heavenly sounding bunch that sang the praises of God to the congregation below. i remember her desire for something closer to perfection had her at odds with the volunteers that also sang with the voices the Good Lord gave them. her personality was brusque & i remember she had little patience with children…

    i have visited some smaller faith expressions throughout my lifetime that had some partially gifted musicians and/or singers doing their best to sing/praise/worship. however, the result was more distraction than passion. more a cringe than a time to be edified while singing along. it may have been better to just sing hymns acapella & let all the voices help blend the tonal differences. i do not have as much of a cringe factor when i am near others singing off key, but i do have less tolerance for musical amateurishness that keeps me distracted even though i am not a musician or a gifted singer.

    although giving volunteers a gracious ‘E’ for effort for their attempts at being a leader trying to get the congregation to ‘harmonize’ well as a group, the fact is some people should not be put in a position of such visibility. just because there is a perceived need & some kind-hearted soul willing to fill in, it does not automatically translate into music/worship leader or Holy Spirit dispensed gift once they sit at the piano or open their mouth to sing. God bless the hard-of-hearing during such attempts. and the patience/tolerance of the saints willing to sit thru such sincere efforts…

  25. The problem you state has been around for a long time. After all Chrysostom was NOT the last name of St. John Chrysostom, it was his nickname! Chrysostom means “golden mouthed.” In other words, he was such an incredibly good preacher that they called him the golden mouthed one. Hundreds would come to Hagia Sophia to hear him teach and preach. I would rejoice, and then have to repent for the sin of inappropriate pride, if I were ever thought to be “golden mouthed.” May God so gift me someday!

    Evocative homilies can clearly be used of the Holy Spirit to call people to the service, the worship, and the acceptance of the Lord, our God. The core question is whether the focus of the worship is on the preacher or on the God whom we are worshiping. One of the advantages of a Liturgy is that the worship does not culminate in the sermon but culminates in receiving from God in the Bread and in the Wine. The sermon is only a small part of an Orthodox Liturgy, though it is a very important part. But, a Liturgy is no guarantee of a correct focus. It is an aid, a signpost, maybe even a crutch to lead us to a correct focus and to correct worship.

    Nevertheless, there is no easy answer to your post. The best Liturgies are those in which the choir, the altar staff, and the people come ready to worship, and the parish priest comes ready with an evocative homily. But, thank God that our worship is acceptable to God even with an off-key choir, a mediocre preacher, and a slightly bored congregation. Grace abounds even here!

    • Anon Y Mouse says

      Last week I was under indirect pressure to drop some people from leading the musical portion of the worship service because they are struggling with their timing and voices. Ironically, one of the songs they were trying to master was “Your Grace Is Enough”, which includes these lines sung to God:
      You use the weak to lead the strong
      You lead us in the song of Your salvation
      And all Your people sing along

      • Excellent point! Living here in Jerry Falwell’s town, it amuses me to watch the ads on TV for his church. The STAGE SETS up in front of the stadium seating auditorium change with each passing theme of preaching, as do the matching bumper stickers for the”audience” to put on their cars. The Jumbotron and orchestra back up the singers, and their is a break between services and Sunday School at the combo bookstore and coffee shop. You can also purchase DVD’s of previous performances to review at home.

        Just doesn’t look much like worship….but it is a whiz-bang great SHOW!

  26. Some of you may not have the years to see this but as I read the comments I am struck by how conservative and old-fashioned Swindoll seems now. Back in the day his style was so different that it raised a lot of eyebrows. Now he is considered a solid expositor. Then he was considered light on exposition and heavy on illustration and relevance. What does that say about today’s preaching?

    • im my case, you are right. when i read your description of Swindoll i had no idea he was that popular or anything remotely that controversial. i was always under the impression that there had been a long line of blowhards throughout the decades with Swindoll being one of the few fresh alternatives (in popular mainstream that is).
      ‘relevance’ is a tricky word. how the bible applies to practical every day living can be called ‘relevant’. but today ‘relevant’ usually means reaching for the latest trend when it’s already past (like chasing the wind). practical should be a good thing shouldn’t it?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “Nothing gets old faster than Over-Relevance.”
        — Wayne Shaw, my old D&D Dungeonmaster

  27. Patricia Vassalla Fitch says

    If you bring them in with entertainment…you’ll have to keep them with the same.

  28. Charles Fines says

    This all goes back to those Wesley brothers.

  29. conanthepunctual says

    Just want to address a narrow portion of the ideas presented here in hopes that perhaps it will shed light on the whole.

    CCM: It started off as something entirely other than what it is now. It started off not as a type of church worship or “safe” music for believers but as evangelism. That being said I don’t think where it started was a bad thing but the “ghetto” mentality that became prominent in the ’80s is a bad thing. So there was a transition from a good thing worthy of being to a negative thing.

    This strikes me as a parallel to the bronze serpent in the wilderness. Once it was because God commanded it and it brought healing, but eventually it became an idol and had to be destroyed. Was there something intrinsically wrong with the serpent? No, it’s all about how the people used it.

    Seems like the same story to me in CCM and the many other topics covered in this post. Perhaps the time of their righteous use is past.

  30. I understand what’s being said here, but I’m not sure I agree that the “entertainment factor” is all that bad, or worthy of repentance. I too cut my spiritual teeth on Chuck Swindoll, as well as the earlier “tent” movement at Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, CA, and without a doubt what drew me to both was how different they were from the more traditional sermons and services of my parents’ generation. I strongly believe we need to engage each new generation with the tools that have become part of their everyday lives, be it big screens, video clips, soundbites, or kiosk cafes in the church lobby. BUT – and here is what I believe to be the true crux of this discussion – the message must be focused, Biblical, relevant, practical, meaningful, completely genuine…and the technology must be integrated with the message. There is a huge difference between the churches with pizzazz simply for the sake of showing off all their special effect skills and techno-media capabilities, vs. a church that uses the same capabilities and technology as a tool to enhance the morning message. I think people can tell the difference, and that difference is what draws people into a deeper relationship with God instead of simply being bedazzled by all the hoopla.

    • I agree with you about the genuineness, Denise. I think we have some real differences with regard to the “relevance” and technology issue.

    • Nice post, Denise; the only thing I’d add is that the message needs to be primarily about Jesus and the gospel, not about us and our triumphant christian selves…. but I’m with you on “I think people can tell the difference….” When I’m listening to the Spirit, I know I can.


  31. the real work of the ministry—study, prayer, working with people.
    1-CM, might this list undervalue the homiletic task? Granted, all 3 should inform and direct that work, but to demote it to a sub-point of the big 3 seems an overstep.
    2-Is it not appropriate for relevance to be A (as in not THE) lens to evaluate preaching?
    3-Would the same sweeping dismissal you apply to technology not also apply in earlier ages to stained glass windows or hymns set to familiar melodies or other things used to connect people with Truth?

    It seems to me you have a fair critique to offer about our natural propensity to the entertainment and relevance and other me-focussed traps, but perhaps a bit more discernment should be applied by church leaders lest we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Moreover, I rest and give thanks in God’s ability to sort it out and protect and preserve the legacy and trajectory of the Church despite our frailty.