Competing with the Culture: Should the Church be Entertaining?

I want to consider in this post the challenges that we face in trying to communicate the Gospel to a media-saturated, consumer-oriented generation.

A quick glance at the “Top 100 Largest Churches in America” from Outreach Magazine reveals some interesting facts: most of this country’s largest churches are led by pastors who are either published and/or who are broadcast in some way to a larger audience than the home church alone (T.V., internet church, podcast, etc.); most of the country’s largest churches have multi-million dollar budgets - a large percentage of which is devoted to technology; and most of the country’s top churches utilize multi-site church growth strategies – strategies which reinforce both the celebrity pastor phenomenon and the need for more and better technology.

Why is it that we need to compete with the culture again?

For this is precisely what we are doing, isn’t it? Competing with the culture? If we are fortunate enough to actually get people to attend our worship services we feel that we have to entertain them and offer them a high definition, surround sound Jesus.

Popular culture has made it very hard for us to tell our Story. John Ortberg addresses this in an article in this month’s Leadership Journal. He tells the story of how in the 1858 senatorial campaign, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas would debate for 3 hours or more and people would listen. He reminds the reader that the only reason that people listened was because they had nothing better to do. Today politicians and preachers have to compete with a seemingly endless stream of music, graphics, images, videos and information that can all be accessed in seconds. Ortberg observes that listening to 3 hour debates in 1858 was a treat for Americans. Not so much today. “If you were raised on nothing but broccoli, an apple tastes like desert. If you were raised in the Cheesecake Factory and apple tastes like punishment. We are doing church for a society raised in the Cheesecake Factory.”

Unfortunately, trying to provide 52 varieties of cheesecake worship every week leads to fat, dumb and happy consumer Christians. Professor Read Mercer Schuchardt of Wheaton College says that “the opiate of our age is image-based entertainment that leads to passivity and narcissism.”

Our goal as the Church of Jesus Christ in America should not be to see how many people we can squeeze into our space every Sunday so we can feed them their weekly dose of high-tech inspiration; it should not be to see how much money we can raise so that we can enhance our audio visual presentations (Chuck Swindoll says that he knows of a church that has 18 full-time staff members in the media department and 12 full-time staff members on the pastoral/ministry team. This speaks volumes about what is important to this church, doesn’t it?); and it should not be an attempt to compete with the culture.

Our goal should be to proclaim the life-changing message of Christ with passion, and excellence and enthusiasm.

Can this be done with technology?

Absolutely.

But as the writers that I have quoted above have all said: technology should be a window and not a mirror. Our music, videos, dramas etc. must all point to Christ: those who gather with us should be able to see through the technology and the arts to the One who created technology and the arts. Too often, however, the media, technology and arts are more like a mirror: passive, narcissistic observers try to see themselves in the medium in an effort to get something for themselves. This is what popular culture teaches us to do: find yourself in the show, the music, the virtual scenario and get what you need.

Kenda Creasy Dean who specializes in youth and youth culture says that today’s young people have a picture of God that she describes as MTD (Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism). This picture has been instilled in them by the Church! God is only interested in helping them behave (moralistic) and feel good (therapeutic), and is distant and detached from the majority of their lives (deistic).

Is this the picture of God that the Bible teaches?

I am still wrestling with this personally, because I have been leading a worship gathering that relies heavily upon technology, the arts and entertaining methods of communication. I do believe that there is a place in the church for all of these things, but I also feel that there is a fine line that many of us may have crossed a long time ago.

We have a message that is not being conveyed in popular culture; a message that is, in fact, counter-cultural in many ways. Is it necessary for us to try and package the amazing and life transforming message of Christ in entertaining wrapping paper in an attempt to attract more spectators?

I’m interested in your thoughts on this important topic.

Comments

  1. This is a topic we have discussed in my Disciple Bible study class. This is not entirely the fault of technology. It is how that technology is used. I think the one area our churches fail in is the development of our members into mature knowledgeable disciples of Christ. We must learn to use this technology to instill a passion in people to know their Savior more deeply on a personal level. We must use technology to not just entertain but instill in people a desire to want more and show them how technology can help them develop into mature Chhristians. I use bible software to search keywords in the bible. I use bible software such as biblegateway.com to read and compare a multiple of different bible versions. I have a Kindle which has many different commentaries by knowlegable scholars of the bible. I have found websites which let you see a 3D represention of the temple in Jereusalem during Jesus time. I have seem maps on the internet which super impose the middle east during the time of Paul with the United States so you can understand distances to different areas Paul walked to spread the gospel. We can see videos of the passion play ou Youtube. You can find Videos and pictures of everywhere Jesus visited. Paul said in Hebrews 5 11-14
    11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.
    12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word.[c] You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.
    13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

    We must want this solid food.
    William Barclay wrote about this in his commentary on Hebrews;
    "There are Christians in whose faith there has been no development for thirty ot forty or fifty or sixty years. There are Christians who have deliberately refused to try to understand the advances that biblical scholarship and theological thought have made. They are grown men and women, and yet they insist on remaining content with the religious development of children."

    We must instill in our members the drive, the passion, the desire to develop their Christian maturity. We must train our teachers in how to develop lesson plans which demand increasingly deeper thought as maturity grows in the student. Show them how to use technology to help in there quest of knowledge. This will deepen their knowledge and provide them with a strong foundation in Christ to help them on their journey thru life. Use this new technology and quest for knowledge not just for INFORMATION but for TRANSFORMATION.

    Terry Rowe

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  2. When the food is good and pure the plate on which its served is unimportant. Serving it with love and humility is all that counts.

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  3. Nothing new. When Jesus spoke to fishermen, he spoke used language about nets and fish to get his point across. In this day and age, we are talking to folks who grew up with technology, movies, and social networking so we use all the things that people are familiar with to introduce people to the life changing power of the Gospel of Christ. I agree that the focus should be on the Message not the method but we shouldn't shrink back from using whatever culturally relevant tools to get the Message out - unless the method is against Biblical principles.

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