swindoll on contemporary church

skye jethani recently interviewed chuck swindoll for leadership journal, and the theme is a fitting follow-up on my recent discussion on the abundant community.  i challenge the thinkers among my readership (you know who you are) to consider the following excerpt deeply.  at first blush, swindoll’s comments are easily dismissed; “an old man past his prime…obviously out of touch with the way things are.”  i would argue, though, that swindoll is speaking prophetically. 

Early in your book you say that when the church becomes an entertainment center, biblical literacy is the first casualty. So why do you think the church has become so enamored with entertainment?

We live in a time with a lot of technology and media. We can create things virtually that look real. We have high-tech gadgets that were not available to previous generations. And we learned that we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it’s enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.

And alongside that is a corporate mentality. We’re tempted to think of the church as a business with a cross stuck on top (if it has a cross at all). “We really shouldn’t look like a church.” I’ve heard that so much I want to vomit. “Why?” I ask. “Do you want your bank to look like a bank? Do you want your doctor’s office to look like a doctor’s office, or would you prefer your doctor to dress like a clown? Would you be comfortable if your attorney dressed like a surfer and showed movies in his office? Then why do you want your church’s worship center to look like a talk show set?”

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first.
Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.

But if we’re here to offer something the world can’t provide, why would I want to copy the world? There is plenty of television. There are plenty of talk shows. There are plenty of comedians. But there is not plenty of worship of the true and living God.

You think it’s rooted in a deep insecurity that we have as church leaders?

Yes, I do. I think you’ve put your finger on it. We want a crowd to make us feel important and liked. But why is getting a crowd our focus? Jesus never suggested that crowds were the goal. He never addresses getting your church to grow. Never. So why is that the emphasis today?

“some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn’t want to be hated. they focused just on attracting more and more people.”  could that be true of us?  could we (church leaders) be so blind to our own motivations that we have ceased following the lord’s direction?

god help us.


5 thoughts on “swindoll on contemporary church

  1. He hits close on some things. I don’t think he is advocating Episcopal architecture as much as just saying don’t turn your meeting place into the set of Friends.

    It’s a dead horse, but in my opinion it all goes back to money. Pastor wants to make CEO wages and perks. To do that he needs people and clout both of which come by attracting people with sermons made of cotton candy and actual cotton candy for the kids.

    What you get is 2011 mega church. Nobody knows anybody and that’s why people keep coming.

  2. People keep coming because no one knows any one? That’s sad. What does it say for us. Why do we not want to be known?

  3. hi Randy.
    Just wanted to encourage you that your relatively incoherent abundant community foray has not driven away your ten loyal readers.

    On your Chuck Swindoll quotes: I’d argue that his viewpoint is not prophetic but rather cranky. The gospel can be preached powerfully with or without technology. The gospel can be ignored or preached badly with or without technology. Methods change. HOWEVER, the heart problem of leaders wanting to be influential and admired is always a major struggle. If a church adopts new methods to amplify the gospel, then all power to them. If they want to entertain to just raise their profile, then of course, they are sinning. As in all things the technology architectures we deploy can be deployed for good reasons or bad reasons. Let’s not confuse heart issues with methods.

    • my “relatively incoherent abundant community foray.” that’s beautiful, my friend.

      i admire you, ed. you are a thinker and a godly man and in your comment, you have confirmed the apprehension i brought to this topic. i was afraid i would not be able to communicate what god was saying to me (thus the incoherence). but one little concept in that book gripped me (have you ever had that happen?), and i knew god was speaking to me afresh. it is the idea of “self-chosen order.” i was convicted of unwittingly stepping into the place of god in my efforts to “manage” the church (systems thinking) in order to make it more efficient and effective. the idea that “the community way absolutely depends upon whatever is being produced being what people want to produce” was terrifying to me. “people are lazy and uncommitted” i said to myself, “i must motivate them to action and hold them accountable.” i now see that my attitude pointed to my desire to control and, ultimately, the pride in my heart.

      as it happens, i agree with your take on the swindoll quote. we use technology quite freely. the point i was trying to make, though, was the one you mention: “If they want to entertain to just raise their profile, then of course, they are sinning.” perhaps that was my objective. perhaps it is also a commentary on the american church.

  4. I, too, have aspired to be a church/community fixer…and a fixer of former prison inmates…and a fixer of myself. And a fixer of my grown children… (I was wise enough, however, to not attempt to fix my godly wife:-). Alas, I’m tired…I’ve concluded, at last, that I can’t REALLY fix ANYTHING.

    It dawned on me that from ACTS onward, the Church has struggled. In every generation, she must face that fierce trio of the world, the Adversary of God, and the sin natures of her leaders and members. It is one messy affair.

    We must cry out to the Spirit of Christ in repentance and desperation (poor in spirit) and ask humbly that HE would continue to build the Church in spite of us. The Lord faithfully begins new things: the Methodists under the Wesleys and Whitefield, the renegade Baptists, Presbyterians, and later the Assemblies of God, Anglicans, and the 70s Jesus Movement. In 1973, God established the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and in 1979 the Sovereign Grace Ministries led by CJ Mahaney. I consider those two initiatives by God as the healthiest expressions of the church in our generation. God needs us— sort of. We trust and trust and trust some more and joyfully acknowledge that this momentary affliction leads right to Glory!

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