Todd Weber's Random Thoughts

March 26, 2010

Hyping the Gospel

Filed under: Biblical/spiritual — tkweber @ 7:46 am

“I have come that they might have hype, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

Of course, this is not an accurate quotation of John 10:10, but it seems that many believers today are reading it that way – particularly many pastors and ministry leaders who nurture this view, albeit inadvertently.

As a pastor, I am well aware of the constant pressure and perceived obligation to motivate and inspire people to actively live their faith and participate in the body of Christ. I am continually confronted by believers who can’t seem to keep it together on their own and who feel it is my supreme duty to keep them pumped-up for Jesus. In addition to prayer, study and crafting engaging and effective sermons, we are set upon by the apparent necessity of orchestrating experiences that will fulfill the spiritual and emotional needs of our audience and keep them coming back for more.

The result is that pastors and ministry leaders sometimes sound more like carnival hawkers and concert promoters than ministers of the gospel as we try to grab people with persuasive hype about the next great sermon or series that they don’t want to miss because it will blow their mind, change their life and rock their world. Don’t get me wrong, I am not against the use of creativity, multi-media, and various other means of communication. My concern is that, in our pursuit of capturing the attention of our audience in order to facilitate genuine life-change via the gospel, we may end up empowering the very monsters we set out to slay in the first place. While apathy, complacency and idle spectatorship may seem to be abated by a hip, wiz-bang presentation, it is but a brief respite for most – especially those who have been in the church for a while – followed by the expectation and urgency of ever-more-engaging and exciting experiences to keep them interested. It is in this context that Karl Marx’s famous statement about religion being the “opiate of the masses” has the ring of truth.

However, in fairness to ministry leaders, this cycle usually doesn’t begin with them. The majority of such men and women are deeply sincere individuals whose desire is to serve God in their calling to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. Yet, they are faced with the challenge of attracting and holding the attention of people who, for various reasons, often suffer from a combination of shallow, immature faith and an insatiable thirst for entertainment and external stimulation. Furthermore, the thirst for entertainment and stimulation is not limited to the Hollywood variety. There are countless “revival junkies” in churches across the land who are not satisfied until and unless someone whips them into a pseudo-spiritual frenzy of motion and emotion.

It is not clever, creative and captivating methods of communication with which I take issue. Jesus was a master communicator who used meaningful stories and object lessons to hold his listeners’ attention and relate powerful and important truths. He did not lecture or pontificate from behind a pulpit, as has become Christian tradition. His words, spoken with amazing simplicity, had profound impact on those who heard him. And, in fact, not everyone who heard him believed and responded favorably. Many turned and walked away, even from Jesus, so we should not feel bad when they do it to us, too.

Neither do we see any hype in or around the ministry of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers and ordinary believers whose words and ministries are recorded in the New Testament. What drew and connected people to Jesus and his Church was the pure and simple life-changing power of the gospel – the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ reconciling sinful people with God. Paul put it succinctly when he wrote, “And my message and my preaching were very plain. I did not use wise and persuasive speeches, but the Holy Spirit was powerful among you. I did this so that you might trust the power of God rather than human wisdom.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5, NLT)

I respect and admire the creativity and passion of many of my peers in ministry and do not wish to dampen or diminish the exercise of such gifts for the glory of God. I only want to raise a warning that the gospel does not need hype to be effective, and that when the gospel or our presentation of it is hyped, it may do more harm than good in the long run by feeding our lust for entertainment (which will never be satisfied) rather than focusing on the reality of Christ, faith and truth. It may also further diminish the Church in the eyes of the world by enhancing negative stereotypes.

Besides, if we are honest, this disciple-of-Christ gig is not really as fun, exciting and cool as we sometimes advertise. We know that spiritual life is challenging, often difficult and always involves the denial and sacrifice of self. No matter how you slice it, it is hard to put a positive spin on that. But then again, it is not our job to put a positive spin on the gospel. Our job is to merely speak the truth in love and help those who receive it embrace it and grow therein. Their desire to do so is not our responsibility. In other words, we can lead a horse to water, but no amount of hype will make it thirsty. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44, NIV).

Somehow, we and those in our care must learn to be satisfied with the simplicity of the gospel and life in Christ. We should also realize that we will never make Jesus, the gospel, or the church as appealing to people as many other things in life and the world which vie for their attention. And that is not our fault.

T. K. Weber, 02/26/10

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