Thursday, May 28, 2009

“And You’ll find the Starbucks Just to the Left of the Sanctuary…”

I just finished reading S. Michael Craven’s “If You Build It, They Will Come” Ecclesiology which is part of a series analyzing the current state of Protestant churches. These churches are divided into three types: “consumer-driven megachurches, dying churches, and new churches whose future is fragile.” This article focuses on the first type.

Living in the tri-state area, there are an abundance of megachurches full of “Xbox and Playstation for the youth, weight rooms, yoga classes, restaurants, and, of course… a Starbucks.” To be quite honest, I’ve never been too crazy of the idea that the church has to be a combination shopping/ entertainment/ wellness center in order to attract or maintain members. I don’t even like visiting these kind of churches. I’m a child of the commercial generation, having grown up more familiar with advertisement jingles than television theme songs (remember in the 90’s when they started phasing out the “coming-on” of sitcoms? You only saw the “Friends” opening in syndication, and “Seinfield” never really bothered to have one). From the time I was a toddler, I’ve been pushed and goaded to try some new cereal or get my mom to buy the latest Barbie. In a strange way, I always felt going to this type of church, they were using similar tactics… to sell me God.

In a previous blog, I mentioned leaving my former nondenominational church, and although their membership is in the hundreds and aren't quite in the megachurch league, they seem to be headed down the same path. I think that’s one of the reasons I never felt totally at home there. The problem with this type of “consumer driven church” which is also known as being “seeker-sensitive” is the mistaken belief that “church activity produces spiritual growth.” I saw this at my former church, especially among the young people. Hundreds of teens would come to youth group to play ball, dance and on Sundays, sing, dance some more and do artwork. They went to the church coffeehouses and stayed busy at retreats and doing volunteer work. These are all beautiful things. Unfortunately, many seemed to never go beyond attendance, and didn’t grow spiritually. When the inevitable life challenge occurred (pressure to have sex, try drugs, join a gang, a parent’s illness or even beginning college), the babes in Christ would drop off. Some questioned their newfound faith, or wrote it off. These things occur at every house of worship, but when a church runs on getting seats filled, it is doomed if it does not have Scripturally based plans on how to disciple the people once they are there.

Another problem faced by these churches is unprepared leaders who “… are completely ignorant of church history and the most basic theological terms and concepts and those responsible for providing oversight and guidance are mostly unaware of what is missing. It is often the blind leading the blind.” This is bound to happen if a church is rapidly expanding. Growth will dictate that more teachers, speakers and deacons are needed. Thankfully, at my former church, I believe most of the pastors were sound in their doctrines. I did notice though, a few of the lay leaders promoted erroneous teachings such as the Prosperity Gospel/Word of Faith. This church taught “Every Believer is a Leader,” so there were some who were unprepared to lead small groups but did anyway.

Craven reminds readers that the church is not a mere building, but the actual body of Christ, the Believers. “The body of Christ is called to be distinct from the world, being those who have been made “alive together with Christ“ (Eph. 2:5; emphasis mine), “fellow saints and members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). And to this body, Christ gave “pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ, until we attain to the unity of the faith and of knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood … so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro … and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Making “the body grow … so that it builds itself up in love” (Eph. 4:11–16).

I pray Protestant churches begin to change. There’s nothing wrong with keeping with the time, but we are never to conform to the culture. As the “salt” of the Earth, it’s our job to preserve the Truth in this fallen world. And we can do it without Caramel Macchiatos.

1 comments:

Mr. Woolf said...

I totally agree. Church activity does not result in spiritual growth by necessity. It's almost as if some people expect to soak up the word by osmosis, by just being present.

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