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Entertainment or Discipleship: Constructive Criticism

Entertainment or Discipleship: Constructive Criticism

“The Church herself no longer is about discipleship… It’s about being entertained in the gathering.”

This is what Pastor Matt Chandler preached at his Dallas-based Village Church. His sermon set the internet abuzz after becoming the topic of a May 15 Christian Post article.

Responses range from complete affirmation in Chandler’s indictment of American churches to heated defenses against over generalizations.

I’ve watched the development of the American church culture, both as a pastor in a local church and in non-church-based capacities. These experiences taught me to be constructive when pressing the ever-forward progress toward the future. We are never, now, what God intends us to be tomorrow.

I also desire to be charitable when considering the strategies churches use and understand the various reasons contributing to those decisions.

Being Charitable: Why Entertain?

Remember that the Church has long made good use of the communication methods of the day in order to spread the Gospel and to transmit the Scripture (i.e. letter writing, printing press, broadcast technology, etc.). The present information age makes Scripture and Gospel proclamation extremely accessible, presenting two problems for local churches:

  1. Information sources are ubiquitous, but are they all trustworthy?
  2. Unfettered access to the most effective communicators of our generation may discourage people from connecting to a local church at all, choosing to watch those preachers online.

Focusing on entertainment and consumer-like services through the local church seems like an effective way to handle both challenges.

For the first problem, I’m careful not to fault local churches making smart use of marketing and communications strategies, particularly in social media. Yes, it looks like a lot of self-promotion, but it is also how you become a known and trusted source for conveying the message of the Gospel. Spend 30 minutes down the rabbit hole of online searches on the book of Revelation sometime. 

As for encouraging people to actually show up for church gatherings, I once felt that planning childcare and age-graded programming in order to make ministry gatherings happen as a huge pain and totally off mission. Then I had kids. If certain services are not provided, my family is considerably less likely to participate (Leave whatever comments you like; that is just a fact).

Being Constructive: Three Questions To Ask

Any strategy that doesn’t have diagnostic questions for evaluation to make adjustments is bad strategy. Here are three:

Historically, the Church has always used culturally relevant and creative means to capture the attention. Ultimately, anything that is entertaining does the same. The first question must be: to what end?

Paul talked about the different styles, approaches and talents of his contemporaries as well as the different audiences each were called to reach. He also utilized different strategies to capture the attention of his audience depending on the context.

Any style or method should be filtered through the lens of Phil. 1:18, “Only in every way…Christ is proclaimed.” Paul wrote this even while he questioned the particular motives of other ministries. We can apply that filter to 21st Century American Christianity by asking the second question: Are my methods building the Kingdom or building our brand and market share of church-goers?

Answer that question through the lens of 2 Tim. 2:2: “what you’ve heard from me… entrust to faithful ones who will be able to teach others also.” Ask one final question: Are we equipping people to make disciples whether our church is here or not?

The church must produce independently-growing, disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ. The kind who are actually equipped to make disciples whether your church exists or not. If it doesn’t, then it’s possible that the methods are more intent on building a brand than building the Kingdom. In that regard, Chandler is absolutely correct, and the church is probably more focused on entertainment than on disciple-making.

If it is, then you are part of the global movement that 2,000 years of human history hasn’t been able to stop.

The Problem of Fear in our Politics

The Problem of Fear in our Politics

One of the problems in modern American politics is fear—so says a host of articles, commentators and academics. It seems every time I listen to a political interview or news story, someone raises the subject of fear.

In a recent PBS News Hour interview, Martha Nussbaum, professor at the University of Chicago and author of “The Monarchy of Fear,” a book exploring the 2016 election, said, “Fear connects us to the bad… (and) it’s always been thought to be a terrible problem for democracy.”

Professor Nussbaum goes on to say, “What happens when fear gets into the works is… (it) makes us turn against targets that are not real… People are being stampeded by their emotions, and they’re not stopping to figure things out and to work on the real problems.”

Political leaders attempt to address the problem of fear in politics. In a world filled with danger, President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” His encouragement regrettably faded, and fear again grips our politics.

We need lasting solutions to fear and not just momentary help from political leadership.

The Bible’s Solution for Fear

The Bible’s answer to fear begins with trusting God and drawing near to His presence. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).

He’s closer than we imagine because God’s Spirit dwells within us. The Bible then teaches that fear itself is driven out by love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear…” (1 John 4:18).

Christians have no reason to give in to fear if the solution to fear is perfect love. The Bible teaches that God Himself is love, and He resides in our own hearts.

Driving out fear so we can address the real problems should be exactly what Christians bring to politics. The key is understanding how perfect love works.

When I encounter a person who is difficult to love, even someone who angrily disagrees with me, I don’t find it within myself to somehow respond with love. Love is not some mysterious substance I possess by being strong, good or well-adjusted enough.

The Apostle Paul writes that God’s Spirit brings many things into a Christian’s life, beginning with love. Love exists outside of me, first of all in the very nature of God. When Paul writes that the fruit of the spirit is love, he means for me to know that God provides the love I need to show. This is true in politics and everyday life.

  • For the person in political opposition, God says you can debate them with civility and compassion. Love is not arrogant, boastful, rude or self-seeking.
  • For a person who wrongs me, God says you can forgive just as you were forgiven. Love keeps no records of wrongs.

Replacing Fear with the Face of God

We read in 1 John 4:11, “Dear friends, if God loved us in this way we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God.” But, John teaches, “if we love one another, then God’s love is made complete, the unseen becomes seen.”

Victor Hugo, the great novelist who wrote Les Miserable captures this idea of love so well, writing, “And remember the truth, that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”

It is not in receiving love, but in loving another person that we see the face of God, as Hugo put it. The unseen made visible at any moment, and you don’t have to wait for it; it’s waiting for you to love another person.

Fear in politics can be driven out and replaced by the very face of God when the people of God, filled with the Spirit of God, show the love of God.

Talking God and Politics: Don’t Wash Your Hands of It All

Talking God and Politics: Don’t Wash Your Hands of It All

Young evangelicals are bombarded with the questions and controversies surrounding the relationship between faith and politics. Twitter feeds are filled with stories and comments, endorsements and condemnations. It seems wise to disengage altogether and avoid conversations about God and politics, the two subjects you never bring up at a party.

But washing our hands of it all might only serve to raise the question, “Am I complicit in my silence?” What guidance do we find in the Bible? Solid arguments are made on many sides.

The consensus of Scripture is that God works through governments, and they serve an important purpose. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are found serving God by influencing governmental leaders, such as Joseph in Egypt, Daniel in Babylon, and numerous prophets speaking truth to powerful kings—some who were godly and many who were not.

The Apostle Paul consistently taught the early church to respect governing authorities and calls them servants of God. In 1 Tim. 2:1-4, Paul writes that Christians should pray with thanksgiving, making intercession for those who are in authority.

Disengaging doesn’t seem to be the advice found in the Bible. We should care about what the government does and who is leading us. How can a Christian engage in politics without falling into the division, debate and vitriol filling our Twitter feeds? Here are three things to remember.

We are People of Prayer. Jesus taught His disciples to pray for God’s glory and Kingdom to expand on earth as it is in heaven. Perhaps the most prevalent need among Christians is a deeper understanding of the power of prayer.

By teaching Christians to pray for those in authority, Paul reminds us that we have access to the most extraordinary power and spiritual resource available on earth. Prayer quiets the soul and allows anger to subside. Prayer draws us closer to God and how He sees the people and policies in question. God hears us when we pray, and He answers.

Begin with prayer when engaging in the politics. Rom. 13:4 refers to governmental leaders as servants of God. Let our concern over a policy come after sincere prayer for a person’s heart for God. Pray that a politician’s time in office is marked less by legislative accomplishments or political wins and more by an encounter with the divine God of the universe. Pray for them to have a deeper reverence for the things that are on the heart of God; such as peace and joy, justice and mercy, ministry to the marginalized, and the dignity of all people.

We are the Church. Christians know that government was instituted by God and public policy matters. We also know that God is in control and working through all sorts of institutions, but let’s not blur the line between them.

Scripture gives moral guidance that is true in every arena of life but also specific directions to Christians in the local church, and we need to recognize the difference. The desired outcome of the prayer for governmental leaders in 1 Tim. 2:1-4 is the freedom to “live a life of quiet godliness so that all people can come to the knowledge of the truth.” Government has a role to play, but God’s redemptive plan is most fully manifested in the life and work of local churches.

We are Peacemakers. So much of modern American politics is intent on conquering political opponents, and this isn’t always consistent with a Christian witness (and disastrous to our democracy).

Christians do understand that some ideas are truly bad, and historically, God used His people to challenge those ideas. That is still true at times today, but not as often as the internet would have us believe.

Let us remember that Jesus taught in Matt. 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” The characteristic that most consistently identifies you as a child of God is being a peacemaker. Politics gives tools for compromise and consensus, but the Gospel gives the tools for lasting peace and reconciliation.

Christians have access to both politics and the Gospel. As Christians, let’s be peacemakers as we engage in politics today.