Entertaining preaching

I’m grateful for Bret Johnson, pastor of Valley Bible Church in Radford, sharing this quote with me. It’s taken from a book by John Piper, Counted Righteous in Christ and was quoted in a book by Mark Dever called Preach: Theology Meets Practice.

The older I get, the less impressed I am with flashy successes and enthusiasms that are not truth-based. Everybody knows that with the right personality, the right music, the right location, and the right schedule you can grow a church without anybody really knowing what doctrinal commitments sustain it, if any. Church-planting specialists generally downplay biblical doctrine in the core values of what makes a church “successful”. The long-term effect of this ethos is a weakening of the church that is concealed as long as the crowds are large, the band is loud, the tragedies are few, and persecution is still at the level of preferences.

But more and more this doctrinally-diluted brew of music, drama, life-tips, and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world – not to mention the next. It tastes like watered-down gruel, not a nourishing meal. It simply isn’t serious enough. It’s too playful and chatty and causal. Its joy just doesn’t feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted. The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can’t help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal. So it seems to me that the trifling with silly little sketches and breezy welcome-to-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.

Of course, it works. Sort of. Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people’s impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and what might open the depths of God to their souls. The design is noble. Silliness is a stepping-stone to substance. But it’s an odd path. And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity. So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high. More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view. I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel of entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decades. Crises reveal the cracks.

How does this quote resonate or react with you?

It reminded me of this disturbing prophecy by the apostle Paul:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 ESV)

Don’t make waves

I’m a pastor. I’m grateful to serve the Lord by serving His people. Deeply.

Somewhere along the way, and at different seasons, it’s easy for folks like me to get confused about whose church we lead. There’s a subtle temptation, often encouraged in denominational circles or ministry networks, to “grow your church.” Like it’s even up to us.

Sure, I shouldn’t dress up as the Statue of Liberty and wave at passing cars to convince pagans to like God. Another thing I shouldn’t do is predict the end of the world and be wrong a lot. I probably shouldn’t invite Borat to speak at our church. Or even wear skinny jeans. I want people to come back.

I know that there’s things I shouldn’t do and things I should that can lead to people thinking positively or negatively about the church I help lead. But I really don’t think that I’m in charge of getting people to take the next step for God. That’s up to Him. I am to be obedient and faithful to His teachings and encourage the people in our church to do the same. When we follow Him in love, He does big things through us.

When the emphasis is on us instead of Him, we get tempted to attract and bring folks into our churches. Flashy things. Most of them just make the church of Jesus sound trite. If you advertise programs or styles to attract people, you’ll constantly need to “keep up with the Joneses” to keep the folks who’ve come for those things. It’s a constant battle to offer people things other than the simple message of the Gospel. It’s a good rule of thumb that what you use to attract people will only have to improve in order to keep them. If you used a big event, you’ll have to do a bigger one next year to top it.

As a pastor, I want to get better about simply being simple. I don’t want to “make waves.” I want to ride them. To quit trying to make a splash and just get wet. I want to avoid the danger of trying to do big things for God rather than just following Him and responding to the big things He’s already doing.

Networking and humility

Yesterday, I had the joy of being a part of a meeting with pastors from around the region who are interested in planting new churches. It’s hard to quash enthusiasm when the compelling vision is sharing the soul-quenching news of forgiveness with those who do not relish a relationship with God through Christ.

Also yesterday, I had the great pleasure of connecting with two pastors in Radford, VA and one in Christiansburg. Of the Radford pastors, Bret Johnson leads a newish church – Valley Bible Church, and Chris McCrary’s *brand new* church officially launches this Sunday – Love Church. I connected with Chris at Starbucks before meeting with with the Southern Baptist regional pastors. (Chris would want me to clarify that he’s not a part of the SBC.) I met Bret that evening after he shared about “The Church” at Virginia Tech’s Cru worship gathering. Tim Hight is the pastor at GraceLife Baptist Church in Christiansburg. Our daughters are the same age and have played Upward Basketball together.

Although neither Bret nor Chris are part of my church’s tribe of Southern Baptists, that’s pretty irrelevant to me when I encounter men who are joyfully and genuinely serving and introducing others to Jesus. One of the hopes that our church has is to network with other churches with similar ministry DNA and who clearly see benefits behind cooperative effort.

One significant requirement for leaders who wish to see a movement of God in their geographic area is one of the hardest to attain. It’s humility. Any attempt to “own” or force a work of God ultimately falls short. We’re not in charge.

Scott McKnight says:

Humility, I am suggesting, is a comprehension of who we are before God and before self and before others and before the world. When we know who we are before God, self, others, and the world, we are humble — and part of that comprehension is our cracked-ness. But, focusing on our cracks does not inevitably produce humility. Humility is a positive; sinfulness is a negative. We need to move beyond the negative to the positive if we are to have humility.

Humility is noted by joy, and graciousness, and love, and honor and the like.

It’s discomforting to me to constantly discover within undercurrents of self-satisfaction. They are dangerous to the soul that should be rooted in Christ. These undertows are more powerful than we realize, because in a moment, we can be sucked out to the sea of self-consummation.

That’s why networking and genuine friendships in ministry are essential. I truly believe it’s urgently important for pastors to cultivate open, honest relationships with leaders outside their church. We need one another. As we share, celebrate and whine together with other leaders, we are reminded that the Church is His and not ours.

What is possible when the people of God humble themselves and seek His face is beyond estimation.