It is amazing how quickly things can change from a Christ-focused to Consumer-focused emphasis in our churches. I have been trying to put some observations together lately as it applies to my own personal spiritual experience as well as that of the church as a whole. There are a few trends that I have been observing that I think may be contributing to some distractions from our spiritual growth and purpose. These are not judgments or meant to be hyper-critical of the church. They are simply reflection points.Take them for what they are worth and in the areas that you see that they may apply. These are not in any order of importance or influence.
#1- We don’t allow for enough silent or reflective time.
A few years ago, I was at a church that provided an evening of creative worship. It was a personal experience which involved silence, visual stimuli, music, Scripture reading and reflection and actions that we were to perform that caused us to be reflective on our own spiritual life. To be honest, the most powerful part of the experience was the chance to be quiet. Our daily experience is way too rushed and loud. Distractions are everywhere. We don’t often take the time to meditate on anything because we convince ourselves that it isn’t a fruitful venture. Last night, I provided one of these creative worship times for my youth group. I was totally at a loss about how it would be received. Would they allow themselves the quiet time? Would they take it seriously? To my joy, it was received extremely well. I prayed before the worship time that they would allow God to speak into their lives and I believe they did. They prayed. Some of them on their knees. Some raised their hands in worship. Some sat quietly. And yes, some cried. It was a time for them to be still and know that He is God. We all needed that time. The truth is we all ‘need’ that time and too often we do not allow ourselves that opportunity. The comment from one of my youth was that God had ‘wrecked’ him that night. From a youth perspective , that is a positive thing. It means some walls came down and some spiritual healing was happening between him and God. Create the opportunity for silence and reflection. If it is not intentionally created, it will not happen.
#2- Consumerism is way too alive and well
I spoke with a friend about this one this week. The question was whether we can really undo the damage that we have caused by over-emphasizing an attractive model of church. The attractive model has a strong emphasis on creative an experience at church that will ‘draw’ people into our church. Now pay attention to my wording. Creative in order to draw….to our church. I did not say create in order to draw to God. The major thing here is the object of our initiative. The Gospel itself should be the driving force, but we have sometimes convinced ourselves that people won’t come for just that. They need something more. So we create environments that say come to us. We have something at our church that you will like. It might be the music. It might be a charismatic and energetic preacher. It might be the events for children. It might be the food. It might even be the fellowship. Now at face value, there is nothing wrong with these components. The problem would be when these things become your calling card instead of the Gospel message itself. It was enough in the early church. But is it enough today? That is the question that sometimes our actions seem to portray as the thing that matters. What has happened to the simple Gospel? Is it not enough? We must seek to establish a balance in our attractive approach and our Gospel-centeredness.
#3- What is the church going to do for me?
This one is difficult for me. I hear it or see it often. When I hear statements like “We are trying out different churches”, I kind of cringe. I understand that statement if what you are trying to do is find a Christ-centered church where the truth is spoken. But if you are looking for something that is going to meet your needs and your standards, then that is consumerism again. It is so hard to fight this today. We are in a culture that places high demands on service and the quality of that service experience. The early church experience was many times demanding. It called for sacrifice of time, talent and treasure. It also called for sacrifice of self. It was more of a how can I serve versus how can I be served mindset. It is true that about 20% of the people in the church do the majority of the ministry work that needs to occur in the church. The others often sit back in the pew and wait for it all to begin. I am here to say that those who serve reap the greater reward of the experience. They are invested in the ministry and grow from it. They identify with it. The danger I see is that if you are not actively serving, then church ministries may become just something you attend if it fits your schedule or your interest and nothing more appealing is going on elsewhere.
#4- Stop and recognize the others around you in church
So, I am an introvert therefore this one is hard for me. Introversion at church is something I struggle with so much. I understand that people come into the church often with a sense of brokenness. They need community. That is seen throughout the Scripture. All too often, we come into church, sit down, listen and leave. And we miss out on community. One of the strengths and points of the church should be its intentional desire to create community and encourage growth. Isolation is not going to help this happen. So a quick challenge for us all. Burst the bubble and let people in. Engage in the life of the church and your own life will benefit. The most attractive part of a church is its friendliness and sense of community. This is what the world is starving for. So let’s all do our part in the creating of that atmosphere. It is not about us. It is about others.
#5- Please don’t treat the church like a business. Unless that business is people!
Relationship building is vital. People are to be our business. Leading others to the Savior is our business plan and everything we do must focus on that goal. Anything else is a distraction and will not be blessed. So make sure gossip is crushed. Grace is flowing. Personal gain is not our focus. Competitiveness among churches is not our standard of success. Faithfulness to our God is key! Our operational and procedural strategy is God’s Word which is often contrary to secular business practices. Our business forecast is taken from God’s promises and those never fail. Our marketing plan is the truth plainly spoken!
Hopefully, these things will be taken constructively and can provide points of evaluation. Let me know in the comment section some of the trends that you see or comment on mine.