Near my home is a church with traffic directors wearing orange vests who guide cars into the parking lot where additional parking attendants direct people where to park. You’re probably thinking I’m referring to the local mega-church with thousands of weekend attenders. Actually, this is a church start-up that has been in existence for less than a year, and on any given Sunday, has about three or four dozen cars in its lot. With plenty of parking spots and little change in attendance from week to week, I have pondered what’s going on in this church and others that follow a similar approach.
Similarly, during a recent ministry trip to Florida, I accompanied a friend to church—one that had several services and probably needed a parking attendant or two. My problem wasn’t so much with the message but with the entire service which came across as a bit contrived, scripted, and even plastic. After the service ended, still sitting in my cushy seat considering what I’d just experienced, I flipped through the tourist brochure—I mean church bulletin—identifying 50 programs (not exaggerating) people could join. Rather than inspiring me, it made my head spin. Last week, my friend called me and shared that his family is looking for a new church. I’m not surprised.
Passing over many underwhelming experiences—I’m guessing many of you could share stories like these as well—I wonder how many churches are willing to unashamedly present the truth regardless of how many people come back. Will our leaders challenge their flocks to do anything that requires sacrifice or courageous faith? Will those on the platform say anything that may not be embraced by everyone within earshot or listening to the live stream? If not, are our local churches anything more than entertainment centers trying to get people to come back next weekend?
Jesus, Paul, and Peter were not driven by popularity. While they did minister to large crowds from time to time, it was because they declared the truth and the presence and power of God was active—not because of marketing techniques and gimmicks. Their goal was not to affirm their listeners in their complacency by delivering interesting and agreeable messages, but to call them out of worldliness, follow the living God, and impact those around them.
In Peter’s most famous sermon—what we would refer to as a “stadium event”— he explained to those listening that they were responsible for crucifying Jesus, told them to repent, and exhorted them to save themselves from “this perverse generation” (Acts 2:36–40). Did you catch the tone? By today’s standards this is anything but a seeker friendly message. While the results were astounding, Peter was apparently not concerned about who may or may not return for his next sermon.
Incidentally, was Peter’s generation any more perverted or evil than ours?
As vital as it is to see the truth proclaimed regardless of our popularity, I believe there is much more at stake when we consider the bigger picture. In summary, there is significant rebellion toward God throughout the earth today. To be a Christian—whether a leader or not—and to say nothing is to align ourselves more with the problem than the solution. Let me explain . . .
Willem Ten Boom, a Dutch pastor in the 1930’s, tried to awaken his listeners to a biblical understanding of Europe’s instability and the rise of a new dictator, Adolph Hitler. Rather than responding to his messages with faith-filled action, one church after another decided to replace him with someone else until he found himself directing a nursing home. Upon German occupation of his country, because of his foresight and convictions, he was ready to help as many Jews find safety as possible. Eventually, he was imprisoned with his sister, Corrie Ten Boom, the author of The Hiding Place. How different it could have been for many believers in Holland, and maybe Holland itself, had Willem’s message been taken to heart by the church before it was too late.
Similarly, Chinese pastors in a conversation with Corrie Ten Boom years later, admitted their mistaken perspective before China was violently overtaken by Chairman Mao and communism. These pastors openly regretted not preparing their congregations for the difficulty ahead. Their weekly sermons before these devastating changes occurred were similar to what I often hear today: “God is a loving God and won’t allow us to suffer,” and “Christians will be raptured before anything difficult happens.”
If this is true, why are godly Christians persecuted today around the world in many countries, including Sri Lanka, India, China, Indonesia, various African nations, Europe, and the Middle East? Are American Christians of a special class that are somehow exempt from trouble—personal and national? And why did so many godly Christians in the Bible suffer for their beliefs? For that matter, why did Jesus warn His followers that suffering is part of the calling (Luke 14:26–27; John 15:18–21)?
Peter gives us the proper response to be embraced by Christians in every culture: “Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Pet. 4:1–2, italics added).
In order to shift from entertainment centers to a cultural force, the church must not only find its voice in preparing its people for difficulty but must also speak into the issues of the day—the very issues that will decide our nation’s outcome. Will we present Jesus’ exclusive truth claims to all who will listen, God’s purposes for sexuality between one man and one woman; His creation of males and females; the evil underbelly of globalism; God’s role as judge over individuals and nations; and the sanctity of life?
Until we find our voice on so many issues broadcasted within the culture, we can anticipate the continued evolution of churches into entertainment centers. How can the church be a house of God, which implies that God Himself is present and active, if God’s voice cannot be heard among His people?