“Awesome…” “Passion…” “Unique…” “Radical…” “Relevant…” “Missional…” “Life Changing…” “Transforming…” “Growing…” “Life-equipping…” “Living-Your-Purpose…”
Is anyone else tired of Church hype? Above are a scattering of words picked out from some church websites. Judging from each page you’d think that these churches are individually ushering in the second coming of Christ. Is anyone else growing weary?
A couple months ago in a post entitled “The Awesome Church,” Pastor Vermon Pierre observed that, “many churches (myself included) have fallen prey to a culture that encourages us to constantly promote and market ourselves in grandiose ways.”
Ultimately, when it comes to this self-promotion, I’m concerned with its effect. How does the use of such inflated superlatives mingle with our actual lives? When it comes down to it, I believe all this “radical-speak” (for lack of a better term) results in three things: exhaustion, hypocrisy, and a false witness.
As I mentioned before, I’m exhausted and I don’t think I’m alone. As a father of a 1 and 4 year old this is simply my default setting at the moment, but in talking with others the reality doesn’t seem to change. I think of a mother who juggles the pressures of a demanding job, a mentally ill child and husband, an aging mother, and a nasty sense of guilt for resenting it all. She comes to church on Sunday and what does she receive: more things to do. Now not only does she have to juggle these life and death issues, she has to be more radical (which usually means more service hours with a “ministry” at the church). My old professor Paul Zahl said it best:
“The law, the stress of live driving you to a breakdown, reduces you to a walking questions mark. The question is answered, amazingly, by God’s one-way love. Grace changes everything. You then enter some form of church or community. At this point, the iron curtain of the law comes down. You are told you need to be ‘discipled’ or ‘mentored’ or ‘coached': held ‘accountable.’ Sermons contain lists of things to do, ‘disciplines’ to take up, a ‘Christian worldview’ to embrace. The law is reimposed… Once saved, in other words, people are on their own again, to work and prove.”
The result of all this is exhaustion and burn out. We can’t live up to the Law’s standards. That’s why we became Christians. So why do we shame ourselves with more “radical” standards when we convert? The amount of people I’ve seen burnt out by the hype is saddening to say the least.
In his book, “Good News for Anxious Christians,” author Phillip Cary spends a chapter tackling the issue of application based sermons. Eventually he gets to talking about the “application trap” which is relevant to what this post is trying to say. He writes:
The “application” part of the sermon works by making people anxious about whether they’re living the way ‘we as Christians’ are suppose to live to… It’s a trap. Either you believe that stuff about yourself, which makes you self-righteous, or you don’t, which makes you anxious. Either way you’re stuck.”
I think the same could be said about all the “radical speak” we hear today. Either we believe it’s true about our lives, which makes us a self-righteous hypocrite, or we don’t which makes us anxious/exhausted. We’ve already talked about the ladder, but the hypocrisy is just as rampant.
Now, when I say hypocrisy, I’m not speaking of the Pharisaical type in the Bible that thanks God for not being a sinner, but rather I’m speaking of the subtle kind that lies to others and itself about the true nature of its heart. Every time you’ve come to church in the morning and have felt the need to put on a facade, that’s what I’m talking about . Every time you’ve sighed when you heard of another brother/sister who chose unwisely, that’s this kind of hypocrisy.
The final one is related to the first two. When a bunch of exhausted people act as if everything is radical, relevant, missional, transformative, growing, passionate, and awesome; they’re not bearing witness to the way things actually are and thus they are lying to a watching world.
Bonhoeffer writes, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this.” What he means by this is that the church came into existence solely because of what Jesus has done (through Jesus Christ) and continues to exist by solely returning to what Jesus has done (in Jesus Christ). Digging a little deeper Bonhoeffer explains:
“The community of Christians springs solely from the Biblical and Reformation message of justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.”
I believe this is also the basis for our witness and when we point people to our radical, relevant, missional, tranformative, growing, passionate, and awesome communities we’re pointing them away from Christ and toward a lie.
When it comes down to it that’s really the problem with all this self-promotion, hype, and radical-speak. It takes the attention off of Jesus and proclaiming him to the nations and back to us and our radical devotion. It re-curves us back in on ourselves and we become exhausted hypocrites with a failed witness.
The remedy for this, (surprise, surprise) is pointing people to the Gospel message. Again, Cary is instructive here:
“The gospel is not a theory to apply; it’s a story to believe. It is good news that gladdens the heart, and it changes our hearts precisely by giving us something to be glad about–something we embrace by faith alone, not by doing something about it… Love feeds on news of the Beloved. That’s how to reach people’s hearts… Preaching the gospel gets us looking at Christ and finding ourselves in his story, rather than looking at ourselves and trying to find Christ in our lives.”
So simply put, let’s get out of the hype game. We’re tired of it anyways. Let’s rather be ordinary and point to the One who is extraordinary.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer “Life Together“
Phillip Cary “Good News for Anxious Christians“
Vermon Pierre “The Awesome Church“
Tullian Tchividjian “One-way Love“
Paul Zahl “Grace in Practice“