It’s been happening for some time. Unqualified leaders have found their way in the church and have thus decided that we live in an age that is tired of the “old” way of church and thus we need to keep we the times. Especially if we want to reach the “un-churched.” There was once a time not so long ago that we called the “un-churched” unbelievers or sinners. But today that is seen as not being “nice.” These men have attempted to sell out the church to “reach” such people. They understand people want less authoritative preaching, dialogue and not monologue, shorter sermons, contemporary and “upbeat” music, less convicting sermons and more messages on “overcoming the obstacles in life.” In short these men know people want services centered on themselves and their needs and desires and not Christ.
These “hirelings,” as the Bible refers to them (Jn 10:13), see a market. And a big market it is. This methodology of “doing” “church” is often acceptable to some that even know the Gospel and love it. Yet they see no connection to sound theology and practice in the area of church. “What’s the big deal?” The big deal is that they way in which a church worships the Triune God reflects what they believe about the Triune God. The worship of God is centered on Him. A service built on the preferences of the worshipers reflects a view that worship is largely about our comforts and needs. When sinners (redeemed or unrepentant) approach the thrice holy God we do so on His terms. And these terms are given in His Word. There is no negotiating.
There really is a big market on self-centered worship. The hirelings have capitalized on it. People these days look for a church the way they shop for a car or go to restaurant. It reminds me of what the Lord God says in Jeremiah 5:30-31:
An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?
Gary Gilley has, in my opinion, rightly diagnosed and addressed the issue. Here are some rather lengthy (but well worth the time of reading) quotes:
The church growth movement is a recent example. Having watched a large segment of the church become content with short yardage and lousy scores, some decided that there had to be a better way. The church was not penetrating society; she was not pulling in the masses; she was not making a significant impact for the gospel. It was not that the church leaders didn’t care; it was, it seemed, they lacked the ‘know-how’, the tools, to effect change. The gospel was still ‘the power of God for salvation’ (Rom. 1: 16), but it was being rejected out-of-hand by too many. What was needed, apparently, were new methods to reach the lost, new techniques to promote the church, new packages for the gospel message. People, we were told, were not rejecting the gospel or Christ; they were rejecting our out-of-date, unappetizing forms, philosophies, and methods.*
…It would appear, when it comes to entertainment, Christianity has caught up with the culture at large. One social observer, Neal Gabler, who has no axe to grind in this regard, making no pretence to be a Christian, has noticed, ‘Evangelical Protestantism, which had begun as a kind of spiritual entertainment in the nineteenth century, only refined its techniques in the twentieth, especially after the advent of television. Televangelists like Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart recast the old revival meeting as a television variety show, and Pat Robertson’s 700 Club was modelled after The Tonight Show, only the guests on this talk show weren’t pitching a new movie or album; they were pitching salvation.’ Christianity on television, by necessity, has always been presented in the form of entertainment. Theology, rituals, sacred worship, prayer, and most other true components of the Christian faith, simply do not ‘play’ well on television. As might be expected, the local church began to pay close attention. If they were to draw the masses, like the televangelists did, it apparently could best be done by wrapping the faith in the package of entertainment — for the people, having now been trained to be consumers, have also been taught that the ultimate sin is to be bored. Hence the birth of the market-driven church that caters to the insatiable appetite for amusement in society in general.*
After partly diagnosing the problem he goes on to address it:
Today things are very different. We live in a society that increasingly drifts toward the form rather than the substance, which embraces the superficial, lives to play, will pay almost any amount of money to be amused, and prizes fun as the highest pursuit of life. Conviction has been replaced by thrill and few seem to notice. One cannot help but think of Pinocchio and his buddies on Pleasure Island. In the midst of mindless fun only Pinocchio seemed to understand that they were all being turned into donkeys. One would hope that things would be different among Evangelical Christians, but such does not seem to be the case. It appears that the church is in lockstep with the world. The problem is this – Christians have been seduced and trained by the same forces that have enticed society as a whole. Too many Christians, just like their unsaved counterparts, are impressed by appearances rather than structure; are seeking thrills and excitement rather than substance; are more apt to respond to emotional manipulation than to rational discourse. How does a church compete in this rather crowded marketplace? If entertainment has become the standard way of life (as some are suggesting) then how can the churches vie unless they become a bastion of entertainment? But if it gives way to this powerful temptation has not the church been transformed into something other than the church? Postman, who does not pretend to be a Christian, nevertheless recognizes, ‘Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether… There is no doubt, in other words, that religion can be made entertaining. The question is, by doing so, do we destroy it.’ 14 This is a question all serious Christians should contemplate. The problem is that the main business of entertainment is to please the crowd, but the main purpose of authentic Christianity is to please the Lord. Both the Bible and history have repeatedly shown that it is seldom possible to do both at the same time, for very long.*
…Christianity is designed by God to be a ‘thinking’ faith. If so, something appears to be seriously wrong. Os Guinness, for example, believes we are a generation that has ‘dumbed down’ everything that is important to the level of bumper stickers and greeting cards, and we are suffering the consequences. One revealing bumper sticker, of the type Guinness has in mind, reads, ‘There is no right or wrong – only fun or boring.’ Yet, God desires his people to consider, reason, analyze and study. He has given us his Word in propositional form; a Word that must be carefully dissected if it is to be understood (2 Tim. 2: 15). To allow ourselves to be pressed into the world’s mould of entertainment without careful reflection based on the Bible is a terrible loss. God is not calling his people to a life of grumpiness, but surely if we, like the saints of biblical times, are looking for ‘the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God’ (Heb. 11: 10), it will shape the way we live and enjoy our time on this earth.*
Here, and the final quote, Gilley reveals the “bait-and- switch” tactic often employed by the church growth movement (this be applied to some in the “missional” movement as well):
How do we market a foolish, repulsive product? — By changing the wrapper, apparently. Note the subtle bait and switch in Barna’s philosophy, ‘Ministry, in essence, has the same objective as marketing — to meet people’s needs. Christian ministry, by definition, meets people’s real needs by providing them with biblical solutions to their life circumstances.’At first glance most of us would be in agreement with Barna, but look closer. By altering, ever so slightly, the biblical definition of ministry, including the gospel message, as we will see, Barna has made it attractive. If we can convince people that Christ died to meet their needs, they will line up at our doors to buy our product. But is this the gospel message? Has Barna merely repackaged, prettied up, the gospel ‘product’ or has he gutted it of its purpose and value? This is an important question upon which so much hinges — a question worthy of much consideration. As we will see the market philosophy behind the modern church necessitates a mutation of the gospel message.
Marketing the church David Wells bemoans the new-paradigm church, ‘Much of it… is replete with tricks, gadgets, gimmicks, and marketing ploys as it shamelessly adapts itself to our emptied-out, blinded, postmodern world… There is too little about it that bespeaks the holiness of God. And without the vision for any reality of this holiness, the Gospel becomes trivialized, life loses its depth, God becomes transformed into a product to be sold, faith into a recreational activity to be done, and the Church into a club for the like-minded.’ Damaging accusations; are they true? The standard rhetoric coming from new-paradigm churches is that they teach the same message, the same gospel, as the more traditional evangelical churches; they differ only in methodology and philosophy of ministry. Lee Strobel (former Teaching Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church, now with Saddleback) writes, ‘Objections [to the market-driven church] generally relate to the method that’s used to communicate the gospel, not the message itself, and consequently we’re free to use our God-given creativity to present Christ’s message in new ways that our target audience will connect with.’ This is simply not the case. While some of the methods may disturb us, it is their message that is of real concern. It is important to understand at this point that it is one thing to market the church; it is another to market the gospel. In this chapter we are dealing with the unfortunate fallout of marketing the church. In a subsequent chapter the far most devastating impact of marketing the gospel message will be examined more closely. But at this point we cannot avoid mentioning that while the new-paradigm churches have dressed their gospel in the gown of conservative evangelicalism, it is in reality a masquerade, a costume that disguises a gospel message that would have been unrecognizable only a few years ago. Even as we analyze the methodologies for which the new-paradigm churches have become famous: their market-driven strategies, it would be a mistake to get sidetracked by superficial differences between these churches and more traditional ones. The real issue is how this philosophy is changing both the message and the essence of the church. In other words, it is impossible to truly separate our methodology from our message, for to a large degree they hinge on one another.*
Gilley’s book is a very insightful and great read. If you have a Kindle you can find it here.
*Gilley, Gary (2012-05-16). This Little Church Went to Market (Kindle Locations 112-118). Evangelical Press. Kindle Edition.
*Ibid, Kindle Locations 297-308
*Ibid, Kindle Locations 325-339
*Ibid, Kindle Locations 351-358
*Ibid, Kindle Locations 405-431