I truly believe I could have 100 students in my youth group.
It would take a while, but I think we could get there. The formula is fairly simple. Have live music that’s cutting edge, play a lot of fun games, and have crazy giveaways week in and week out. At the end, have some sort of message that’s loosely based on a verse of Scripture but functions more as a motivational talk about Jesus helping you overcome difficulty in your life rather than a call to come and die with Jesus.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
I’m not trying to knock that version of ministry. There are great men and women of God involved in that philosophy and style of ministry and God is saving young men and women through those ministries with that mentality.
That’s just not me.
Instead of 100+ coming to a cutting edge service, we have a little less than forty who come to a honestly pretty boring service from a worldly sense. We don’t play music (although I’d like to I just don’t have the talent), we don’t play that many games and we very rarely have some sort of a giveaway.
What we do have is God’s Word.
We walk through it, week after week, often focusing on chunks of the Bible (I don’t know if that’s an acceptable term for a portion of Scripture or not, but I’m running with it) that are not even all that entertaining to read. What’s been phenomenal to me is that we’ve seen growth come in the midst of it.
I’m not talking breadth.
Last Fall we did a semester-long study through the book of Deuteronomy, and that certainly did cause our numbers to explode.
I’m talking depth.
It’s not been anything crazy. At times I face discouragement because it doesn’t seem like it’s clicking with some students. But for some, their depth in their faith is obvious and powerful.
Yet if you look at the modern evangelical church as a whole, you likely see a trend, especially in the Baptist tradition, to make church about being entertained or feeling good and that’s simply not the call of the follower of Jesus.
Here’s what I mean.
We have emphasized a personal relationship with Jesus.
Now, that is obviously a phenomenal aspect of our faith. Christianity certainly encompasses the opportunity that we have to commune with God through union with Christ and fellowship with the Spirit. What a wonderful thing.
What we’ve done by emphasizing this time and time again however is unintentionally taught people, I think, that they have a private relationship with Jesus. One where they see Him as their best friend forever, but not the Head of the universal church and certainly not the Lord telling them to come and die to their own desires each day.
Jesus isn’t my best friend forever. Sure, He calls me friend. What a marvelous truth. But He is also the Lord of all the universe, worthy of awe and worship, adoration and healthy fear. Jesus is fully man. Yet He is also fully God.
Look around our churches though and you again see that many are hesitant to present a Jesus that is worthy of our fear and worship. Instead of liturgy and church history, we have a modernized Christianity that forgets the 2000 years of faithful men and women who have gone before us and set the foundation for what it looks like to follow God. All of that legacy is tossed aside for the hip new trends that gets the most people in the door.
What we’ve created is a version of following Jesus that is about one’s own comfort and self-worth. I can’t tell you how many posts on social media I have seen recently that say something like “I’m committed to working on myself right now. If you aren’t helpful, if you’re toxic, I’m tossing you to the curb.”
Now, that’s not completely bad.
That mindset creeps into the church though, doesn’t it?
Getting up and getting to church on Sunday mornings is hard. And I say that having zero children and as someone who gets paid to be there.
It’s hard to get there. So, if one is expecting to get a self-help sermon about Jesus’ power to make them overcome any difficulty in their life, (complete with hilarious jokes and illustrations from modern entertainment, oh and music that is right up their alley) when those things are lacking their commitment to church falters.
They’re working on the betterment of themselves. If the church doesn’t help their self-image, and if the people in their church are ‘toxic’ (or in my opinion ‘human’, because we all battle sinful thoughts, words, and actions), then they bail on it.
Church is a declaration that we are allegiant to King Jesus. Church, if done right, should absolutely encourage and train us in righteousness. But it should also convict us, challenge us, and get us outside our comfort zones. It should call us each and every week to die to ourselves in the week ahead. That’s not a fun message in the world of self-help motivational speakers.
Jesus isn’t my BFF or a self-help guru.
Daniel Darling puts it this way:
I wonder if average worshiping evangelicals feel the weight of what they say they believe. I wonder if they grasp that Jesus is more than a fun bumper sticker or billboard, that he is the Head of the church, the Lord of creation, and the sovereign King of the universe. . . our homogenized evangelicalism can at times make weekly worship more like a divinely inspired TED talk than an act of worship, offering a Jesus who desperately wants to be your BFF but is totally chill if you’re, like, not that into him. – Daniel Darling
Actually guys, if you would like to read a spectacular book on this subject, get The Original Jesus by Daniel Darling. This post is basically me thinking through what he talks about in his book.
In His Name,