How the Seeker-Sensitive, Consumer Church Is Failing a Generation

by Dorothy Greco, Christianity Today Guest  Writer

I found this in the Women’s Section of an August 2013 issue of CT Magazine. I’m not sure exactly how I came across it, maybe one of those Facebook  ‘Suggested Posts’. I’m also not sure why it ended up in the Women’s Section – maybe because a woman wrote it? While I’m not a great fan of Christianity Today (some call it ‘Christianity Astray’, and for good reason), but it’s a good read and as significant  nowas it was five years ago. Enjoy.

How the Seeker-Sensitive, Consumer Church Is Failing a Generation

 

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The millennial generation’s much-talked-about departure from church might lead those of us over 30 to conclude that they have little interest in Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, their spiritual coming of age has coincided with many Protestant pastors relying on a consumer business model to grow and sustain their churches. This template for doing church and the millennials’ hunger for authenticity has caused an ideological collision.

Seeker-sensitive services originally promised to woo post-moderns back into the fold. Out the stained glass window went the somewhat formal 45-minute exegetical sermon, replaced by a shorter, story-based talk to address the “felt needs” of the congregants while reinforcing the premise that following Jesus would dramatically improve their quality of life.

Contemporary worship had already found its way into the mainstream, but their new model nudged the church further toward a rock-concert feel. Finally, programs proliferated, with programs for nearly every demographic, from Mothers of Preschoolers to Red Glove Motorcycle Riders.

None of these changes were pernicious or even poorly intentioned. In the case of my previous church, choosing the seeker model began innocently. The staff endeavored to create a wide on-ramp for folks who might ordinarily bypass the sanctuary in favor of Starbucks. (As an incentive, we provided fair-trade coffee and bagels each week.) Trained not to assume that everyone was on the same page politically or spiritually, we sought to have friendly, nuanced conversations with visitors.

Being aware of those who come through the doors of any organization is a good thing. I have walked out of many services without a single person engaging with me. However, many churches gradually, and perhaps unwittingly, transitioned from being appropriately sensitive to the needs of their congregants to becoming–if you’ll permit some pop-psychologizing–co-dependent with them.

What does co-dependence look like within a church? Avoiding sections of Scripture out of fear that certain power pockets will be offended. Believing that repeat attendance depends primarily upon the staff’s seamless execution of Sunday morning–rather than the manifest presence of God. Eliminating doleful songs from the worship repertoire because they might contradict the through line that “following Jesus is all gain.”

Jesus was neither a co-dependent nor a businessman. He unashamedly loved those on the margins and revealed himself to all who were searching. He seemed quite indifferent about whether or not he disappointed the power brokers. Additionally, Jesus understood that the irreducible gospel message—that we are all sinners in need of being saved—was, and always will be, offensive. No brilliant marketing campaign could ever repackage it.

I have been following after Jesus for more than three decades and the gospel still makes me bristle. Love those who publicly maligned me? Confess my sins to a friend? You’re kidding Jesus, aren’t you? Only he’s not kidding. Both his words and his life clearly demonstrate that to align ourselves with him means that we must be willing to forsake everything so that we might become more like him.

Rather than helping congregants in this endeavor, churches that bend into their mercurial whims foster a me-first mentality. This actually plays into one of the potential root sins of this generation: self-absorption. While it’s all too easy for those of us over the age of 30 to poke fun at their selfie antics, I think young Christians actually want the church to help them reign in their narcissism. Writer Aleah Marsden told me, “We definitely want to see Jesus at the center because the rest of the world keeps shouting that we’re the center. We don’t need the church to echo the world.”

As they clamor for a communion supper with the best wine and freshly baked bread, the seeker-sensitive, consumer model has offered them treacly grape juice and dry cracker pieces, leaving them unsatisfied and frustrated. In an article about college students who turned from Christianity to atheism, Larry Alex Taunton wrote:

Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it… These students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable.

Based on the dissonance between Sunday morning and the other six and a half days of the week, it would seem that many of us have passively acclimated to a faith that demands very little of us. Perhaps millennials’ dissatisfaction with and departure from the church will motivate all of us to opt for more integrity and authenticity.

On a practical level, that will require them to remain faithful to the bride and to commit to love and forgive the church despite her many imperfections and failures. One 20-something, lifelong believer nailed this dilemma; “I believe our greatest desire and hunger is to find a cause worth committing to, yet we’re a commitment phobic generation.”

The body of Christ, though broken, is a cause worthy of our devotion and commitment. But that inherent worth does not exempt her from making much needed course adjustments.

Millennials’ intolerance of hypocrisy necessitates that those of us in leadership do more than preach about values that this demographic holds dear. According to Parkview Community Church pastor Ray Kollbocker, this demographic “wants Christianity to be more than information. They want to see how Christianity actually changes the world not just talk about the change.” A church which claims to value diversity and equality needs to do more than promote white males and refer to all humanity with a masculine pronoun. Because millennials have such an intense hunger for transparent relationships and truth, churches could foster intergenerational mentoring within their communities rather than depending upon the more impersonal leadership classes.

Finally, those who preach will serve everyone by exploring troubling sections of the Bible rather than pretending they don’t exist. Mercy Vineyard pastor Jeff Heidkamp explains his strategy: “If there is a part of a Bible passage I’m preaching that simply baffles me, such as why God allows the devil to torture Job, I will say what it is I don’t understand.” Such humility invites dialogue and exploration rather than dogmatically closing the door on any questions.

If the Barna Group statistics are accurate, more than 8 million 20-somethings have given up on church or Christianity. Do their actions indicate a need for us to, as David Kinnaman suggests, “change our church structure, guided by the unchanging truths of Scripture to nurture their unique gifts and calling?” Or is their departure an invitation for all of us who consider ourselves Christians to prioritize transformation into the image of Christ, rather than going about business as usual? Or, could it possibly be both?

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Dorothy Littell Greco divides her time between writing, making photographs, pastoring, and keeping three teenage sons adequately fed. She lives and works in the Boston area and is a reluctant Patriots/Celtics/Bruins/Red Sox fan. You can check out more of her words and images at dorothygreco.com.

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Image Credit: Acoustic Dimensions / Flickr

Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the Bible – Part 2

The last post here at the Battle Cry was a video clip in which Todd Friel of Wretched Radio named names and shared direct quotations of prominent evangelical leaders. The video clip criticizes a movement while intentionally not criticizing evangelicals who have embraced elements of CRT.

Racism is Real

Let me emphasize right now that racism is real. Racism has been a problem since the fall of man and the entrance of sin into a world God declared “good – very good”. It permeates every society and culture on the planet in one way or another

What is Critical Race Theory?

In short, CRT looks at nearly every facet of our society through a ‘racial’ lens. As one author states:

Critical Race Theory Calls for Permanent, Codified Racial Preferences

At the heart of Critical Race Theory lies the rejection of colorblind meritocracy. “Formal equality overlooks structural disadvantages and requires mere nondiscrimination or “equal treatment.”[1] Instead, Critical Race Theory calls for “aggressive, color conscious efforts to change the way things are.”[2] It contemplates, “race-conscious decision making as a routine, non-deviant mode, a more or less permanent norm”[3] to be used in distributing positions of wealth, prestige, and power.[4]

That’s just one characteristic of CRT, perhaps the main one leading to many other characteristics and eventual outcomes at all levels of our society. This post is not intended to be a discussion of CRT. Rather, it asks a different question.

How should blood washed members of the body of Christ, and the church, behave?

Should the church behave like the society around us, and contemplate “race-conscious decision making as a routine, non-deviant mode, a more or less permanent norm?”. If we believe the words of prominent evangelicals (watch the video clip), it could seem like we are.

What does the Bible say about us?

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-22)

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4:1-6)

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.” (Col 3:11)

so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom 12:5)

Does racism exist? Yes. It is born in the heart of sinful men. CRT would have us believe that ‘inanimate’ entities and institutions are racist (but just certain ones). As with any evil, racism begins in the hearts of the sinful human beings who make up entities and institutions. They key to lasting change is found in Christ, and only in Christ,  with the radical transformation of the human heart into the likeness of our Savior.

Does racism exist in the hearts and minds of professing believers? Only to the extent that the sin of racism has not been conquered in Christ. When racism raises its ugly head in the life of a believer, it must be confessed and repented of before a Holy God, and when appropriate, before those whom we have wronged.

What we, as individuals and as the church, do NOT need to do is behave like the society and culture around us, when the behavior of our society and culture contradicts what the Bible clearly states and teaches.

We should be shining examples of how things should be, not the way they are.

For further reading, should be interested:

Racism, Justified: A Critical Look at Critical Race Theory (Highly recommended)

What is Critical Race Theory?

Critical Race Theory, RTS, and SBTS

Critical race theory – Wikipedia

Repackaged Lies – ‘Christian’ Meditation, Part I

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I have no idea if you’ve seen ads on Facebook like the one above, but I’ve been getting them for a few weeks now. They are pretty slick. They offer something that sounds great, not enough information for you to make an informed decision, and a link to a ‘get started’ page. The only way to find out more is to sign up for a ‘free’ introductory course.

There are others just like this one, selling other ‘Christian’ courses. One thing common to most, if not all of these ads is an ability to comment until you say something critical about their false teaching and whatever they’re selling and then you might find yourself banned from making any more comments. That’s happened to me on several of similar ads about ‘Christian’ meditation.

So as not to be branded an uniformed idiot by some who love this sort of ‘Christian’ meditation, I actually signed up for the introductory 7 free sessions. I had a ‘gut’ feeling that this would just be another offering of Eastern meditation dressed up in ‘Christian’ garb. I wasn’t disappointed. And I actually painstakingly listened to the entire first session and transcribed every word of the narration.

But before I launch into the contents of Session 1, I thought I’d provide you with some of the actual content of the Web site.

The founder of Meditate on Christ is one Dean Davis:

Dean’s personal journey into Christian contemplation and meditation began over 6 years ago and was an important part of overcoming the depression caused by the sudden and untimely loss of his Father in 2010. Wanting to contribute something to Christians everywhere he started Meditate On Christ in 2015.”

What they believe:

“We believe that meditation and listening to God has become a lost art. We believe that while secular mediation has some benefit, Christian meditation is far more powerful due to the fact that we are communicating with, and submitting to, the Almighty God of the Bible

The Mission Statement:

“…to bring powerful meditations and prayers to Christians seeking God to enrich their lives and assist them in knowing Christ.”

The Promises:

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Why not just do secular meditation?

“Well there’s many benefits to it (secular meditation) for sure… but what’s missing is the ever present reality of God. By acknowledging the Holy Spirit in your meditation it moves into a spiritual practice that is life changing. There’s a good reason that the great Christian figures of history, such as the mystics, monks, nuns, etc spent so much time in prayer and meditation. It just plain works!”

Theology of Meditation (TheBait):

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The Hook:

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The Testimonials:

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The cost:

The 7 introductory lessons are free! These lessons include a 10 minute session. The ‘advanced’ lessons (don’t you want to be an ‘advanced’ learner?) have longer sessions available (15, 20, 25, 30 min), for a price, of course.

(Drum roll please. . .)

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(Drum roll please. . .)

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Notice the appeal to “Get the Full ‘meditate On Christ’ Experience”. This ad, and all of the others like it, appeal to feelings and experiences, just like a myriad of secular ads we see every day that appeal to our senses. I’ve seen a lot of them, and you have too.

Well, that’s enough for Part I. Check back in a couple of days for Part II, the transcript of the entire first session.

“This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!”

This is a good article from US Chronicle:

“This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!” : College President Writes Scathing Letter About Students Wanting To Play The Victim And Blame Others

The President of Oklahoma Wesleyan University gave a lecture to students they’ll never forget.  Recently a student complained about a sermon that made him feel guilty and blamed the school for making students feel uncomfortable.  This is not uncommon.  Many universities now are so afraid of offending even one student, that political correctness has run amuck.  However, this University is based on religion and so one would expect that discipline, good character and personal accountability would be a big part of the curriculum.

Everett Piper, who is the President of the school, wrote a letter to the students admonishing them that playing the victim, blaming others and not admitting mistakes is not a way to live a productive and meaningful life.  Here is the letter titled “This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!”

This is Not a Day Care. It’s a University!

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love. In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic. Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims. Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

I have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience. An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad. It is supposed to make you feel guilty. The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization.

So here’s my advice:

If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.

At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up.

This is not a day care. This is a university.

source okwu.edu

All you have to do is look around at the expensive phones, video games, clothes, computers and anything else high tech to see how spoiled kids are.  Just because parents have the money to purchase anything their child’s heart desires, does not mean they should give it to them.  A child may want to play with a sharp knife from the kitchen but despite their crying, you aren’t going to let them have it.  You know they will hurt themselves.

All these expensive things they want may seem harmless now.  But wait until they get older and want bigger and more expensive things.  Things the parents can’t afford or will go into massive debt to buy.  The child who has now grown into a young adult is befuddled that the world is not a receptacle for anything they want.

What some parents don’t understand is it’s not that the gift is wrong or bad (although sometimes it is), it’s the lesson of teaching them something valuable.  That life is not always fair.  You don’t always get what you want.  And most of the time, you need to work for what you want.  Work in itself teaches us teamwork, verbal and written communication skills, being responsible, following rules and knowing how to behave in different environments.  It also motivates us to purchase meaningful things like a car, insurance, a home, or raise a family.

Parents need to remember that they will not always be there to catch their children when they stumble and fall.  It is great to be encouraging but they also need to learn to pick themselves up and keep going.  However will a child find their dreams if there is always someone there to prevent them from learning the lessons.

Source : okwu.edu

Source : Washington Post

Source : NBC News

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What came to mind reading it was the number of ‘churches’ who no longer mention sin or repentance so the ‘seekers’ in the seats won’t feel guilty! – Dan

What if there’s a power outage at Hillsong?

. . .or any other ‘church’ where the big attraction is the music?

Think about that for a minute. I know Christians who choose a church based on how much they like the ‘worship’ music, and I’m sure you do also. But what if the power went out and there were no more electric instruments, lights, smoke, etc.? All we would have left are lyrics.

If all we have left are the lyrics, would we ‘feel’ the Spirit come down, or is all that excitement generated from the stage and those great ‘worship’ feelings pretty much the same as a good U2 concert (name your band)? Is today’s ‘worship’ more about us than God?

And if all we have are the lyrics, what are they saying and teaching? Something to think about.

Fighting For The Faith discussed that very thing – lyrics – this last week titled “Heresy Hiding in Plain Sight” .

Enjoy, or not. The segment discusses some of the lyrics to specific worship songs from Hillsong. Protect your toes.

A Saturday Morning Rant?

Early in the AM, at least 6 days a week, I cycle 10 miles in an indoor exercise machine. I’m able to average 15 MPH with hills and at the same time catch up on news, email, Facebook and WordPress stuff.

This morning on Facebook I was greeted with one of those posts I have really grown to dislike. We’ve all received them. You know the ones that try and ‘guilt’ you into ‘sharing’ the post? I don’t much care for any of them, but some are more grievous to me than others. Those are the ones posted by Christians like the one I was this morning. It was a picture of a Jesus (a worthy of Hollywood handsome type) wearing a brown cloak with a hood. The text was “I bet you won’t share this because you’re embarrassed to have Jesus on your wall”.

At first I became angry, but then I tried to analyze my harsh feelings. A few things came to mind.

1. The picture wasn’t Jesus! It was nothing more than a picture of what someone wanted to pass as off as the Christ of Scripture. Enough said.

2. I would never try and ‘guilt’ people over their faith. Faith in serious business, a matter of life and death, you might say. At the same time, professing believers keeping their faith private for whatever reason is, I think very problematic.

3. I think the practice of ‘guilting’ people into sharing a picture of Jesus, Bible verse, etc. really cheapens the message of of the Gospel.

4. I wonder how many of those who use this tactic and think they are sharing Jesus actually share the gospel face to face instead of on Facebook. That we are constantly surrounded by the lost and dying comes to mind.

5. At the same time what I am NOT ashamed of is the Gospel. You know, the genuine Gospel that Christ died for our SIN!

Food for thought. . .