September 2, 2012

The Church is Not a Restaurant!

One of the prevalent themes of the church growth movement is the idea that the church needs to accommodate the tastes of the unchurched: if they want a praise band, get the best praise band you can afford; if they want you to entertain their children while the adults worship, then you had best get a "children's church" program going; if your guests are needing a cappuccino before worship, set up a Starbucks franchise in your lobby. The church growth movement has spawned over 1,500 megachurches in the past 30 years, some with as many as 40,000 attendees weekly. These churches are known to be great at providing programs and facilities, but poor when it comes to the shepherding of souls. An interesting article looks into this trend, asking, When Will The Bubble Burst?

It is saddening to see many confessional Lutheran churches jumping on the bandwagon. While in past decades it was fairly common to find established churches experimenting with contemporary Christian music, the new norm is churches that are founded entirely for the purpose of praise-band-type worship. They have names like, "The CORE," "The ROCK," and "The Alley," with no "Lutheran Church" included in the name. (We wouldn't want to scare them away, would we?) Almost universally, they sport Christian rock bands, "come-as-you-are" atmospheres, video screens, splashy websites, and pastors in bluejeans. They use catch-phrases like "relevance" and "acceptance," and target the unchurched youth. My first close encounter with this kind of church was at the "Hearts and Hands of David" workshop hosted by Wisconsin Lutheran College. And, true to church-growth form, the pastor gave a stirring sermon about how we need to ask ourselves, "What's on the menu?" (The application was that we need to have things on our church's "menu" that people will keep coming back for—namely, the gospel. But it left the impression that the gospel was only the "chips and salsa" at a Mexican restaurant; you expect it to always be there, but it isn't the main course.)

From a church leadership perspective, it is probably difficult to counter this false doctrine as long as these pastors are still preaching the gospel (and hopefully the law, too). Church growth doesn't often give itself away like the "Mexican restaurant" sermon. It's an undercurrent, an agenda, an attitude. And while we cannot judge people's hearts and attitudes, we can judge a tree by its fruit, as Christ instructs us to do in Matt. 7:15-17. From what I have seen, the bluejeans and rock bands, while not sinful in and of themselves, are bad fruit that give evidence to a crisis of faith. We cannot permit this dangerous teaching to continue under the guise of Christian freedom and evangelism. Christians must insist that the church not be made into a franchise. The church is a hospital, not a restaurant! We go to worship in order to have our broken hearts bound by the life-giving gospel, not to satisfy our consumeristic appetites.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Matt. 11:28

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