Okay, you should be able to tell where this is going by the title. There are “churches” today that have little to do with what the New Testament or Christian history calls the church. Only in America could we have made something so sacred so trivial and irrelevant. If we were in a third world country or living at the time of the Apostle Paul, most of what we call “the church” wouldn’t exist. It would have never been started and it certainly couldn’t have succeeded.
The “Joy Boys” have turned the church into Santa=s workshop. Gifts on demand. Money on demand. Cars on demand. Healing on demand. We’ve been good, so God better pay up. We’ve thrown out a few obscure promises we found in the Scriptures (pertaining to Israel and the Old Covenant) and demand God to make them work for us in 2007.
We’ve got more options for churches than any other culture in the world. Find a church that fits YOU. Find a preacher YOU like. Find a church with programs for YOU. Serve as long as it is convenient for YOU. Attend when YOU feel like it. Give YOUR money. After all, ME-church is all about what I like, want, need and feel. It’s God on demand.
Styles have superseded substance. Trivial pursuits have prevailed over Truth. Playing has taken the place of prayer. Happiness is more important than holiness. Self-centeredness is crushing the servant spirit. Christ is Mr. Potato Head—we can make Him look like anything we want. If we don=t like the way He looks, we can pull Him apart piece by piece.
Only in this silly, self-centered culture would we be having some of the debates we are having. Worship styles. Translation arguments. Which systematic theology is right? Instead of fighting the devil and storming the gates of hell, we’re fighting among ourselves.
God forbid that someone, some preacher or prophet, should call us back to the basics. The basics aren’t cool. Who wants regular coffee when you can go to Starbucks and get a hundred different flavors all to your liking? Who wants plain vanilla ice cream when you can go to Marble Slab or similar places and mix it up to fit your taste?
Recently a prominent preacher in the Atlanta area said, in effect, if he could rewrite Christian history he would emphasize building relationships more and the gospel less. This is the same arrogance that led him to proclaim in a major Christian magazine that Jesus wouldn’t call Himself a shepherd if He were alive today. I guess the next announcement will be this young buck is looking for a vacancy in the Trinity. How arrogant. How blasphemous. How unbiblical can a guy get before someone calls him on it?
In mid-October, Christianity Today released an article regarding Willow Creek Community Church. While thousands of churches have followed the Willow Creek model, the church is now saying they made a mistake.
Quoting from the article, “Not long ago Willow released its findings from a multiple year qualitative study of its ministry. Basically, they wanted to know what programs and activities of the church were actually helping people mature spiritually and which were not. . . . Bill Hybels, the founding pastor of Willow called the findings ‘earth shaking,’ ‘ground breaking’ and ‘mind blowing.’”
Willow churns out programs like Proctor and Gamble churns out diapers. They measure levels of participation like a business measures the products coming off an assembly line. It’s about nickels, noses and numbers. The more nickels, noses and numbers, obviously the more blessed you are by God. Right? Wrong.
Read carefully what the article says, “Having put all of their eggs into the program-driven church basket you can understand their shock when the research revealed that ‘increasing levels of participation in these sets of activities does NOT predict whether someone’s becoming more of a disciple of Christ. It does NOT predict whether they love God more or they love people more.’” Well, duh!
Hybels calls the study “the wake up call” of his adult life. He admits, “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and became Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self feeders. We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their Bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own.” Oh, you mean like lifestyle Christianity, something like the New Testament?
Wow, now there’s a novel thought. We need to get people to pray, seek the Lord, study their Bibles and other basic stuff that is too hip to do in American Christianity. In American Christianity we “seek” God and self satisfaction. While millions long for copies of Scripture around the world, there are churches so hip you don’t have to take your Bible to church. You don’t have to worry about them wanting you to be an intercessor.
The folks at Willow say they want to change the way they do church. Really? Are they going to be able to get all the churches they’ve influenced to change the way they are doing church? Or what they call church? They say they are going to rethink all their old assumptions. Didn’t they learn in school that you never assume anything?
Maybe, just maybe, if they and others were more concerned with teaching the Word without apology, they’d build a stronger church. Not necessarily bigger, but certainly stronger. Their admission can be summed up as a confession to being a “wood, hay and stubble” church. They’ve led tens of thousands to build bigger barns, but they have nothing in the loft but hay. Hay is for horses.
I’d like to suggest they get back to the meat of the Word, the milk of the Word, the Living Water and the Bread of Life. That would be a healthy start for an emaciated church.
©2007, Michael Catt
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.