Tuesday with Michael Spencer
Our Little Parades
“A Real Church for Real People.” “A warm, loving fellowship of people who care about you!!” “Come hear practical, spirit-anointed messages by a man of God.” “Continuous Revival!!” “A Church with Christ at Heart and You in Mind.” “Such and Such Church: Where You Matter.” “People Being Transformed By the Power of God.” “Healing and Miracles in Every Service.” “Where God Touches Lives!!” “Dynamic Music from our Praise Band will take you into the presence of God.” “A dynamic youth program!” (Dynamic is very good.)
Ok. Ok. Enough. What is going on here? From the bowels of some church growth conference has come the worldly wisdom that we need to “cast a vision” of who we are. In other words, exaggerate up a storm to outdo the other guy. Lure, lie, woo, beg, pretend, spin, deceive, tell a whopper. So what if the actual congregation is not quite what is advertised? So what if the pressure is now on to produce the goods? We’re trying to see ourselves in a way that others will find appealing. This is fine with cars or Jacuzzis, but not with churches. I know it makes a cool brochure, but that’s not the point.
The Gospel is not about how wonderful the church is or how dynamic the pastor is or how friendly the people are. If that is all true, word will get out, trust me. If you have to put it on a billboard or an ad or video, it’s spin. And the Gospel isn’t spin about us. It’s a straightforward proclamation about Christ. Remember? “For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. For we never came with words of flattery…” (I Thessalonians 2:3-5)
When people are told that the church has all the benefits of a store or a club or a product, they are not hearing the message of sinners saved by grace through faith, not are they being prepared to hear it in a real community of fallen people gathered around the cross. They are hearing the crafted ploy of exaggeration, and sooner or later they will figure it out. The pastor may be a whiz, but he won’t visit grandma in the hospital. The church may have a heart for God, but nobody invited you over for dinner. The Spirit is moving in the services, but not you are remarkably similar to the person who walked in the door six months ago, problems and all. And that dynamic youth pastor ran off with some kid’s mom. Welcome to the real world.
I have a lot of people in self-imposed church exile who write to me, and I am beginning to believe that part of the problem is too many of them believed it. The ads. The hype. The spin. The video intro. The actual truth about people and the institutions they build may be disillusioning and embarrassing, but it’s important. It’s very important for those of us who worship a God of truth to put the focus on Him and His Gospel instead of our little parades.
I don’t want to see the church become a pop-up ad proclaiming instant weight loss from grapefruit pills. We aren’t there yet, but we are getting there fast. Its time to ask the image enthusiasts to spend some time keeping it real and a little less time tinkering with the graphics on the projection system.
I believe it was Job who said “Please be quiet! That’s the smartest thing you could do.” (Job 13:5)