I saw a series of videos recently of a preacher talking about God’s expectations of us. He represents so many of his kind now that his name is not important for my purposes here. I’m not sure what caused this drastic change in preachers and pastors, but I think it has a lot to do with the infestation of Rick Warren’s writings, including “The Purpose Driven Church” and “The Purpose Driven Life” a number of years ago. That’s when everything “church” fell apart for me. We had a pastor and associate pastor...precious people...at my church at that time that had their eyes set on “church growth.”
This is where I see their first mistake. Church growth can mean different things to different people, I suppose, but to me the most important kind of church growth is that the church…the already established bride of Christ…grow, as the Bible says, “in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18) “Fathers” (church fathers?) “do not provoke your children” (your flock? those under your care?) to anger,” (disappointment and hurt with the church?) “but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (spiritual growth?) (Ephesians 6:4) Number growth is fine but not if ALL the growth you’re doing is in numbers. You can grow a church from fifty to two hundred and fifty, but if no one is growing in Christ, all you’re doing is building a really great social club.
These two guys appeared to me to be more interested in gimmicks and tricks and schemes to get the numbers in our church to grow. I’m sure they would say that wasn’t true and that they were also aiming to offer instruction to those already seated on Sunday mornings, but what I saw was a shrinking of the numbers. After our involvement with Rick Warren’s “Forty Days of Purpose” back in the early 2000s, and the promise that so many new people would come that we would have to add more seating, the church actually had to remove seats so that the sanctuary wouldn’t look so empty. Many people left.
When you decide to make cosmetic and semantic changes but there is no positive change of the heart…among church leadership or anyone else…I have to wonder why the changes are even made in the first place. Church names were changed from “First (fill in the denomination) Church” to “Something Community Church” or “The Vine” or “The Well” or “Crossroads” or “Crosspoint” or…well, you’ve ridden down enough roads to have noticed the changes. Did you also notice that IF their denomination was present on their sign, it was miniscule in most cases? Why were they suddenly ashamed of their denomination? If someone didn’t want to attend a Baptist/Lutheran/Episcopal/Methodist/Presbyterian/etc., etc., church, why would you want to trick them into coming into one? Isn’t that a bit dishonest? They have adopted a logo (when maybe they didn’t even have one before) that is many times a sloppy, stylized cross, or…well, really I did a search for “church logos,” and there were some that I’m not even sure what message they were trying to get across. They looked like some kind of modern scribbling that didn’t have anything to do with a church or the cross or anything else Christian.
Ah. Think on that a minute. It should only take you a minute. Did it come to you? You have to make your church…COOL. I don’t mean the HVAC kind of cool. (That’s already a problem at some churches. “It’s too cold in here!” “It’s too hot in here!”) Rick Warren encouraged church leadership to ask their congregations what they WANT in a church. Hm. Does that make you put on brakes? I’ve read through the Bible about twenty times or so and have listened to it a time or two and…please, somebody correct me if I’m wrong…I don’t remember a single time when Jesus asked his disciples or anyone else what they wanted in worship or what kind of messages they wanted to hear or what kind of seating was most comfortable for them or…well, you get my drift. Jesus just simply preached truth. Whether His listeners wanted to hear it or not. And many times they didn’t and chose to leave. That was their choice. He wasn’t going to do anything to appease them if they didn’t want to hear the truth. The truth that God gave Him. I remember Him asking a man that was calling out to Him what HE wanted, and what HE wanted was to be healed from an affliction! And he knew Jesus could do it. That’s even been taken away from some churches that used to offer a time for the use of Spiritual gifts on Sunday mornings.
Some churches used to have a time of ministry to the congregation. That has fallen by the wayside. If someone is going to church because they serve coffee and doughnuts, or because they play “my kind of music” or because “I can dress like I’m going to a tractor pull” or the worship team is on a stage where there’s smoke, flashing lights, and a disco ball, that person isn’t going to meet Jesus. That person is going to be entertained. Read about Jesus in the Bible. The only “entertainment” He provided was when He performed miracles like when He fed people the loaves and fishes…and He called them out for following Him because of it. His reason was not for entertainment but for providing sustenance for the hungry. People are hungry now...maybe hungrier than ever? Not for physical food but for something to save their souls. Some people don’t even know that’s what they’re hungry for! They need to be offered Jesus, not the watered-down, entertainment-laden drivel that some are spewing! Yes, apparently Rick Warren suggested that Sunday morning sermons should not contain much meat.
Decades ago, churches formed home groups, usually held on Wednesday nights but certainly not limited to then, where couples would open their homes to groups of about ten or fifteen people, maybe twenty, and study the Bible. Our church, at one time, had about ten of these going on during the Wednesday night home group time. Then the names…for some odd reason…were changed to small groups, still a cozy name, but less inviting. Home group just sounds more comfortable than small group, but small group still gives the impression of coziness with your friends from church, and those visitors you may have invited. Now that has all been scrapped for the name LIFE groups. Honestly, I’m not even sure what that means. Are they trying to tell me how to live my life? I understand why home group was changed to small group…because few people wanted to have people in their homes. Maybe they were just too busy. (Hm. That’s a subject for another writing.) I don’t, however, understand the change from small group to LIFE group.
Anyway, back to the videos I’ve been watching. The preacher, of course, was dressed like he was going to just lay around his house or go bowling or something and he walked back and forth across the platform, which was fine as long as there was a closeup. When it panned out, however, I can’t tell you a word he said because his cool shoes kept my eyes going back and forth as I watched the large white line on the sides of his dark shoes going back and forth, back and forth. And the background of his large stage had big stripes of solid orange. (He was using a book that he authored. It’s solid orange…front and back.) You may have figured out who he is by this, but I don’t care.
He talked about the fact that God wants us to be holy more than He wants us to “do” stuff. That is absolutely true. And, of course, if we’re holy we’ll WANT to do stuff. (I just added that. I don’t think he actually said that, but it’s true, right?) So he was giving examples of how we should do all we do as unto the Lord, which is biblical. One example was that if you’re a mom at home doing housework and taking care of babies, cleaning poop, you should clean that poop to the best of your ability. “Those should be the most poop-free baby butt cracks anywhere.” Now at this point someone…because they have been “cooled” into thinking cool…will roll their eyes and say, “Come on. There’s nothing wrong with that.” Oh, really? Then I’m wondering what Paul meant when he wrote Ephesians 5:4, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” I’m thinking there is no place for this (and worse) kind of talk from the pulpit…or the stage…or the platform…or the disco ball room…or whatever your preacher emits from.
On another of the videos, the trash talk continued. He introduced the phrase “deo ho pneuma,” meaning “wrapped up, bound by cords,” indicating the way we are “compelled by the Spirit.” In interpreting each of the three words, he thought it would be funny to say that “ho” is the “girl your mama warned you about.” Later he talked about some people making a “buttload of money.” In discussing this with my husband, he said, “We’re the old ones now. The young ones don’t talk like we do.” Seriously? Is that because the young ones are being led by people like this? People who are okaying their slangy mouths by having slangy mouths themselves? Teaching them to talk disrespectfully, disobeying the Bible? I know you’re probably feeling like I am the biggest prude on earth, but really, do Christians really need to go about reflecting so much of the world like this? Especially Christian preachers? They’re supposed to be examples to us of how to live the Christian life, not how to live like the world. We’re to be in the world but not of the world. That’s not what I’m seeing these days, and frankly I wonder where it’s going to lead us.
In the middle of all his teaching on being the best you can be at all that you do because we’re supposed to live by Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men,” I’m wondering why he has come to worship the Lord looking like he’s going to a sporting event. Why wasn’t he dressed “for the Lord, rather than for men?” I’m wondering why his speech was coarse. Why wasn’t it “for the Lord, rather than for men.” I’m wondering why he was trying to get the speck out of my eye instead of removing the log from his.
My church experienced the most growth…of both kinds…when the praise and worship was simple biblical choruses, a few contemporary songs (not creepy songs like the one about the sloppy wet kiss or the Jesus Is My Boyfriend songs, see my March 29, 2017, blog post “Christian Music”) and the occasional hymn, there was time allowed for congregational ministry, and the pastor at the time took to the pulpit dressed like he was serious about worshiping Jesus, and simply preached the Bible. He made a scant few references to other people’s writings, he put on no shows, and didn’t talk “cool.” He and his family were well loved. Our church didn’t even have any programs other than home groups and children’s church on Wednesday nights and then Sunday morning worship, and we were family. There were few problems.
These days, first-timers have to be bribed to come back by receiving a gift. I don’t blame them…it’s the church that started this practice. The screens where the words are projected now have to have some artistic picture behind the words. (Can I tell you how much this distracts me??? I saw one at one church that flashed onto the screen before the words did and it looked like I was spiraling into a hole! I saw another one that was a video behind the words and when a bug scurried across the screen, I almost laughed out loud! Why would you produce something like that?) The service must be “artistic” in some churches with dancing and acting.
I’m going to take flak for this, I’m sure, but the reason for so much of this is that the church seems to have been turned over to the youth and twenty-somethings. I love youths and twenty-somethings. I used to BE a youth and twenty-something. My husband used to be a youth and twenty-something. I have two children who used to be youths and twenty-somethings. My observation is that they put more thought into the artistic parts than what’s actually supposed to be coming across to the congregation. Shouldn’t something as important as a church service and worship to our Savior be led by those who have learned many life lessons and have much maturity? Which these will have if left to sit under those who have “been there and done that” and will have plenty of opportunities to lead later.
I said “congregation.” Can I still call them that? Is congregation a bad word now? You do know that saying such things as “Lord” is taboo, don’t you? I’m told that people can’t really relate to “Lord.” Oh, really? Ask them about “Lord of the Rings” or “Lord of the Flies” or Lord Vader! They know the connotation of Lord! What they need to know is THE Lord!
How about this one? Have you noticed that people will say they are “Jesus Followers?” Some Christians won’t even say they’re Christians anymore! I understand why. It’s because so many people who are not Christians will say they are. I even did it before I was saved. (And, yes, if you got saved, it’s okay to say you got saved…because you DID! Saved from a sinful life and saved from hell. Yes, you got saved!) Just because someone says they’re a Christian when they’re not doesn’t negate the fact that I’m a Christian! The Bible says “they were first called Christians at Antioch.” (Acts 11:26) If the Bible says I’m a Christian, I’m a Christian!
These days pastors apparently have to preach a series of sermons. There are no single sermons anymore. This can be tiring. And lame. It doesn’t have to be but sometimes it is. Because there must be a gimmick, like everything must start with a “P” or an “S” or some other capital letter. There are buzz words that have been thrust into sermons and other speeches and meetings in the churches. “Culture,” “relevant,” “paradigm shift,” “core values,” "passion," "passionate," “purpose,” (thanks to Rick Warren) and most recently “intentional.” Preachers/pastors go to conferences that the church is funding in order to come back with new buzz words and gimmicks for church growth. I love my precious pastor and his precious family. Maybe it doesn’t exactly appear that I do, but I really do. They are wonderful people. I just need my pastor to preach the truth and let God handle who comes through the door. Or leaves through it.
Preachers, here is a word for you, if you will hear it and receive it: Your focus seems to have turned to numbers. Bring it back to preaching and let God handle who comes. You appear to be trying too hard. You are straining. Honestly, if you will just stand up in front of your church, pick up your Bible (a real Bible…not The Message…it’s New Age…do your research and stop following the Pied Piper) and preach its truth and not what some man or woman or even YOU think is truth, I can almost guarantee, your church will grow. I have seen it with my own eyes.
I don’t think anyone much reads my blog, but to my pastor: If you happen to read this, call me in for a meeting. I’d LOVE to talk with you about it. J