By Rick Jones
He has attended our church on and off for several months and this morning he called to offer some friendly advice:
“Pastor, you need to get up with the times and preach a more positive message…You need to lighten up…you should just pray and help people to think good thoughts…most people are going to heaven they just need encouragement…you’d be more popular.”
His call was not well timed. I had just been reading A.W. Tozer’s warning to the Church. “Modern preaching does not deal with a genuine call to repentance from sin and a separation from the world to the cross of Christ.”
Literally minutes before he called I had re-read the words of Catherine Booth, “Popular Christianity is a misnomer. Neither Christ nor his work has ever been popular. When it becomes popular it ceases to be Christian.”
So, on the one hand I was being encouraged by a friend to “get up with the times” so that the church would be more popular. On the other hand I was being reminded that popularity is antithetical to Christianity.
Observers of Evangelicalism are reporting that mega-churches are growing. They also are alarmed that American church attendance is falling. For the first time in our nation’s history, those attending services on an average weekend will number less than 20% of the population. (See Christianity Today, “Christianity in Crisis.”)
The mega-churches have learned how to market the church, how to manage the church, and how to make their messages “relevant.” But they are not producing mega-spiritual results. The more they have chased after relevance to the culture, the less relevant they have become to Christ. They have unwittingly embraced a humanistic gospel that seeks to make men happy to the neglect of making men holy.
One pastor recently admitted that after spending millions of dollars in programming and marketing their message to “seekers,” they have failed in their mission to produce fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
What is our goal? Is it popularity or is it Pentecost? Is it influence with men, or power from God? Is it affluence, or is it the riches of Grace?
In reflecting on the state of contemporary Christianity, I have found myself asking God to reveal the Truth about our worship.
1. Is our worship spirit-ed or spiritual? Spiritual worship is ordered by the Holy Spirit and inspires holy love that results in holy lives.
2. Is our philosophy of ministry geared to “fit in” or to “stand out?” Are we trying to look, sound, and act as worldly as possible to attract a crowd, or are we trying to separate ourselves from the love of the world in honor of our coming groom—the Lord Jesus Christ?
3. Does our music call attention to the musician or to the Master? Is our music geared to entertain, or does it inspire virtuous living and Scriptural thinking? Does our music, and our presentation of it, appeal to the carnal nature or to the spiritual man?
4. Do we depend more on our technology to “wow,” than we do on the majesty of God’s presence to “Woe!” Remember Isaiah’s reaction when he stood in the presence of God? “Woe is me for I am undone.” (Isaiah 6)
5. Does our preaching bring comfort more than conviction? Are our messages burning in our souls and bathed in fervent prayer and fasting, or are they simply adaptations of the latest greatest evangelical book hot off the press? Are we more likely to say, “Thus saith Rick Warren, or Max Lucado or Joel Osteen, or some other popular author” than we are to say, “Thus saith the Lord?”
6. Are we producing Christian spectators or Christ-like participants? If the ministry is fulfilling its God-given assignment, it will “perfect the saints for the work of the ministry.” Ephesians 4:12.
7. Is our Christianity self-absorbed or does it move converts to “turn the world upside down?” Are we producing pray-ers or play-ers? Are we “me” oriented or mission minded? Are we, like our Lord, “moved with compassion” when we see the multitudes scattered abroad like sheep having no shepherd?
8. Are we giving to get from God or are we giving to Glorify God? Do we give incidentally or do we give sacrificially? Do we tip or do we tithe? Do we give to be loved or do we love to give? Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21)
9. Do we seek to justify our sins or are we seeking to be justified (made righteous) from all sin?
Do we love sin or do we hate even the garment spotted by the flesh? (Jude 23). Do we desire to sin, or do we desire to be sanctified wholly?
10. Is the accent of our ministry on this world, or is it on the world which is to come? C. S. Lewis says that those who are the most heavenly minded are the most earthly good.
On the day that Jesus announced there would be no more free fish suppers so many of his followers left, that Jesus turned to the disciples and asked, “Will ye also go away?” (John 6:66)
As it was in the first century, so it is in the twenty-first century. Jesus is still asking his followers, “Will ye also go away?” Sadly many have.
But we agree with Peter, “Lord to whom shall we go, thou hast the words of eternal life!”
With the songwriter we have decided to follow Jesus! “Though none go with us, still we will follow! No turning back. No turning back!”