The Calamitous Results of Contemporary Church
I am fully aware of the derision that will come upon me for verbalizing what many people are thinking about the effects of contemporary church services. Say what they will, I challenge them to refute the premise upon which I write. My "alligator skin" is in good shape and while I don't enjoy being attacked, what I am going to say is in desperate need of being said.
The subject of this little treatise is so vast that one hardly knows where to begin. Those of us who have lived all our lives as Southern Baptists find that in the last thirty years we have entered a strange world. Things have shifted to the point that content we could never have imagined taking part in our church services are now the "cool" things to do. The Conservative Resurgence of the SBC has basically been jettisoned. Those of us who were directly involved in the battles to return our convention to the proper Biblical stances on theology, trust in the inerrancy of the Bible, and common-sense approaches on critical issues now find that all that is secondary to a self-driven agenda. This agenda is focused on man's ability to make the church and its worship what he thinks it should be. Man has become the focus of our worship. Bragging rights are based on attendance (no matter what has been done to get the people to come) money, popularity of the preacher and how "cool" it all is. Followers on Twitter and Facebook are a critical issue; the more the merrier. And, I might add, both of those venues are totally self-oriented as if the whole world is vitally interested in what that "popular" preacher is doing and thinking at every moment.
It is not good for things to change so rapidly that people suddenly find that they have no place to worship because everywhere has followed the popular trends of the day and have changed things so quickly and completely that those who built the churches and paid for them for years find that they have been displaced. Preachers are marching to the drumbeat of destruction because they want to be cool and popular. Standards are jettisoned for a "whatever floats your boat" mentality. The power of rationalization leads pastors and people to adjust their feelings about what is God-honoring and what is not. The "our people like what we do" mentality is a dangerous approach to the worship of a Holy God.
Christians have lost the weighty realization of WHO and what they are dealing with when they attend worship. The understanding of holiness that Isaiah, Moses, Paul and John had is not in view except maybe by a very few. They trembled at the presence of God. They saw themselves as nothing; a worm. Such great men of God were concerned with whether they were going to please God or offend Him. Today, an environment has been created around worship which is not so concerned about His Holiness as we are about whether WE are pleased or not. Worship loses its power when we are the focus and God is just there because we need Him to be. Why should God meet with us when we are focused on ourselves and not Him? The same God is sitting on the same throne and holding the same opinions as He held during the days of the great biblical saints. He required things of them which pointed to His Holiness and separate nature. But today we are suppose to think that He is willing to let us do as we please in dealing with Him. Being in the 21st century has nothing to do with it because God is unchanging. His Holiness is unchanging. His requirements of us are not alterable.
In the last thirty years, worship has degenerated into entertainment and we have watched it as the center of worship has shifted from God to man. What makes one think that it has gone about as far as it will? Man is never satisfied and the power of rationalization is stronger than ever. The nature of man is that he has always got to go further the next time than he did before or he gets bored. Something new and exciting must be added to keep people interested and coming to the event. If the current trend continues what will worship be like in the next thirty years? Based on the recent past and what has been accepted into worship services, it won't be long before we have "pole dancing for Jesus" as a major draw in the most "popular" churches. Pulling the things of the world into the church to satisfy this generation is deadly.
Dead church services with terrible music, anemic preaching and no vision are not the way to go either (and we have an abundance of this) but there should be a balance reached which doesn't completely change the DNA of a church and the SBC at large. If one changes the DNA of any organism (and the Church is a spiritual organism) it will die or else never again function as it was intended to.
Each church has a different personality just like individuals do. Some churches will be large like a 230 pound man. Some will be a 180 pound individual and some smaller like a person who weighs 150 pounds. One's size is part of their genetic nature. Churches are much like that. Beginning thirty or so years ago, the idea was birthed and became popular that any church could be large if they did certain things. So, smaller churches tried adopting the methods of fellowships which found an environment in which the contemporary approach produced large groups very quickly. If they did this thing or that thing and if they looked a certain way and preached a certain way they would grow and be a mega-church. Most of those churches are finding out that what works in one place is not necessarily successful in their place. The large crowd and popularity of the church and preacher simply hasn't produced the desired results for them. They find that they have now changed the DNA of the church and they are stuck with it because some in the body will be attracted to such a level of worship. "Give the baby the candy" and you will find that it will be almost impossible to take it away without a fight. No one wants a fight so the church finds they are stuck even if the leadership wants to return to what the DNA of the church always led them to do in worship as well as in other endeavors.
I was in a church recently which never sang a hymn during the service. The hymns make sense. They teach theology. In the past many got much of their basic theology from the hymnology and not from the preacher. They are God centered while contemporary choruses are centered on man (sorry but they are. Just analyze them a little.) The hymns have spiritual energy. They produce expectancy in worship. They put the focus on God and what He has done for us in salvation by the Blood of Jesus. I'm sorry, but there is no competition. But, now we have a generation that has never heard a hymn or heard one very rarely. They think that the contemporary choruses are the only thing there is. Why open a service with a chorus which sounds like a funeral dirge? Even if they are well performed, they all sound basically the same. There is very little about them that energizes a person. Most of them basically sound alike; shallow in content and also shallow musically. They were produced because some publisher told a writer that they needed a book of choruses by a certain date with a certain theme. Production and money were the driving factors and not inspiration from God's Spirit. I'm not saying that this is true of every chorus that has been written or of every writer but the majority of them bear the marks of something quickly produced for profit and entertainment.
The men who are supposedly called and gifted by God to lead His people have, for a number of years now, sought to "identify" with the people by dressing down and "looking like them." They want to make the people feel comfortable and unthreatened by their presence. By doing this they have denigrated the position of Pastor and its influence. People, in prior years, wanted someone to be God's representation to them. They needed someone to stand before them that could speak to them from a position of authority and tell them what God expects. In today's contemporary world with the pastor's emphasis on "being one of the boys", his position as one of authority is gone. He suddenly represents a God who is a casual God and is just glad that the people came to church and gave Him a little of their time. When these "cool" and acceptable preachers speak on an issue, the impact is not what it should be. The people take him no more seriously than they take each other. Besides, the preacher has said that he is on their level and is just like them. Sorry, but that cannot be and proper guidance be given to God's people. The preacher loses the authority of the position in which God placed him when the people absorb the thought that "he is just like us." The Preacher must, of necessity, stand apart and set an example that his people should seek to emulate. If 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is not saying this then what is it saying? The world is not seeking something like them. They are yearning for something better. How can we win the world to a new life in Jesus that pleases God if we are not different from them and set the proper example. When one sees the world's people running to something in large numbers and having fun doing it, then one should take a good long look and be very careful. Jesus said that the world would reject us if we did his will and presented the pure Gospel because it rejected Him. The world will accept a compromise and feel really good about it. I had one person say: "Oh, we don't compromise on the preaching of the Gospel." The Gospel is compromised when the environment is founded on a completely different premise; popularity, large numbers and big money and success. As I have stated elsewhere the attitude is: "Now, Jesus, you have been building the church since Pentecost but quite frankly you aren't doing very well these days. So, you just stand over there to one side and let us show you how this thing works in this modern day." Sorry, but the smell of the world is permeating the Church in America today. It won't work. I pray it will pass in time but think of the people who have been imprinted with a denigrated view of God, Jesus and worship during these days. Question: "Exactly what are such pastors and churches trying to do? I think that the rhetoric about their success speaks volumes as to their real goals. Remember: The method one uses will determine their view of what they are doing. In fact, after a period of time, how they view their worship and their feelings about who God is, will determine their method. That's pretty much where we are today.
I do not expect that an article such as this will make much difference at all. As heretofore stated, "give the candy to the baby and then try to take it back." You will be met with strong resistance. But, the mental attitude of the contemporary approach to worship is breeding a casual and careless approach to God. People should stop and take an assessment of what they are doing and where the influence to do it came from. Loud rock music didn't originate in the church. Strobe lights and smoke didn't originate in the church. Bands that are a carbon copy of the world's rock bands didn't originate in the church. The social gospel did not originate in the Bible even though we are told that "God is not the respecter of persons" and that we should do good to others. So, some reader should not try to interpolate that into an example of the social gospel of today. The sad thing is that this contemporary approach has been taking place for so long that nearly two generations of church goers now think that it is the "normal" approach. They know nothing else. Their pastors and church leaders have led them down the "Primrose Lane" in order to do the popular thing and it has been destructive. I care not what someone might say in response to this article or statements in it. I challenge them to make their point in denying what I say is true. Satan knew that he could never defeat the church from the outside. He has tried that and failed. So, I believe he has appealed to our flesh and fooled present day people into pulling the influences of the world into the church and he is rotting it from within. I didn't say that to inflame people. I said it because it is the truth!
There are millions of people in our worship services today who are tired of what is going on. They are tired of singing meaningless little "diddies" over against the great hymns they remember so well. They are tired of standing twenty minutes while people on the platform "perform". The extended standing originated from the rock concerts and is just part of the "model" in today's contemporary services. People will try to "glorify" what is going on today and make it seem acceptable but they do so in order to rationalize that their personal approach is also the God honoring approach. Too much attention is paid to what man wants at the expense of a proper approach to God's Holiness. When I say that what is going on in worship today is a patterned after a "model" all one has to do is go into most any church whether large or small, urban or rural and they will find the exact same things attempting to be replicated. By the way....what's going on with all these images and light effects on the walls if its not some kind of activity demanded by the current "model." Those kinds of things distract from the preaching of the Word. I think much of that kind of stuff is nothing but a distraction. Maybe some preaching is so shallow and feckless that the preachers think they need that kind of thing in order to make the church service more of an event than a worship service. Actually, the preachers are expecting the people in attendance to do something quite difficult, in fact, almost impossible. They are orienting them in one direction by all the goings on and then expecting them to "change tracks" in a moment when its time for the preacher to present the Gospel. Creating one atmosphere and then expecting the proper response to a more serious moment does damage to the more serious moment. Preachers who have been invited to preach is such a church and who really have something to bring from the Word feel totally out of place when the time comes for the preaching of the Word. They feel like an add-on; like something necessary but really only tolerated when what they are seeking to do is the most important part of it all. The preacher feels he has to, in the space of a minute or two, totally change the atmosphere so that the Word will be heard and applied. He has been given a very difficult thing to do and in fact, almost impossible.
Many times this writer has stated: "I just want to hear a sermon again!" I'm tired of cute little guys in skinny jeans, shaved heads, gotees or full beards, tattoos (many times) and tennis shoes jumping around like a cricket on the platform reading from a phone or IPad. Where is the Bible? Where is an authoritative word from God from the pages of the Bible? Everyone is so "cool"; modeled after someone else that has been "successful" in what they do. I remember the hippies of the late sixties who all wanted to be an "individual." But one could not tell them apart. They all dressed alike, walked alike, wore the same hair styles, spoke the same lingo, held the same viewpoints and did things the same way. They were not the individuals they wanted to be because the all turned out the same. I find that same thing taking place with the young preachers of today and the churches who are being led by them. I just want to hear a SERMON again. Give me the word and leave off all the cute little things added on. So, give me what God is saying to me in His word delivered by a Preacher who is focused on Him and not on all this "stuff" we have going on today. Give me someone who is truly and humbly seeking to speak the truths of the Word to God's people while seeking to fulfill the overwhelming job God has called him to do. Give me someone who is not concerned with "trends" and popularity but obedience to the leadership of God's Spirit as he fulfills his task of preaching. Give me a man who feels the weight of it all and depends on God alone for the power to do what he is called to do. Give me someone who isn't concerned about who is watching on t.v. or how well he performed in the pulpit. I want someone who isn't climbing a ladder and looking for recognition but someone who realizes that there is nothing at the top of that ladder. Give me someone who has as his greatest desire the fact that when he is gone he will be known as a true and faithful expositor of God's Word to the exclusion of all else. Are there such men around today? Yes, but their number is declining with so much of a focus on all that is impinging itself on the modern church.
May God's Spirit help us to "turn this ship around" before it is too late and it becomes branded with the world in such a way that it loses its power. Yes, The Calamitous Results of Contemporary Church are becoming blaringly obvious as the days go by.
William F. Harrell