Is the gospel relevant to the heart of someone today, or must it be made relevant with pithy gritty angst, a rock-concert atmosphere, and the Holy Spirit riding the back of the mega-church smoke machines?
I discovered that I have a mailbox at church last week, or rather that the A/V Ministry does. This is apparently a fixture established for two reasons. The first is for the member [dearly loved] of the congregation who reminds me nearly every week that our 87dB worship service is too loud and prohibitive to worship. I found a collection of photocopied journal articles and even journals themselves with bits circled and notes paper-clipped to pages outlining the dangers of exposure to heavy sound pressure levels. *chuckle* I feel bad because there were some contributions that had sat there languishing unread for a long while. The second purpose is to serve as a place to stick all the adverts and catalogs from sound/lighting/video/production suppliers.
In perusing the pages of these full-color glossy tomes, I ran across testimonials from churches that had been helped by the catalog’s company. It was apparent that the answer to these questions was indeed, ‘yes’. The photos from these installs showed booths and stages that a pop-recording mega-artist and their sound-tech would feel quite at home within when performing.
I am a creature of ADD extremes, flights of fancy, bursts of strong (sometimes unwarranted, oftentimes inadvisable) emotion. I know this. God knows this. My friends and family bless me (Thank you. I love you. Thank you God) with an attitude similar to that which we Missourians express towards our capricious weather… “If you don’t like it, wait five minutes.” That’s not to say that I’m an untethered kite being blown by a storm with no emotional/intellectual anchor. Quite the contrary… I just have a heart that rushes on ahead and a mind that labors to catch it up and remind it that has again run away without a prayer consult, and left all the notes and lessons learned behind, sitting uselessly in a discarded backpack. The tether and the anchor are there, there’s just a regrettable amount of slack in the line that usually runs-out with a semi-painful ‘snap’.
I had a few hours of personal crisis. Despair, disgust, sorrow. I just wanted to turn in my monitoring phones along with my 2 weeks notice. This lasted, fortunately, only a few hours, before reason reasserted itself and I was able to view my own goals to repair, expand, and otherwise meet the modest ‘needs’ of our Sunday service, with a peaceful confidence that our answers to those questions, if asked, would be a simple, ‘no’, and if ever we stray into that mentality, we have only to reevaluate and tell ourselves ‘no’.
It helped to have the clear words of Ravi Zacharais from a few days earlier to remind me that the people that I turn to and trust for good teaching and insight into matters of faith aren’t caught up in this troublesome church mindset/trend:
The Lord’s affirmation of the physical and spiritual tells me there’s a place for my body to be used rightly… and there’s a place for my spiritual depth… and when those two converge, you’ve found the beauty of worship. You’ve found it. …and a church that thinks we can only worship if we get ourselves all hyped-up in music is an extreme. It’s not going to work. What you win them with is what you win them to.
Here’s the bottom line I want to make for you: The rationalist had an angle at truth. The Existentialist had an angle at truth. The Empiricist had an angle at truth. The problem was in taking this single line, they blocked off all the others… and the church that only goes for the intellect is going to send out dry people… that only goes for emotion… is going to send people bouncing around with no mind. You’ve got to bring all of these realities and converge into a composite whole. That’s what the Christian ought to do best in this world.”
— Ravi Zacharias, “Engaging Cultures with Conversations that Count, part 2″ @15:39 Previous Article
David Platt described his realization thus in his book “Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream”
“The youngest megachurch pastor in history.”
While I would dispute that claim it was nonetheless the label given to me when I went to pastor a large, thriving church in the Deep South — the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. From the first day I was immersed in strategies for making the church bigger and better. Authors I respect greatly would make statements such as, “Decide how big you want your church to be, and go for it, whether that’s five, ten, or twenty thousand members.” Soon my name was near the top of the list of pastors of the fastest-growing U.S. churches. There I was… living out the American church dream.
But I found myself becoming uneasy. For one thing, my model in ministry is a guy who spent the majority of his ministry time with twelve men. A guy who, when he left this earth, had only about 120 people who were actually sticking around and doing what he told them to do. More like a minichurch, really. Jesus Christ — the youngest minichurch pastor in history.
So how was I to reconcile the fact that I was now pastoring thousands of people with the fact that my greatest example in ministry was known for turning away thousands of people? Whenever the crowd got big, he’d say something such as “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Not exactly the sharpest church-growth tactic. I can almost picture the looks on the disciples’ faces. “No, not the drink-my-blood speech! We’ll never get on the list of the fastest growing movements if you keep asking them to eat you.”
By the end of that speech, all the crowds had left, and only twelve men remained. Jesus apparently wasn’t interested in marketing himself to the masses. His invitations to potential followers were clearly more costly than the crowds were ready to accept and he seemed to be okay with that. He focused instead on the few who believed him when he said radical things. And through their radical obedience to him, he turned the course of history in a new direction.
Soon I realized I was on a collision course with an American church culture where success is defined by bigger crowds, bigger budgets, and bigger buildings. I was now confronted with a startling reality: Jesus actually spurned the things that my church culture said were the most important. So what was I to do?
I’m still troubled, but I think that’s a good thing. As Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “We have cause to be uneasy.” and ” And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”. I want to stay uneasy. I don’t want to fall asleep. I want, at the very least, when I get excited and think, “This would be so cool for our sound system.” to ever have a voice that reminds me to ask myself (and God), if the Gospel needs my tech, or even my technique. Am I helping, or would I help more just by getting out of the way?
“The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable” — Brennan Manning