We live in an age of entertainment. It’s difficult to teach a child the importance of reading when her other option is to sit in front of a giant rectangle that flashes thousands of pictures before her eyes every second… challenging to teach a young man the importance of diligent practice on the guitar when he can pick up Rock Band or Guitar Hero and instantly become a rock star. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a beast at some Guitar Hero. I could shred a plastic, cordless, stickered-up, 5-button guitar all day long without breaking a sweat. And as I type this, my kiddos and I are watching a movie on our very own giant picture-flashing rectangle. It’s not the technology that is the problem. It’s the mentality. Let me explain further.
A few days ago, we were at a fast food restaurant with some friends, and I didn’t even realize it, but I was in “fast-food-restaurant” mode. I was impatiently waiting at the counter for my long overdue order when a young man bounced in the doors. He was in his upper teens, and had obviously just gotten off work at the grocer store nearby. He immediately struck up a conversation with the cashier. I thought he was hitting on her. They laughed, and he ordered. All the while, I’m becoming more and more impatient. After the cashier walked away, he turned to me and said, “You can come too. We’d love to have you.” At that moment, I realized I hadn’t even heard a word he was saying because I was so caught up in my own grief concerning my not-so-fast fast food. I said gently, “Come to what?” He proceeded to invite me to his church, obviously a place that he cared deeply about. He might as well have slapped me across the face. That’s what I felt like had happened anyway. He had been inviting the cashier to his church.
So I introduced myself as one of the pastors at our local church, and he was delighted to meet a brother in Christ. Before he walked away, I asked him, “Tell me, Isaac, what do you love so much about your church?” I was expecting something like, “I like the music,” or “They have something for everyone.” But I was pleasantly surprised when he responded: “That’s where I found Jesus, and was filled with the Holy Ghost.”
Obviously, Isaac was a Pentecostal. But that didn’t stop my mouth from hitting the floor in delightful astonishment. This young man wasn’t trying to sell a we-have-something-for-everyone, feel-good, the-music-is-awesome church experience. He was selling a life changing experience with the One True God. He had been saved from His sin. Guaranteed New Life here, and Eternal Life in heaven with Jesus. He had been transformed. And the excitement of His new life could not be contained within. It was overflowing from his lips.
I wonder sometimes, with all of the church programs that we fund, staff, and promote… and with all of the dancing (we’re Baptist, so it’s “choreography”) we do around people’s preferences and traditions… and with all of the time we spend making sure the “needs” of every one of our church members are met… I wonder if we’re concentrating more on entertaining our house-guests instead of reaching out to the rest of our community and the world.
Music is the hot-button issue. We do hymns because “that’s what the older people like” and we do contemporary songs because “that’s what the young people like.” I wonder if God prefers hymns or contemporary music? Or maybe Classical, Fourth Species Counterpoint, or Sonatas. Perhaps He is most “moved” by Gregorian Chant or Centrific melodies. Honestly, I don’t think He cares one single bit about the style… He cares about the heart.
The opposite of entertaining the house guests musically would be to decide what kind of music would be relevant to the culture around us. If we Christians are after God’s own heart, perhaps we should seek to worship Him in a way in which our community can join without adding another barrier to the message itself. BUT THIS BLOG IS NOT ABOUT MUSIC…
How about programs? Now listen, it’s important to have good programs. And I really believe our church does a fantastic job at this. But since when was the number of programs “your church offers for me and my family” the main deciding factor in whether or not I join “your” church? When we sell our programs, what kind of members does that attract? I’ll tell you – – – that attracts people who are introspectively motivated. They are concerned with their own feelings, and their own needs. Likewise, they will be the first to tell you when your programs aren’t meeting those needs or stroking those fragile emotions.
A better characteristic to be evaluated when considering a prospective church would be something like, “How is God moving in this church?” or “How are they reaching their community for Christ?” Again, programs are good. But what is their purpose? To satisfy church members’ desires and preferences, or to reach new people for Christ and to educate believers in God’s Word? I would hope for the latter.
My prayer is that people would walk away from our church with a contagious zeal for Christ. That they would invite every cashier and bystander they encounter to our church… not because “We have something for everybody.” But rather, because “God is doing amazing things there.”
Consumer-based church programming will not satisfy the ultimate need of the lost in our community. And honestly, it will not satisfy the deepest needs of the saved in our community either. People are looking for reality. They are desperately searching for something that will change who they are. Something they can hold onto when everything else in their lives is shaken. Something they can believe in when emotions tear their hearts in two. They don’t need to see a church that’s got a hundred different mediocre programs running. They need to see changed lives that are unquestionably altered by what they believe. They need Jesus. And lots of Him.
So how would you answer my question to Isaac? Why do you love your church so much?
Grace and Peace,