I think we’re all sick of being marketed to. You would think the Church in America would get this. You would think.
It used to be a joke that the megachurch down the road actually had on its staff a Pastor of Demographics. Now that leading megachurches such as the big daddy of them all, Willow Creek Community Church, have confessed that their entire philosophy is broken and does not produce the desired discipleship results, one would think that churches would get a clue and start moving toward something—anything—more real.
But one would be wrong.
There persists in contemporary churches a disdain for the purity of the simple truths of the Bible and the practices of the ancient Church. We have this business mentality that we like to apply to the way we express Christianity in America, and it taints everything we do.
Though we’re all sick of the slickness of the productions American churches feel they must continually flog, and we’re burned out on prepackaged faith “experiences,” we modern Christians can’t seem to break free of the crapola we force our meetings and practices to conform to. Instead, novelty and entertainment value still reign.
People are dying for authenticity, though. They don’t want to feel marketed to and manipulated. In times such as these, people not only want meaning, they need it for their sanity.
Yet the way we have structured our modern society produces alienation. In America, this is amplified by our national narrative of lauding free-thinkers who beat the system and did it their way without anyone else’s help.
Except the Church of Jesus is not based on being solitary iconoclasts. Ours is a community with with a deep-seated history and a narrative that includes powerful sources of meaning that shouldn’t be subject to constant reappraisal. In its experimentation with being cutting edge, today’s Western Church has purposefully fled that history and abandoned its sources of meaning. That the rest of our culture has already done the same, to its obvious detriment and rot, doesn’t seem to register with church leaders.
The result is the cold, anonymous, sterile stage hall that is called a church building. Stripped of every element of iconography and meaning, it transmits nothing except chilling functionality.
Whereas the early Church celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ in a full course meal that foreshadows the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, we now receive a prepackaged communion unit consisting of a dose of artificial-tasting juice with a flavorless, plastic-enclosed wafer serving as the lid, the Body and Blood fully commodified and stripped of all meaning.
Worship consists of a stubble-faced young man who sings electronically amplified Top 40 songs about how lovely God is, his face twisted in a calculated, video-friendly ecstasy that more resembles passing a kidney stone.
Whereas we once sang from books that had been handled by generations, we now sing from projected images that must also move, the transience of their cascading imagery wiping away memory, even as the movement keeps us from being bored.
And our message of grace and the majesty of who Jesus is gets lost amid the trappings of fixing our existence so that our lives look like a success, even if we feel less and less like one.
Real human beings are out there wondering if anyone truly cares. What we give them instead are carefully constructed and programmed faith inoculations.
People are dying for the authentic. They don’t want an efficient church, but a real one.They want a Christianity that bleeds real blood and makes a difference in the lives of people, not just discussing doing so while it pursues other agendas.
No one talks about the emerging church anymore. That movement died because it became what it protested. And even though it was a functional failure, what the emerging church was fighting for remains a critical need.
People are sick and tired of how the Church in America is practicing the faith. We are burned out of the dog and pony show. Our cynical young people understand this, their cynicism in full fester because no one is listening to them, even when they flee the Church. They want genuine connection to what is lasting and worth preserving.
Making concessions to the world’s processes has failed to root us in a genuine faith; in fact, quite the opposite. Whatever roots we had have been dug up, moved from the forest, and transplanted into a styrofoam coffee cup in someone else’s spiritual trophy case. And that’s no way to live.
I don’t think the Church gets this. It doesn’t see how shallow it has become. It doesn’t value what is real. It doesn’t have any idea what people truly need. Oh, it thinks it knows because its leaders read the latest bestseller on how to grow a church, but that million dollar advice in a $20 tome could not be farther from what is truly needed.
Honestly, I think I’m at the point of giving up. No one listens to those crying, “Danger!” No, instead well-meaning people craft a vision that has no basis in the redemptive narrative that is the Gospel. We have instead found our redemption in what the world says is hip and cool, and we dance to that hypnotic tune, oblivious to a world engaged in a desperate search for what is lasting, meaningful, and justifying.