Psalm 78:57-58 (NLT) “They turned back and were as faithless as their parents. They were as undependable as a crooked bow. They angered God by building shrines to other gods; they made him jealous with their idols.”
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about one of the fastest growing churches in America being in Conway, Arkansas, and that it is experiencing unprecedented growth because they had an American Idol winner leading worship. As I have reflected more on this trend, had conversations with others about, watched developments in my own town, and read more articles, I have come to believe that this may be the biggest problem in the Western Church today. The fact that we use the same formula that every TV producer in the world uses to experience church growth shows that we are not seeking an authentic movement from God, rather we are looking to manufacture results ourselves based on an American formula for success.
One of my favorite writers is a Jewish Rabbi named Shmuley Boteach. You may know him from “Shalom in the Home” (I’ve actually never seen one episode, and I do not follow him because of this TV show); his writings are profound if you take the time to read them. In an article (see the article here) he wrote in July, he talked about the fact that America’s obsession with celebrities is literally threatening the livelihood of our civilization. He thinks that our society is crumbling from within and our obsession with entertainers is the key indicator of this fact. In this article he points out that “There is no precedent in any civilization in the history of the world for actors, singers, dancers, and directors to be elevated to the highest positions of prominence. That’s why none of us can name actors and actresses from ancient Greece or Rome. They weren’t significant enough to be remembered.”
I see this trend happen a lot in churches and at seminaries across the country as well. Most people want to simply be traveling speakers because this is where the money and recognition is. I also find it humorous that rarely does the minister feel “called” to a position that pays less and is less prominent. We all are tempted by the allure of speaking to thousands at the latest and greatest conference, and I’m no exception. But my question is why is this the only marker for success in the Christian Church today? Why do so many of us feel the pressure to be entertainers in our sermons rather than proclaimers of truth?
Do I think it is inherently wrong to get the most “now” people to speak and play at your conference, worship service or church? No. But I do think that we become what Paul would call “peddlers of the Gospel” when we conclude that this is how we can start a movement, especially one that should be born by the Spirit. Scripture makes it clear that we can form idols even when we are attempting to worship God. It also says these idols can be passed from one generation to the next. An idol is simply our attempt to manufacture a god. And idol worship was never preposterous to the generation that made it. We think to ourselves, “I would never made a golden calf or a wooden god” because that would just be silly. What we can do is begin to rely on something made by human hands and replace worship of the Creator with worship of the created. I would argue that it is possible for other elements of idol worship to have crept into our society today in our attempts to manufacture movements from God.
What I respect about previous movements in the past at Baylor that have spawned revival on campus and in Waco is that they all seem to be authentically birthed by the Spirit. The Youth Revival Movement that was born on Baylor’s campus in the 1940s began with years of prayer and was 100% student-led. No outside speakers or hired guns. Sure they got help from older adults when it came to organization and other matters, but they did not rely on a personality to begin the movement. Even the movement with now well-known Louie Giglio was at least something that started internally with a small group by a person that was not “famous” at the time. Nowadays we try to skip that hard work and jump straight to the large group and big personalities.
The last time I checked, there are 28 college ministries in Waco geared towards Baylor, MCC and TSTC students, yet I hear all of the time how difficult it is to find a church during your college years in Waco. Maybe this is because there is not a personality in town that is in the top 10 podcasts on iTunes. Whatever is happening to our Church and our perceived need for a larger than life celebrity that is leading the ministry, I can say it is not biblical. As Boteach points out in the aforementioned article, “According to Jewish tradition, this is the reason that God hid Moses’ burial place, whose location remains a secret until this very day. It was to ward off the possible deification of Moses and the establishment of his sepulcher as a shrine. To be sure, Moses wrought wonders in Egypt. But he was merely a conduit of a higher light and might.”
I know that many ministries with big or “famous” names attached to them do lot of good and bless many lives. But I’m convicted by John the Baptist’s words in John 3:30 when he says, “I must decrease, he must increase.” That can be a tricky line to walk, and my concern is that this new mode of launching immediately successful and name-dropping ministries doesn’t pass the litmus test of personal decrease with Gospel increase.
It all boils down to the question of whether or not we are going to be a generation that tells our kids how funny/entertaining/creative our pastor was back in the day, or are we going to speak of works that God did through mere mortals with fatal flaws? Are we going to seek individuals out that are more concerned with being “conduits of a higher light and might,” or are we going to try to manufacture movements with brains, brawn and our checkbook? Are we going to continue to follow the world by deifying our favorite speakers and musicians, or are we going to walk a more ancient, narrow way? Are we going to be the generation that continues to rely on the next book by our favorite author to help us deal with our sin problem, or will we once again return to Scripture as the only book with true transformative power? Only time will tell.