do the ends justify the means?

i’ve been following an interesting debate on the blogosphere.

skye jethani (who seems to be a really bright guy who loves jesus) wrote a book called “the divine commodity” in which he cites a quote from “simply strategic growth” by tim stevens and tony morgan (two guys who seem to be really bright and who love jesus). here’s what skye wrote:

These pastors, representative of so many contemporary Christians, believe that God changes lives through the commodification and consumption of experiences. If our worship gatherings are energetic, stimulating, and exciting enough then people will attend, receive what’s being communicated, and be spiritually transformed. The justification for this approach is simple: people won’t come to a church that’s boring. And what qualifies as boring is defined by our consumer/experience economy. But the moment we believe transformation occurs via external experiences, the emphasis of ministry must adjust accordingly. Manufacturing experiences and meticulously controlling staged environments become the means for advancing Christ’s mission. And the role of the pastor, once imagined as a shepherd tending a flock, now conjures images of a circus ringmaster shouting, “Come one, come all, to the greatest show on earth!” In Consumer Christianity, the shepherd becomes a showman.

naturally, stevens and morgan took offense.  tim stevens wrote:

What possible expression of corporate worship is not constructed and characterized by external experience? None that I can think of.

tony morgan wrote:

Should we intentionally offer worship gatherings that are dull and boring so no one wants to participate? Should we just show up for worship without preparation? Do we start offering teaching and music and other elements of worship that reflect less than our best effort so that people aren’t attracted to the experience?

tony morgan must have been pretty riled up, because he also addressed the matter in a subsequent post:

Since we do ministry in America in the middle of a very consumer-driven culture, I still believe our weekend services are critical to sharing the Gospel. People who don’t know Christ are consumers before they are convicted and committed Christ-followers. If the weekend service experience isn’t intentional, people who are still consumers will not stay engaged. We can present the Gospel, but they won’t be there to hear it. We can challenge people to become fully-devoted followers of Christ, but they won’t be there to hear that challenge.

here’s my question:  isn’t consumerism a bad thing?  if you think it is (like i do), then are we serving the kingdom by trying to attract people by using it?  wouldn’t that be like using sex to attract people?

merriam-webster defines consumerism as “the promotion of the consumer’s interests.” on, mark riddle echoes this definition when he writes, “The Consumer church might look something like this.  The absence of authority–the final authority in the consumer church is the individual attendee…The desire to please the congregation supersedes the desire to please God.”

to what ends should we go to “attract” people to our churches, or do the ends always justify the means?  in other words, will we do anything–use any gimmick–as long as it gets butts in the seats?  and what kind of advertising would be considered off-limits? i’ve got more on this tomorrow.  in the meantime…

what say you?


6 thoughts on “do the ends justify the means?

  1. It seems to me that TM falls quickly into the false dichotomy that anyone that disagrees with his position must be proposing an extreme opposite that is so distasteful as to be ridiculous. He says, “Should we intentionally offer worship gatherings that are dull and boring so no one wants to participate?” That, of course, is absurd, and nowhere near what SJ is proposing. This type of bully logic shop-worn, annoying, and unfortunately, effective. Sort of like an infomercial. You can’t believe that people buy things from these phony, half-hour long saccharin fests, yet somehow Ron Popeil’s net worth is over $100M (speaking of the evils of consumerism!).

    Having said that, it seems to me that a critical flaw in TM’s argument (besides not really having an argument, per se), lies in his presumed primary recipient of the music and/or worship. It seems that he is operating under the impression that the primary recipient (or audience) is people–the consumers (believers and unbelievers) that will “experience” it. If that is the case, by all means, make it lively and attractive. Rock the guitars and strobe the lights. But if the primary recipient is God, then we are compelled to use all of our creative energies and physical giftings, along with our earnest practice and effort to make it glorious to Him, without regard to the approval of man. This does not relegate worship to the “dull and boring”, far from it. It compels worship to be thoughtful, meaningful, expressive and excellent.

    Thankfully, it seems that Stevens and Morgan are desirous to see people come to know Christ through these experiences. To that end I think that we can say with Paul, “What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.” (Phil. 1:18)

  2. Interestingly enough, I was pondering this question this morning. I agree with what my pastor always says, that the message of the gospel never changes, but the means by which it is spread does. Do I support the idea of modern, contemporary churches, yes. Unfortunately, I believe that the true Gospel is often times left out. One thing I am afraid of in many of the modern consumer driven churches is that they don’t teach false doctrine, they often times do not teach any doctrine at all.

    Even at church, I help out with lighting and projection. I know people who don’t go to my church and say that it is completely wrong and distracting. However, the one thing that I always have to keep in mind is that I am doing it to help people enter in to worship, rather than be distracting. If I am not careful, I can get the focus on a generated mood, rather than helping them focus on God and not others. I don’t even begin to touch the full capabilities of the lighting at church, simply because I know it will take away from what we are really there for.

    On the area of music, I read the other day that if you consider old hymns and old time gospel music, it was considered new and contemporary at one time. We can’t expect to reach a new generation with means that aren’t relevant to them.

    I think it is perfectly fine to use modern techniques to attract people into church, as long as the Gospel is the main attraction, and not just a side show. You can relate it to fishing. One can go fishing with a simple hook and line, but you are going to catch a lot more fish if you put bait on the line.

  3. If I recall, Wesley would take common songs of the day and put new lyrics to them. He did this because the tunes were lively and interesting to the people. But Wesley preached the gospel all the time.

    I dont think our focus should be on the people, but neither do I think they should be ignored. Our goal is to lead people into worshipping God. It has to be about God, but it has to lead people TO God. What does that will be different for different cultures and subcultures. I have worshipped in different languages and different countries. If you will notice, the music of one country will differ from the music of another country – even if they are right next door. And indeed, even within a country, the music will differ based upon region and the people. In the USA, the language changes becase upon where the people were originally from, and so does musical styles.

    IOf we are getting hung up on style, then our focus is all wrong. We need to go preach the Word. We need to lead people to change and turn to God. We need to lead people to praise and worship God. I dont think we should ignore style, as people grasp God’s Word in their native language much better than in a different language. And in the same way, people enter into worship of God in ways that move THEM, not ways that move others. But whle we should not ignore style, we need to focus on substance.

  4. I think it’s already been said in different ways, but the Heart of Worship, is all about GOD. It’s not a show, it’s not to please the consumer, it’s not about us.

    The bible says that no one comes to God unless the ‘Spirit’ draws him. Not the music or the preaching or the programs or the advertising. The Spirit.

    I enjoy all those things and think they’re necessary. We should do everything we do as to the Lord, and
    not to men. Our worship, preaching, programs, advertising or anything else, shouldn’t be mediocre, because God’s awesome. It should be our best, but NOT because anybody else is looking, or attracted or glorified.

  5. I agree with Web that it is sad that these two have fallen into arguing an extreme position it is rather distracting from the point that the author is trying to make. Essentially worship of God is not a means to get people into church and it should never be, although 1 Corinthians 14 states that outsiders can be exposed to the truth of God’s word by our worship the purpose is not to get outsiders into the church it’s to build up the body. It is interesting that these two would argue so strongly that this is a valid form of evangelism personally the last thing that I would want is to draw people in on a consumer level. If you draw people in because of the experience you offer them then at some point if another church or organization offers them a better experience they will most likely switch to them. Connecting with people on a consumer level is anti evangelistic because it’s anti discipleship. If we are trying to make disciples enticing them with experiential worship makes them followers after what exactly, certainly not Jesus. How many people turned away from Jesus because of the hard things he had to say, those drawn in because of the miracles quickly dispersed when he drew hard lines for them to follow. Maybe instead of being hypocritical to the world around us offering them something experiential that won’t last we should just lay it out there and show them that worship exists beyond all the lights and guitars and drums.

  6. Pingback: do the ends justify the means: continued « your best life later

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