it was easier for grandpa

from time to time, i use this space to decry the sorry state of the american church.  the position from which i speak is certainly not one of accomplishment or insight: on the contrary, in many ways i feel myself a failure as a leader in the local church.  i am, however, constantly seeking god’s wisdom and direction for my life and for his church in my community.

one of the things i struggle with is the consumeristic nature of our culture.  i recently read about the spectacular gains americans have made over the past few years in median income, net worth, and home ownership.  we are literally twice as wealthy as our grandparents (income, adjusted for inflation, grew 2.3 fold from 1903-2003 according to the u.s. bureau of labor statistics, consumer expenditure survey) and yet, according to forbes magazine, 66% of americans say they are worse off than their parents were, and half of all adults believe their children’s future will be worse than their present.  i gotta’ tell you, that was surprising to me (and probably to most of my 50-year old friends) because i vividly remember life in the middle of the 20th century.  i grew up with one bathroom in the house, one car in the garage, and one parent bringing home a paycheck.  we have infinitely more “stuff” than our parents had, yet we are miserable.  by any measure we are wealthy, and it’s just not enough.

what’s that got to do with the state of the american church?  i read a fascinating article on the leadership magazine blog called “keeping it real.”  it was excerpted from authenticity: what consumers really want by james gilmore, a christian business expert.  he talks about the danger of the church adopting “business thinking” as a way to attract members, and the folly of catering to the whims of consumers.  let me quote gilmore:


Don’t take this stuff about the experience economy and make worship a staged experience. Consumerism has come to dominate contemporary evangelicalism. We’re becoming a reflection of the world, instead of standing apart from the world. The church has moved to “spectacalism,” which can become a false gospel.

All of life is being commodified. The church should be the one place that stands apart and says, We have nothing for sale. We only offer a free gift. The church ought to be the place where people see that there’s something different about this place and this people from anything one experiences elsewhere in the commercial marketplace.

To me, the church should not aim to be “real” as an end. The church is there to proclaim truth. Trying to be hip and cool and real does a disservice to the church. We’re not called to be successful. We’re called to be obedient, even if they don’t come. Ministry leaders should think more like Noah, of being part of a remnant that is faithful. If somebody doesn’t find you objectionable, I wonder if you’re preaching the full counsel of God.

To some extent, if people view the church as being fake, they will never enter. But the extent to which the church has become a business, with food courts, skate parks, basketball courts, etc.–I think people look at it and say, That’s not really a church. That’s fake.

i am not suggesting we find ways to be objectionable, but if our primary goal is to make the church comfortable and convenient, then we have surely lost our way.  nor am i suggesting that we somehow recapture some long-lost ethic in our methodology.  i’m simply saying that the gospel is confrontational by nature and jesus invitation to “follow me” is not supposed to make people feel good about themselves.  we have got to be authentic about our struggles and we have to be honest about the cost of discipleship.  “you gotta’ get ’em in,” my friends say.  granted, but i’m afraid we are subconsciously telling people that church is about them–what they want.  after all, they are customers and the customer is always right.  wrong!      

is it interesting to anyone else that the more successful we become as a people the less need we have for god?




5 thoughts on “it was easier for grandpa

  1. Wow, Randy! As a “church alum” I could write volumes on this post!

    I offer this insight to your last statement in the post from my personal experience. One of my “returns from the wilderness” sojourns was because success in my career was beating me into the ground. I was experiencing what writers refer to as the “dark night of the soul” and the Psalmist called the “valley of the shadow of death”.

    It was my experience that the more successful I became the more I needed a loving and caring God.

    I found an “island of refuge” church with a pastor of loving grace.

    I offer this experience in the spirit of contempletive dialogue. I can not think of a more difficult calling than leading a church today.


  2. 18-21The Message that points to Christ on the Cross seems like sheer silliness to those hellbent on destruction, but for those on the way of salvation it makes perfect sense. This is the way God works, and most powerfully as it turns out. It’s written,

    I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head,
    I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.

    Paul says that if we are doing “Church” right, it will be viewed as silliness by the pagans. I interpret this passage as a way of validation not just a description.

  3. On our way out of town my wife pointed out a church sign advertising a 30 minute service. Not to get into a debate about church style… seems like we are becoming experts in missing the point.

    Surely Jesus sacrifice had greater implications to our lives and leadership.

  4. I feel I attend a good church who is on the right path but at times I still feel frustrated as if it is about bigger, better, and “you”. One might disagree but the Gospel is offensive. It is unyielding and very finite. Peter and Paul did not go about sugar coating it . They called it as it was and were beaten for it. I’m not saying I’d enjoy this but when was the last time anyone has heard of a Believer being beaten for his faith?

  5. Randy, I am going to take a slight liberty on your post and respond to Jason,s above comment.

    Jason, much of what you refer to in your first sentence is true. This is much like what Peter and Paul encountered in the traditional religion of their time. When they spoke to the radical transformation of Jesus’s message, things got a little dicey in those traditional settings. I live in a geographical place I refer to as the “buckle of the Bible belt” Were I to stand up in the majority of churches in this area and speak to that “bigger, better and you”, I would leave the motor running in my car out in the parking lot when I spoke!

    All of this is to say I agree with what I think you are speaking to; somehow we have gotten off of Jesus’ message of radical transformation portrayed in the Gospels. It is one of the reasons I stay rather focused on the Red Print. I am refered to by some scholars and theologians as a “Red Print Christian”.

    Jason, I say this in the spirit of the wonderful opportunity for good dialogue Randy has given us with his blog site.


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