I am a recovering staff member of a purpose driven, seeker-friendly, follow-the-latest-trends, try-to-be-cool, even-if-you’re-not church. I drank the kool-aid and towed the party line. Church needs to be relevant. Church should have environments designed to engage the post-modern individual. Music must be cutting edge, sound and stage lighting is critical. I read all the books and I was convinced. People today are more sophisticated than they used to be. For church to have an impact, and in order for church to change lives, it must be trendy and reminiscent of the theatre and dance clubs frequented by our “target audience.” The Sunday morning programming must be perfectly polished. The sermon must speak to life issues like marriage, parenting, or ethics in the work place. The children’s program needs to channel Disney and Nickelodeon.
My whole job was to run Sunday mornings and make a good impression on all who were making “first-contact” with our church. It was my job to “create the experience” for the first time visitor and “wow” them to the point of sparking the desire to return. I had a host of ushers, and greeters strategically placed and thoroughly trained on how to greet and how to un-offensively collect the offering. I managed the all-important coffee kiosk. I was constantly updating the “look” of the various meeting rooms on campus – using the “feel” of Starbucks to inspire one room and iCarly for another. I hired a company to give our website the right “look” and implemented a visitor tracking system to allow us to analyze our strengths and weaknesses. I would tell you that I desperately wanted lives to be changed by the Gospel – but in retrospect, it seems I wanted people to say “wow!” even more. I spent time visiting other “successful” churches to see how they did it. In other words, I attended church, not to worship God, but to critique the programming. I cringe to think about it.
Lest you be thinking, “Yes! It’s about time one of you Seeker-sensitive types admit to the error of your ways!” I would also like to say, that anything done for the glory of God should be done well, and that includes church. Sloppy Sunday mornings are inexcusable, but perfectly orchestrated Sunday mornings do not change lives. Irrelevant music and sermons laced with guilt, condemnation, intolerance, and clichés are a turn-off, but lasers, a hot band, mad vocals and a “feel-good” sermon does nothing to illuminate the beautiful message of the Gospel.
The church has a sordid past. There is much history of abuse of power, manipulation, control, fear-mongering, and hate-speak. We, as modern Christian believers have a tough row to hoe at times as we attempt to reconcile our violent and abusive history to the message of the love of Christ we proclaim. It causes us to do crazy things like create a Sunday morning experience that feels more like Playhouse Disney than an encounter with Divinity. It feels desperate. Like we are trying to convince the world that the faith we share is valid by placing a cup of gourmet coffee in their hand upon arrival. I’m envisioning the God of the Universe observing these rituals with utter disbelief that we would have it so backwards.
I do believe that the polished programs and gourmet coffee is an attraction to those who are seeking to fulfill their religious duty. After all, if you are of the belief that you have to go to church to get in good with God, then you are not, in fact, seeking to know God, you are just seeking to appease God in hopes that God won’t be mad at you. If this is your philosophy, then it’s good there are so many pretty shiny churches from which you can choose. But if that’s your approach, I think you should know you are really missing out on the juicy good stuff.
It’s been three years now since stepping away from my ministry position. I feel like I’ve been in detox and am finally clean and sober. I have developed this singular philosophy: if people have decided to come to church who have never been to church before – there can be only one reason; they want to meet God. Period. No amount of coffee, donuts, handshakes, kickin’ music, well-crafted sermons and strategic follow-up will mean a thing if a seeking-soul is not shown God. God who forgives. God who loves. God who by grace takes all the bad stuff out of a messed-up life and replaces it with the beauty of the Holy Spirit, God’s own Divine presence dwelling within. Every single thing that happens during a church service should be orchestrated around that one singular goal – to reveal God. No apology is needed for our faith, no couching it in shiny eye-pleasing, ear-tickling packages makes the message better. There is no better message for a soul seeking God than to hear that a way has been made for God to be known – and that by identifying with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God looks upon us with pleasure. If you don’t hear this, or feel it, or experience it in the context of church, then I believe the church has failed, no matter how successful it may appear.
Just some stuff I’ve been thinking about…