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Is it just me or have we become...

Entertained to Death?

Is seeker-driven entertainment a viable option for growing your Church?

By Eric Barger

www.ericbarger.com

"The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them....My first contention is that providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church. If it is a Christian work, why did not Christ speak of it?...Again, providing amusement is in direct antagonism to the teaching and life of Christ and all his apostles."
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

(From "Feeding Sheep or Amusing Goats?" The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, New Horizons, March 2001)

"Beware of the leaven (destructive forces) of worldly pleasures, for its working is silent but sure, and a little of it will leaven the whole lump (take over and destroy). Keep up the distinction between a Christian and an unbeliever and make it clearer every day....Avoid the appearance of evil. 'But we must not be too rigid,' says one. There is no fear of that in these days. You will never go too far in holiness, nor become too like your Lord Jesus. If anybody accuses you of being too strict and precise, do not grieve but try to deserve the charge. I cannot suppose that at the last great day our Lord Jesus Christ will say to anyone, 'You were not worldly enough.'"
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

From "Places of Entertainment" SWORD & TROWELL, Issue 1995 No. 2, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, London, Editor: Dr. Peter Masters)

Originally I was going to reprint the above warnings for the wayward Church from Spurgeon in my newsletter and do so without any comment. However, as I read and reflected on them over a period of time, it became impossible to withhold a resounding "Amen" to Spurgeon and a few observations as well. Every word of Spurgeon's admonishments are as accurate and true as the day he spoke them many decades ago. In fact, his warnings are perhaps even more poignant for us today.

Since the very beginning one of the focuses of our ministry has been to speak out about the effects of entertainment on society, in particular the Church. Though others, such as the late Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death), have denoted that particular mediums through which people are entertained (i.e. television) are destroying our culture, in all of these years I have never intimated that being entertained is in itself wrong. I don't believe this is what Spurgeon was driving at either. To have a harmless diversion, hobby, activity or interest - something we refer to as "entertainment" is not necessarily an evil practice. As with Spurgeon, my concern is the trend of making entertainment a basis for Sunday services and an enticement to draw people to church.

So then, is it wrong to find church entertaining? Do I believe that there can be nothing entertaining in our services including joy and laughter? The answer is unequivocally NO. This is not at all what I'm saying. Is it a mark of godliness for a Christian to appear as if he has just ingested prune soup? Of course not. It doesn't witness the love, peace, joy and hope of Christ for us to be dour and gloomy. Some of the most inspirational and impactful services I have ever taken part in were at times also entertaining. However, it would appear that in today's Church many local congregations and their leadership have determined to make entertainment, pleasure and emotional and sensory comforts of the seeker the focal point. Here in lies the problem. I believe that Spurgeon would agree.

It is the foremost mission of the Church to stand for the truth of God's word. In doing so the Church must build up (teach and inform), edify and comfort the saints and reach out to the lost. It is our task to make the world aware of the opportunity for all men to know God though a personal relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. It is also recumbent on us to make known that certain, final and eternal judgment awaits ALL who reject Jesus. However, as Spurgeon believed, it is clearly outside of the biblical and historical model for the Church to use entertainment for the sake of just entertaining or as a primary tool to entice people to attend services. This statement runs completely counter to the prevailing mindset being embraced by many Christian leaders today.

Why the Change?

Perhaps due to shrinking attendance and growing expenses, some evangelicals have slowly adopted the notion of "giving the people what they want" as their church plan. Now seen as "old fashioned", "outdated" and "negative" are the biblical ideals of discipleship, doctrine, righteousness, victory over evil and the conquering of sin. At any rate, this is the underlying rational being forwarded by a number of today's popular growth gurus. Those whose books and teaching have lead the Church away from biblical thinking have probably done so without overtly malicious intent. Nevertheless, the popularization of the so-called "positive gospels" have come from a non-historical basis, a mix of bad theology and a "change or die" church growth mentality. Here is a case in point.

Before Rick Warren opened the doors of Saddleback Church in southern California in 1980, he conducted a poll of the residents in the surrounding area as to what kind of church they wanted. With results in hand, Warren then proceeded to model his church after the suggestions of the generally unsaved population. As Saddleback rose to mega-church status, Warren's plan for church growth gained widespread popularity and success. This success - based on sheer numbers in the seats - in turn gave him the platform with which to further permeate the evangelical world with errant theology focusing on earthly "purpose" (instead of on eternity) complete with a non-biblical plan of salvation and a complete and very vocal disdain for sound fundamental doctrine. (See "Our Disturbing Spiritual Condition" and "Will They Say of Us, 'They WERE the Evangelicals?'")

Just think where we'd be today if the Apostle Peter would have stuck his proverbial finger in the air to see which way the wind of worldly opinion was blowing in his day! "Give 'em what they want" is not and never has been an authentic God-ordained strategy for growth. In fact, it is indeed a mirror opposite of the plan which the Bible demands those called into leadership to follow. Have we forgotten that though some modern church growth plans may translate into more warm bodies in the pews that that in itself is not at all the mark of success? Injecting our ideas and introducing what often amounts to worldly compromise - all to attain the goal of church growth - is actually a deceptive and dangerous strategy for leaders. Far worse though, compromising leaders help propagate lukewarm "religious" followers with no sense of godly biblical standards who miss the awe, reverence and supernatural power of God. One common thread, notoriously absent from "seeker sensitive" and "Purpose Driven" churches, is preaching with the conviction, anointing and fire of the Holy Ghost with a focus on driving the world out of the Church. Instead, when church leadership fixate on anything but the entire counsel of Scripture, the attitudes and compromises of the world seem to be invited guests in our congregations - not rogue intruders.

What we read of in the Gospels and the Book of Acts set Believers aside from the crowd with teachings and spiritual visitations that helped cause the lost to become authentic followers. The teaching of Christ and the Apostles drew yet also divided the masses as the power of God rocked their world to its foundation. In modern times however, so many in the Church seem to wish to see how close to the world they can walk – instead of how close to God’s truth they can live. Certainly, some of this is simply the work of the flesh. However, the spiritual vacuum many churches are experiencing is the result of leadership depending on whatever is popular in the culture instead of focusing on the Bible for operating instructions.

Many churches are counting on the entertainment factor to carry them because they are in fact void of spiritual depth and power. No matter how well executed or presented, "special effects", trite skits or "positive" sermonettes are just so much drivel without the supernatural hand of God upon them. Perhaps, in the natural, it is simply easier to attract and then appease the carnality of men instead of making the uncomfortable stands which God's word implores us to make. If we lead our congregations to focus on shallow, eternally vacant and theologically errant gimmicks like the "Forty Days of Purpose" then praying, fasting, studying and seeking God for a bona fide supernatural encounter such as the early Church regularly experienced will seem far less risky - or important. God help us!

Bored to Tears?

So, does church have to be boring to be biblical? Of course not. We can and should make church as interesting and compelling as possible. But does being so-called "relevant" always maintain a focus and God's will and word? Frankly, I am nauseated from hearing the cliché phrase "we're just trying to be relevant" come from the mouth of preachers who are simply (and sometimes ignorantly) using it as an excuse to toy with forsaking the tried and true mission given to the Church by God. The message in countless once powerful evangelical and Pentecostal churches is suffering from trying to change their approach. Why? Because along with a new way of "doing church" the true fire, anointing and zeal for souls has often given way to how to please the people. At least the wacked-out Emergent Church admits they don't want or don't know to follow orthodoxy. But the truth be told, staggering numbers of others have adopted the Emergent line that "all change is good", which in the case of the Emergent crowd often means adopting aberrant spirituality and calling it "Christian."

If the end really did justify the means then all of the various methods for church growth that we see floating about today would be peachy. But chances are, any church bent on providing what the flesh of the lost are looking for is doing so by abandoning the model found in the Book of Acts. And there again is the bone I have to pick with those who contend that to be "relevant" the church must strive to entertain and to "give the people what they want." The misguided brethren and their market-driven approach have crowned the consumer king rather than Jesus. It would appear that the manifestos of Warren and Hybels hold greater sway than that of Peter and Paul. And though they've drawn a crowd, it would also appear that they've not drawn aside to seek God for His unchangeable direction and understanding. As is proven by the rotted spiritual fruit emanating from the ministries of those who have done so, many of these "new" techniques ignore giving the people what they need  - the unadulterated gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the Apostles including repentance, submission, holiness and the truth about Heaven - and Hell.

Hard to Find?

Upon moving to where we now live, Melanie and I looked long and hard to find a church for our family. It was indeed a long, trying and often-bleak search but we praise God that He has led us to a place and a pastor who has successfully bridged the relevancy gap while clinging tenaciously to the Word of God. The church we attend cleverly utilizes technology such as world-class video in the services each week. Our pastor is humorous, personable and yes, relevant. At about forty, he is one of the most tech friendly people that I know and understands that media can reach the next generation for Jesus. However, I have never heard him compromise in his preaching of the Bible. God has put an uncanny evangelistic zeal and anointing on him as well. Though I am gone many Sunday's out on the road preaching, when I am able to be at our home church I often feel entertained but am always ministered to and challenged by God's word. (Thanks Pastor Dennis for remaining true to God's word when conventional thinking screams that a church cannot be built by speaking out about sin, righteousness and the power of the Blood!)

To all of those who share in leadership, I challenge you to adopt and never waver from the plan found in Acts instead of the nonsense many seem to think will attract the world to our doors on Sunday. For all of those confident that we can attract and somehow convert the world to our side if we "just give 'em what they want" I ask, since when do we think that the whole world is going to buy into authentic Christianity anyway? Some will, because they are convicted by God and drawn by the Holy Ghost, but the majority will not. The liberalism that permeates the old denominations has miserably failed God and the unsaved. Now, some supposed evangelicals feel that if we just tone down the message a bit and stop talking anything deemed as negative we'll flourish? Ridiculous! There might appear to be some success in sheer attendance numbers, but making true converts and disciples is quite another matter. We are surely not doing those lost in the world any favors by changing the only message that can redeem them - all because we think the whole truth will turn them off! Let's stop trying to play the part of the Holy Ghost and make our stand with the biblical plan instead of one devised of ourselves.

Jesus Prayed: I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
- John 17:14-16

Jesus Said:If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.
- John 15:8

Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.
- Matthew 24:9

Paul Warned:For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
- I Timothy 4:3-4

Isaiah Lamented:That this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, “See not”; and to the prophets, “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”
-
Isaiah 30:9-11

(c) copyright 2008, Eric Barger

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