Monthly Archives: August 2008
David Fitch of Reclaiming the Mission has begun a new series of posts called “When They Will Not Come”. Here is a quote that resonates with what I’ve been trying to express about hype and takes it in a different direction, namely discipleship.
I believe a host of problems in American evangelicalism originate in our disregard for community. Indeed, our hyped up attractional approach to church has put the individual first in such a way that community becomes an afterthought which creates problems for discipleship, catechesis of our children, as well as evangelism. We seek to draw the individual in, sell him/her a message, and then provide communities. Community by definition becomes commodified. Instead of an individual being grafted into the Body of Christ as the very foundation of his/her salvation, this individual becomes a consumer of what kind of community best suits the kind of Christianity he or she can fit into her life. The ramifications for discipleship are disastrous.
Read the entire post if you get a chance.
Today marks our one-year anniversary. In honor of that wonderful day, and in honor of my wife, here is a hymn by Henry Baker especially appropriate for weddings.
How welcome was the call,
And sweet the festal lay,
When Jesus deigned in Cana’s hall
To bless the marriage day!
And happy was the bride,
And glad the bridegroom’s heart,
For He Who tarried at their side
Bade grief and ill depart.
His gracious power divine
The water vessels knew;
And plenteous was the mystic wine
The wondering servants drew.
O Lord of life and love,
Come Thou again today;
And bring a blessing from above
That ne’er shall pass away.
O bless, as erst of old,
The bridegroom and the bride;
Bless with the holier stream that flowed
Forth from Thy piercèd side.
Before Thine altar throne
This mercy we implore;
As Thou dost knit them, Lord, in one,
So bless them evermore.
If hype is unproductive, like I’ve been arguing, what do we replace it with? If I’m really convinced that most of our marketing and posturing adds unnecessary offense to our churches rather than make them more welcoming, how do we counter that? I don’t think I have all the answers. (Young men in general and specifically young seminary graduates like myself fall easily into the trap of thinking we have everything figured out. There may be no fool like an old fool but there’s no arrogant know-it-all like a young arrogant know-it-all.)
My remedy is that we take what some might consider a negative and make it a positive. Killing your advertising? Tell your congregation that you’re doing it and why you’re doing it. Make it a group rallying cry that you’re going to eschew Madison Avenue and embrace relationships based upon love and respect. There’s a better way to introduce people to our churches.
Do you know why you can’t get coffee here? Because I’d rather you pick it up on the way in where you know your barista’s name.
That’s what Christians ought to be doing. Go to Starbucks or your local coffee shop of choice and tip well. Don’t sign up for the “church fitness center”; join a real gym and get to know people. Let your kids play sports through the YMCA instead of the church league. Cut the fluff out of the church for the sake of your congregation being involved in their community. Don’t just say, “we don’t do that stuff,” instead, have a reason why you don’t do that. There’s something better than letting our churches turn into yet another hyped-up consumer enclave.
Remember in high school when you would be approached by a girl and presented with this scenario:
So, I ended up going over to Tommy’s house last night and hanging out with him. Yes, I know he’s got a girlfriend. Anyway, we watched a movie and toward the end, he leaned over and he kissed me! It was so sweet! Yes, I know he’s got a girlfriend. Do you think it means anything? Do you think he’ll break up with her and go out with me? We would be perfect together! I’m going to go back over there tomorrow night. Which dress do you think he’d find the cutest? I look really hot in the blue one. Alright! I know already, he’s got a girlfriend. What do you mean he’ll cheat on me too? It’s totally different. If you knew her, you’d know why he wants to be with me. It is totally different. Totally.
That’s most church marketing.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we’re going for the same pool of consumer Christians who want to be impressed by the hippest, newest thing in the religious world. Non-christians and people who have been burned by the church want nothing to do with hype-driven Christianity – and for good reason.
When I was first learning to write in elementary school, I remember learning about parts of speech. There were nouns – persons, places, things or ideas; verbs – action words; and adjectives – words that describe. Adjectives were the parts of language that made everything more vivid; you didn’t technically have to have them but they added new dimensions to communication.
In thinking about hype, one of the ways that we allow hype to get into our churches is in the adjectives we use. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. We have exciting new ministries. We have powerful worship services. We have creative, inspiring, and insightful sermons. We have life-changing songs. Really? Really?
It’s part of the continual push to be newer and better. We might not believe it, but with our rhetoric we’re saying: “Those old ministries are passé, check out these new exciting ministries!” “Those old churches are staid and boring, we’re relevant!” And even if it were true, even if the new things were ten-times more exciting and creative, it doesn’t do us much good in the long run anyway. Why? Because the only people who really care if things are that much more exciting are Christians who already go to other houses of worship who want to be a part of the newest, the latest, the greatest thing.
It’s just too much.
What if we saved the word exciting for things that are truly exciting like the Gospel or a new church being planted or someone returning to the church after years away or a baptism or a first communion? That’s exciting. It is exciting to know that my sins, though they are countless, are not counted against me. It is exciting to know that the Holy Spirit is active in my life, uniting me to Christ. It is exciting to see hearts that were once dead in sin like mine made alive in Christ. The Gospel should be what truly excites us – not a bunch of promotional junk surrounding yet another church program.
The greatest singer in rock and roll
Would have to be Romeo
His vocal chords are made of gold
He just looks a little too old
Wilco, “The Late Greats”
I pray that my church (and I) would never get to the point that the Gospel just “looks a little too old”.