I opened a can of worms with some in my criticism of Ed Young’s recent “7 Days of Sex Challenge” in THIS previous post. I’m not going to rehash the particulars of this specific incident again, but in the process of trying to make a point I wrote the following which drew a strong reaction from some of my younger/hipper readers:
I personally find this kind of trendy, flavor-of-the-month, pop-psychology type of “religion” distasteful and immensely irritating. To me, this fits in with other “trends” in emergent-driven churches like wearing too much gel in one’s hair, wearing shirt tails out, giving away shot glasses with the church name on them out in bars, shocking signs (Flamingo Road Church recently had a huge banner on their building asking people to “Flip Someone the Bird” this Thanksgiving. It was part of a Thanksgiving food drive. Please excuse me while I roll my eyes.), Starbucks franchises in the lobbies, one-word church names and worship franchising.
I want to clarify a few things. I don’t have a problem with flavored coffees, kewl glasses, untucked shirts, gelled hair, big screens, sitting on a stool to preach, etc… I really just don’t care one way or the other and I find much the debate to be supercilious and pointless.
However, (and this is where I’m going to start trying to make my points), what I find off-putting is this concept that doing any or all of the above will make you more spiritual, relevant, cutting edge, unique or any combination of those things. They all come from the ol’ “Nothing New Under the Sun” department in that we fundamentalists/evangelical types tend to stampede to the latest trend some mega-church dude is trying like a herd of lemmings without much thought. But I’ve seen this all before — in the 60’s and 70’s.
In those days it was double-breasted (and later 3-piece) suits, pompadour hair styles, bus ministries, Christian schools, Sunday school attendance campaigns, the Moral Majority, ensembles with matching outfits and Gaither music.
In the 80’s and 90’s it was dramas, stage decorations, polo shirts, projection systems, comb-overs, the Christian Coalition, mega-church conferences, orchestras, praise and worship, and anything Hybels.
Today, we’re into Starbucks, camp shirts and shirts with untucked tails and opened long sleeves, black sets with kewl lighting, blogging, the Junky Car Club, hard=edged bands, conversations and social work.
What we don’t seem to notice, with each generation, is that we keep becoming caricatures of ourselves. Today’s generation openly mocks and derides the “fundamentalism” of the 70’s and 80’s with it’s polyester suits and legalism, but I lived it and our churches were bulging. For all it’s flaws and failures (and they were myriad), it was trendy at the time.
Today’s emergent generation seems to be so impressed with themselves, the way they “relate”, their penchant for being innovative and shocking, their kewl young looks and their compassionate social activism that they are missing the fact that in their rush to be as relevent (if not more) than the next guy, they are ALSO losing touch and coming off more than a little ridiculous.
And c’mon — a preacher — any preacher — Ed Young or anyone else, lounging on a bed while delivering a sermon that is beamed across the country to satellite locations in which he is encouraging married people to “do it” for seven consecutive days is somewhere between revolting and hilarious. And what’s even more curious is the fact that Ed wasn’t the first — and for sure now — he’s not going to be the last. All the hipster young pastors and some that are not-so-hipster-or-young will now feel compelled to match his bet and maybe even raise the stakes a few points to make it interesting.
I guarantee you that in a few years, some obnoxious young blogger type is going to teleport an article onto someone’s eyeglass screen microchip which mocks and derides the days when some loony preacher dared give a sex challenge from a bed in a church. That will be SO old school and corny.
But in the midst of all these trends and rushes-to-trends, what must remain constant? — the sound systematic exposition of the Word of God. Over and over, Paul noted that he did not resort to “gimmickry” or trickery in his Gospel message. He just faithfully preached the Gospel message without a lot of adornment.
Yes, I know a favorite tactic is to bring out the example of Christ eating with the publicans and prostitutes and how he was criticized by pharisees. But keep in mind, there is a difference between someone being an unconverted pharisee and being pharisaical. Also keep in mind that there is a difference between methodology and simply having daily contact with the unconverted. In fact, Jesus at times refused to perform miracles rather than turn his message into a dog-n-pony show. His supernatural methods were to reveal and confirm His message and His authority, not to draw the masses. One should also note that at the moment of his agony, the masses who swamped many of his appearances were reduced in number to a handful of faithful disciples.
So I offer a few simple words of caution to my younger friends and sons in the ministry. Preach the Word. Whether you do a book exposition or a sound topical exigesis — don’t substitute style for substance. Don’t chase the elusive butterfly of relevance and edginess. That’s a pursuit that has no conclusion. Like “converts” who pray a prayer for a bowl of rice in a third world country, people who flock to a venue to see a show will often drift away once their bellies are full. Spend more energy in prayer and study than in pomp and production. Nothing’s more important than the working of the Holy Spirit and that can’t be artificially induced. Don’t worry about whether or not you are perceived to be relevant, kewl or creative. Be concerned with whether or not you are accurate, direct and honest with the Word. Don’t substitute volume for virtue, relevance for reality or dynamism for doctrine. It doesn’t mean you have to go old-school. It doesn’t mean you have to become a neo-legalist. It doesn’t mean you can’t do your best to connect with your audience — you can and you should make those connections.
If you don’t want to put on a tie — who cares. If you gel your hair — be thankful you have enough hair to gel. If you want to remove the pulpit — go right ahead. If you schedule your services at different times than tradition — go for it. Just don’t put the emphasis where it doesn’t belong.
In 100 years, the only things on this earth that will still matter are the souls of men and the Word of God.