Last week, I had a long chat with someone I hadn't spoken to in years. He's a well known leader in the wider church world – one who has become tired of consumer church, sounding almost post-evangelical. He reminded me of the above statement – one he remembers a seminary professor sharing with him almost four decades ago. It's no less true today.
Last night, the iMonk shared this video on the Boar's Head Tavern, The Christian Side Hug. This is what masquerades as discipleship in youth ministry. A steaming pile of gangsta-style from middle-class white kids singing suspect purity theology. And we wonder why the 18-30 segment are leaving the church in droves.
… the strategy is: do something fun/cool/outrageous to get people in the door, then tell 'em about Jesus.
Let's be clear about one thing: the motivation is great. Telling people about Jesus is our highest calling. Creating opportunities to tell people about Jesus is a wonderful task.
But there was a dark side that very few people really wanted to talk about: this 'wow 'em and tell 'em about Jesus' strategy doesn't do much in the way of creating disciples. Instead, it creates instant flash with no long-term impact. The fact that even 70-80% of Christian kids leave the church after high school ought to tell us we're doing something wrong. That we're not growing Followers, that we're not raising Disciples. Instead, we're creating Consumers who will always chase after the next big fix, wherever that comes from. We're not raising young people who understand such basic tenets of Christianity as sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy. We are, in fact, temporarily distracting young people with smoke and mirrors, sneaking the gospel in there, assuming that, since they 'said the prayer' following the pizza and root-beer gorge, they're 'in.'
And here's today's problem: those raised in this world are leaving their youth ministry days behind and moving into senior leadership in churches across America. . .and they're using the exact same strategies in the larger church.
A case in point, this painful video at Out of Ur. I have no doubt this young man basically has good motives. But he's not interested in hearing any critique. Entertainment is good because it gets butts in seats – "cuz, it's all about the numbers, baby!" And this young man's church has the numbers to show – so the rest of us just need to shut our festering gobs.
But, in line with Whitmarsh above, do those numbers reflect the raising up of people who are disciples of Christ – whose lives exhibit "sacrifice, service, humility, forgiveness, love, grace and mercy."
Tony Robbins attracts huge crowds. He has loyal followers who hang on his every word and buy his every product. Actually, Tony has loyal consumers. And that is what much of the the entertained pew fodder are in North American megachurches and megachurch wannabees – loyal consumers. If we can keep them entertained, providing them with the "tools" to be better whatevers (husbands, fathers, mothers, wives, children, students, employees, employers – you name it) then we can guarantee growth.
What we win them with, is what we win them to. Win them with entertainment, and you've created customers – who expect to be continually entertained.
Picking up our crosses and following Jesus is not particularly attractive. Buying into a worldview where the last are first, and the first are last doesn't win us any earthly popularity awards – and seems antithetical to the North American Dream.
Please allow me to suggest.
If you insist on bragging about your church, don't tell us about the numbers. Tell us about how the Kingdom has come to your community. Tell us of the lame who walk, the blind who see, the debts that have been forgiven, the reconciliation that has taken place at personal, generational & racial levels, how the poor and the outcast are loved and taken care of, how widows and orphans are grafted into the church family, how your community is experiencing the Year of Jubilee – because of what the Spirit is doing in and through your church.
But if all you can talk about are your numbers, then, please…
…just shut up. It's long past old.
[NOTE: If you click on the image at the top, it will take you to a larger version, which you are more than welcome to use. It was created in Adobe Illustrator & After Effects CS4.]