- Topics trump Text - Most evangelical pastors would agree that Biblical illiteracy is a major problem. And yet, the proclivity of those same pastors is to decrease Biblical text and increase topical communication from the pulpit on Sunday mornings. Why? I routinely hear two rationales. First, there is an a priori assumption that the "average Joe" in the pew can be profiled in the following way: short attention span, does not want to be confused with a lot of Biblical words, needs a motivational-talk-sprinkled-with-a-little-Bible to get through another week, is probably superficial, and wants pragmatism not theology. And secondly, Sunday morning has been re-purposed as a time of inspiration not discipleship (I despise this distinction yet hear it all the time.) Here are some abbreviated responses to these rationales:
- Relevancy does not necessarily equal "dumbing down."
- "Average Joe" wants to understand the Bible and its application to his life. Teach it.
- Pragmatism should flow out of not replace theology.
- Sunday mornings = content + creativity + inspiration.
- Discipleship venues = content + creativity + inspiration.
- End the dichotomy. Sunday worship can employ a strong element of discipleship and people can get Saved in a small group (and vice versa)!
- Surveys misplace authority - On the one hand, surveys can provide helpful input with regard to parking lot issues, cleanliness of restrooms, attentiveness of staff, feedback on socials, suggestions for the website, or other community life concerns. On the other hand, surveys, when used as a kind of crowd-source, marketing tool with regard to doctrine, liturgy, or mission, implicitly convey that an individual's predilections on such matters are somehow authoritative. The sacred content of these matters should be anchored in and protected by Biblical witness and orthodoxy. If not, doctrinal and missional drift become not only normative but rationalized under the guise of being "seeker sensitive."
- Consumerism invades ecclesiology - There is a real tension that exists here. Churches need to be diligently drawing people into worship and keeping them in community. And yet those people cannot be viewed or treated like mere consumers. Let me address this issue with seven simple statements:
- Churches should strive to be radically hospitable.
- Hospitality, though, gracefully introduces new people to a community's traditions, semantics, beliefs, symbols, and rhythms as opposed to modifying them.
- Excessive personal comfort thwarts spiritual maturity. Challenge people.
- Serious followers of Jesus laugh and have fun.
- Styes vary. Standards don't.
- Christ-centered praise can be led in a variety of music genres. Avoid exhibitionism.
- Pastoral leadership should love people where they are found and refuse to allow them to remain there.
- Prayer is undervalued - Contemporary models of ecclesiology are notorious for creating a utilitarian culture of prayer as opposed to an environment of prayerfulness. Quick, perfunctory prayers are offered in worship, before meals, at civic events, before bed, in staff meetings, and at other community events. But the cultivation of a praying soul, both corporately and individually, that includes lingering, practicing the presence of God, giving birth to vision, restoring hope, bringing healing, and basking in the mystery and beauty of God, is a neglected practice. Churches that create space and time for people to prayerfully marinate in the presence of God tend to understand the intangible benefits of such a practice. Those that do not are prone to miss strategic moments of divine guidance, encouragement, and intervention that simply cannot be humanly scripted into a Five Year Plan.
To be continued (Part IV - Final)...