Contemporary Christian literature is awash with the notion that, in order to be effective and successful, we must respond to market forces. In earlier generation, such an approach was unheard of. The tactic employed by Paul in Corinth was far closer to the model of the day. “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” That was his message. Even though the Corinthians we demanding miracles and wisdom, Paul did not give them what they wanted. Indeed, he continued to supply the one thing they clearly did not want – preaching. He rejected the style and content that was most acceptable in his day… It is not possible to give people what they want to hear and proclaim the message of the Cross at one and the same time.
If the aim of the church is to grow, the way to do it is to make people feel good. And when people discover that there are other ways to feel good, they leave the church they no longer need. The relevant church is sowing the seeds of its own irrelevance, and losing its identity to boot. The big question today has become how to get the baby boomers back, what techniques and methods will do the trick. Polls are taken on what baby boomers want and churches are competing to make sure they get it.
The absolutely worst way to respond to the challenge of secularism is to adapt to secular standards in language, thought, and way of life. If members of a secularist society turn to religion at all, they do so because they are looking for something other than what the culture already provides. It is counterproductive to offer them religion in a secular mode that is carefully trimmed in order not to offend their secular sensibilities.
The danger for us is that we will want to keep up with our entertainment culture and its focus on the eyes by turning our worship into a religious stage show. We must walk a fine line between offering worship that is appealing and engaging without becoming simply a splashy performance, and worship that has depth without becoming tedious and flat.
What the church lacks today is not quantity but quality in her pulpits. A strong case can be made that we presently have too many men in pastoral ministry; too many who have taken the mantle of leadership upon themselves without having been selected and formed by God for that purpose. They preach, but not with power and often not with truth; they lead, but not from the platform of a life of godliness, holiness, and prayer; and slowly these men are changing the face of pastoral leadership. What once was a ministry of humble dependence upon God and his Word is more and more becoming a position of power and influence dependent upon marketing strategies, programming innovations, and an increasing infatuation with technology and culture. The image of a pastor as a servant-teacher is fast being replaced with that of a Chief Executive Officer whose knowledge of modern organizational theory and communication technique is more highly prized than his commitment to praying and preaching.
Today, the pressure to fill auditoriums and services has driven many pastors to place the felt needs, or tastes, of the people above their duty to Christ. On every hand we hear of the Gospel being molded into a non-confrontative message intended to meet felt needs and impress the sinful heart. And, by most standards, this new philosophy of church life is working, as more and more auditoriums are filled with people hungry for a message that will affirm that they are actually on fairly good terms with the Almighty. But the biblical message is the message of the cross. It cuts right across the grain of the modern age’s preoccupation with pride, tearing down the façade and exposing the wretchedness of the human heart… Unfortunately, while the modern “un-gospel” may fill seats, it is the true gospel of sin and grace that is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1:16).
Within evangelicalism is a distressing drift toward accepting a Christianity that does not demand a life-changing walk with God. Many evangelicals (today) do not realize that the church has always been an island of righteousness in a sea of paganism, but as a result they turned the world upside-down.
When amusement is necessary to get people to listen to the gospel there will be failure. This is not the method of Christ. To form an organization and provide all kinds of entertainment for young people, in order that they may come to the Bible classes, is to be foredoomed to failure.
The supreme test for them really is whether they have found the hour in church enjoyable, whether the music being good, the singing hearty, the decorations no offense to the eye, the curtains the right shade, the building beautiful, they come away “feeling” better. The sense that truth, saving truth, the truth that liberates, is at once infinitely valuable and infinitely difficult to come by is almost completely absent (Herbert Farmer).
Whatever means you use to get people into the church is precisely what you must use to keep them. If you get them with a ‘religious circus’, then you must keep the circus going – keep up the entertainment. If you get them with biblical preaching and teaching, then that will keep them and you will not need the entertainment.
Many of those whose task it is to broker the truth of God to the people of God in the churches have now redefined the pastoral task such that theology has become an embarrassing encumbrance or a matter of which they have little knowledge; and many in the Church have now turned in upon themselves and substituted for the knowledge of God a search for the knowledge of self.