Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meaningful Church

There are many faithful ministers with whom I talk, who bemoan the lack of substance seen in what I call 'the 21st Century Church'. There seems to be an uncomfortable focus on entertainment and escapism. Many sermons stop just short of being mass counseling sessions or not much more than motivational speeches. In any good message one can find some of these elements, but far too much of what is being exhibited today is predominated by an apparent emphasis on making the worshiper 'feel good' about themselves, vs. challenging believers to change and become agents of redemptive change in the world.

I need to be very careful to say this isn't every church. And churches the likes of which I speak have always existed. But television, the Internet and a general culture of consumerism have led to a compromise of many a congregations commitment to spiritual maturity, service and concern for the poor.

Lest you think that I'm the only one who feels sees this, United Church of Christ minister, G. Jeffery MacDonald speaks to just this issue in a New York Times op-ed piece.

"The trend toward consumer-driven religion has been gaining momentum for half a century. Consider that in 1955 only 15 percent of Americans said they no longer adhered to the faith of their childhood, according to a Gallup poll. By 2008, 44 percent had switched their religious affiliation at least once, or dropped it altogether, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found. Americans now sample, dabble and move on when a religious leader fails to satisfy for any reason."

"In this transformation, clergy have seen their job descriptions rewritten. They’re no longer expected to offer moral counsel in pastoral care sessions or to deliver sermons that make the comfortable uneasy. Church leaders who continue such ministerial traditions pay dearly. A few years ago, thousands of parishioners quit Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., and Community Church of Joy in Glendale, Ariz., when their respective preachers refused to bless the congregations’ preferred political agendas and consumerist lifestyles."

"I have faced similar pressures myself. In the early 2000s, the advisory committee of my small congregation in Massachusetts told me to keep my sermons to 10 minutes, tell funny stories and leave people feeling great about themselves. The unspoken message in such instructions is clear: give us the comforting, amusing fare we want or we’ll get our spiritual leadership from someone else."

You can read the entire essay here.

When I was a young boy in elementary school, I had a music teacher (in that day, music was a part of the public school curriculum). The teacher in that class took us to field trips to the symphony. She introduced us to Bach, Verdi, Chopin, Beethoven. She taught us tunes from classical musicals and Broadway show tunes. One day, fed up with this force feeding of culture, we complained that we didn't want to listen to that stuff anymore. We wanted James Brown, the Supremes, the Temptations (yes, this was awhile ago!), to which our music teacher wisely replied: 'You can get that stuff anywhere. You here it all week long. This is where you come to get something different'.

While there are some justified criticisms that all too often the church's message has come off as intolerant, unkind and unwelcoming, the answer is not to become so focused on 'seekers' that we lose sight of the mission of the Body of Christ.

The mission of the church is to provide an alternative culture challenging attitudes of selfishness, greed, materialism, bigotry, fear, complacency and individualism. That's a tough enough job. But we don't really hear a message like that anywhere else. If we don't hear it in church, where do we go?


Anonymous said...

"The mission of the church is to provide an alternative culture challenging attitudes of selfishness, greed, materialism, bigotry, fear, complacency and individualism." This is apparently more liberation theology at work

THIS IS NOT THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH. The mission of the church is the Great Commandment.

Gerald Britt said...

Only the most narrow definition of The Great Commandment would exclude what I have mentioned. The sinfulness of man is expressed by those characteristics and personal salvation means a Kingdom citizenship in which one is redeemed an transformed. I suggest you take time to read what Paul referred to as 'the whole counsel' of God vs. proof texting that justifies separating our social life from our spiritual life...

Anonymous said...

Well, an imposter was caught on camera today as he infiltrated a tea party rally.

I accept your apology for some of your comments of July 20.

Sorry, I got off the subject.

Cammie Novara said...
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