A Certain Kind of Christian

kinnon —  January 17, 2008 — 11 Comments

There’s a great line on the Eagles Desperado album that sings,
"And it’s a certain kind of fool that likes to hear the sound of his own name."

Perhaps I can unpack why that line resonated with me as I read a couple of posts from two of my favourite bloggers – the Philosophical Pastor and The View from Her. I’ve been reading Susan and Jan for a couple of years now. They are very thoughtful and oft-times prophetic people.

Susan continues with her examination of the impact of the seeker model of church in her latest post, Many noticed, few listened. Here’s an excerpt,

As the well-intentioned ”seeker sensitive” movement and its propositions/assumptions about what will attract people to church so they will hear the gospel was broadcast across the evangelical church, those churches concerned that they were not measuring up to growth expectations and accepted said propositions/assumptions started listening up and making changes in the way they ‘did church.’ Here’s what I began to see in those churches I worked in that began to make this switch:

  1) Attempts to incorporate highly-produced contemporary music into the worship services – without any professional players on hand
  2) Attempts to incorporate drama – without competent, experienced thespians available.
  3) Thousands of dollars invested in A/V equipment to support the above, and to broadcast Willow-provided video when the above proved to be driving people away due to its lack of slick professionalism (go figure).
  4) Pastors preaching sermon after Sunday sermon to “seekers” …that weren’t there !
  5) People who used to teach bible studies and other kinds of small group experiences recruited for drama, clicking PowerPoint slides, “servant evangelism” events (the seeker-sensitive version of product promotion – not to be confused with the kind of servant evangelism where the recipient doesn’t know what church you’re representing as you serve) and other kinds of newly created positions.

Over the Christmas holidays, we dropped in on a church performing their Christmas spectacular presentation. It was painful to see. These were good people who had invested thousands of hours into a production that would probably drive non-Christians out the door – or provide hours of humourous fodder for they and their friends. This church had bought the Willow concepts lock, stock and barrel – but couldn’t meet the performance standards set. And a number of the folk in the cast were highly competent actors, but still… Susan comments further,

Churches that followed Willow Creek’s model are now largely populated with a “certain kind” of christian. The model does what it does. You get the kind of church you nurture. Its a really important principle. Who you drive away and why is as significant as who you “attract” –and why.

I think it’s largely the kind of person who is primarily concerned about themselves – about getting their needs met – they are perusers and purchasers of Christian-flavoured goods and services. (See this humourous post of mine here on that Certain Kind of Christian.) Perhaps the dominance of this model is why there is little sound of alarm from North America’s pulpits of the impact of the, little spoken of, recession we find ourselves in. Jan riffs on a recent Dan Edelen’s post with her post, Wake Up! Jan quotes Dan,

"What pains me is the American Church’s joint inability to read these distressing signs. It’s as if they simply don’t want to see… The early Church prepared for problems. In fact, they listened to their prophets and sprang into action. But where are our prophets? And in lieu of prophets, why can’t we seem to heed our own common sense? Yet I can’t think of one major Church leader in this country talking about economic issues and how the Church must face them."

And then Jan adds her own comments,

I happen to think it’s because Christians are equally caught up in the consumerism of today’s culture. We have not acted differently than the world in this respect. We feel every bit as entitled to the latest gadgets and bigscreen TVs and new cars as anyone else. We run up our credit cards like anyone else. In California, we cashed in most of our home’s bubble equity and spent it. We have not lived modestly, or "denied ourselves" as Jesus instructed. Frankly, we are not positioned to help others because we are them.

  Non-profits are already suffering. The Red Cross laid off 50% of its employees in Riverside county, California. "The Red Cross, along with many other charities, has fallen on hard times. Contributions are down across the board as the economy continues its downward slump." Churches are beginning to feel it, too.
  I’m reminded of Genesis 41, where Joseph predicts seven years of famine, and is put in charge of stockpiling provisions. Then, "with severe famine everywhere, Joseph opened up the storehouses and distributed grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout the land of Egypt." It’s not enough for churches to "tighten their belts" like everyone else. We also should be proactive about saving, stockpiling, and actively preparing.

The North American church has focused on the individual to almost the exclusion of the community. We desperately want the individual to cross the salvation line, become a tithing member of the church, become all that they can be – and we’ve forgotten the call to be a called-out-people who love and care not just for each other – but for the other – the people in our neighbourhoods – the orphans, widows, shut-ins, captives (of every sort)…

We long to hear the sound of our own names – rather than being a person like the apostle John, who says of Jesus – I must decrease, He must increase. And trust me, my finger is pointed just as much at the man in the mirror.

UPDATE: As I moved down the over 140 messages in the "Christian" section of my Google Reader, I came across this quote from Erwin McManus (via Triple D’s link blog – where he shared a Todd Rhoades post)

In a recent article in Christian Today, Erwin McManus contends that the reason why churches are declining in America is because they are self-centered. “My primary assessment would be because American Christians tend to be incredibly self-indulgent so they see the church as a place there for them to meet their needs and to express faith in a way that is meaningful for them…there is almost no genuine compassion or urgency about serving and reaching people who don’t know Christ."

And later,

“I think the bottom line really is our own spiritual narcissism. There are methods and you can talk about style, structure and music, but in the end it really comes down to your heart and what you care about”

UPDATE 2: Though somewhat tangential, John La Grou’s post, Branded, is an important read, as well.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

11 responses to A Certain Kind of Christian

  1. Bill,
    — great link to E. Mc. !
    “spiritual narcissism” — what have we come to that these two words are even put together like that? Wow.

  2. Bill,
    One more thing;
    to be fair, and to continue in the vein of the post of mine that you link to here, I am not willing to say that the “kind of christian” initially attracted by the Willow model was always or even primarily selfish, as much as they were newbies to the faith or not Christians at all. They really didn’t know any better, and without mature Christians around them to disciple them (go figure) they … a-ha, revelation! … stagnated and settled into perhaps what is being observed as a “narcissism” of sorts and alas which is only furthered by continuing the notion that church is “all about you” by conducting surveys that focus on personal needs and expectations ….

  3. two words. mars hill. two words. rob bell.

  4. Great collection of links, Bill, and thanks for including me. I too was taken by McManus’s phrase “spiritual narcissism.” I remember sitting in a conference years ago when the singer John Fischer was speaking. He discussed the old hymn “At the Cross,” by Isaac Watts that says, “Would He devote that sacred head, For such a worm as I?” And “Amazing grace…That saved a wretch like me.” John observed it might be good for us as Christians to sing a few more “wretched and wormy” songs.

    It’s not about our needs, and how Jesus meets them. Our need IS Jesus.

  5. Great stuff Bill!!! I think you may be the needed prophet spoken of in this post, even though you would never claim the title…


  6. This is the open discussion we are having at our church among the leadership and teachers, and it is a healthy, good discussion to have.

    Wow. I agree with Kinnon. I think one of us needs to feel a little dirty.

  7. Susan,
    I think perhaps I overstated the “Certain Kind of Christian”. I really should have said “it attracts or creates a person who is primarily…” Our culture teaches us that it’s all about me. The church has to counter that narcissism.

    Sam, I’m not sure I get what you mean – and aren’t they really four words…

    Our need IS TRULY Jesus.

    Thanks. I’m just a fat man attempting to follow his Lord…and not doing a particularly good job of it.

    I doubt you read me on a regular basis – so you must have seen the iMonk’s link at the BHT. Which means you must be reading those guys. Careful, I may have to tell Phil on you.

    For the record, though I may often vehemently disagree with you, I have no doubt you’re my brother. I trust you feel the same. Our occasional agreement would only make sense in light of our familiar relationship.

  8. I was on guard duty this week.

    And when you have a week when iMonk and Steve Camp both call you “brother”, we can start a club. 🙂

  9. Good post, Bill. I am, however, hazy on the relationship between the recession and escaping narcissism in this post. My and your good friend Dion is actually hoping and praying for a major recession to awaken the church to the need to stop being so economically comfortable. So being worried about the recession – I am not sure that helps me escape my already too middle class narcissistic tendencies.


  10. Start scaring people Frank. Just stop it.

  11. Hi Bill
    what ever it may be but you are good kind of Christian keep going and sharing your view.


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