A teenager went to church with a friend for the very first time in his life. Upon returning home his father asked him what the preacher talked about. “He told a story about a guy named Moses who was leading the Jews out of Egypt. They got trapped up against the Red Sea just as the Pharaoh’s army was approaching with tanks and Humvees. Moses quickly built a floating bridge, got everybody across and then blew up the bridge just in time to send all the Pharaoh’s tanks to the bottom of the sea.” “Wow,” said his father, “He told the story like that?” “Well,” confessed his son, “He didn’t exactly tell it like that, but the way he told it… you’d never believe it.”
George Barna is a Christian researcher and does for the church what George Gallup used to do for the secular world. He polls random samples of people and analyses the data to reveal abiding cultural trends. Every year Berna publishes his megathemes from the previous year’s data. This is what Barna claims is happening in the church today.
1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.
There is little here to get excited about as even point 4 is more about community involvement because it is socially esteemed behavior, rather than being a passion rising out of a commitment to Christ’s Kingdom. The more disturbing trend is the dumbing down of the church. Many Christian people just do not know their bibles. They are ignorant of the enduring stories of scripture and their deeper meanings… not unlike the teenager in my opening story. Pastors feel the pressure to bring practical and relevant teachings to help their people cope with a world where everything from relationships to technology has become more complicated. Which, in of itself, is not a bad thing. However, as they are busy putting decorative little band-aids on the their member’s spiritual booboos, the church is sinking lower and lower into biblical illiteracy. The pastor is well aware that if on the other hand he wades into deeper theological waters, his people will walk across the street to the church where the pastor is ‘relevant and culturally hip’.
I don’t get to watch many televangelists on TV because I am usually too busy being one of them. To be honest, when I do tune in I am often appalled by the glaring lack of substance…. no mention of sin, repentance, commitment, sacrifice, service, honour, heroism, etc. The word ‘sin’ has become so unpopular that many well known preachers have stopped using it altogether. The pastor of North America’s largest church was on Larry King Live one night.
KING: How about issues that the church has feelings about? Abortion? Same-sex marriages?
PREACHER: Yeah. You know what, Larry? I don’t go there. I just …
KING: You have thoughts, though.
PREACHER: I have thoughts. I just, you know, I don’t think that a same-sex marriage is the way God intended it to be. I don’t think abortion is the best. I think there are other, you know, a better way to live your life. But I’m not going to condemn those people. I tell them all the time our church is open for everybody.
KING: You don’t call them sinners?
PREACHER: I don’t.
KING: Is that a word you don’t use?
PREACHER: I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.
Hmmm… the pastor of North America’s largest church and he doesn’t use the word ‘sinner’ or ‘sin’ and has never really thought about it! The bible uses the word directly 830 times and indirectly 1000’s more. Is it any wonder the church in North America is losing ground to secularism at an alarming rate? It is virtually impossible to convince people that they are in need of a Saviour if they cannot first see that they have a problem. The universal problem is sin. Always has been, always will be. How long can we continue to feed on message after message of; ‘Your best YOU now‘, or ‘You can be your best YOU now‘ or “more of being your best YOU now‘? I know, when I write my book I’m going to call it; “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the can.”
When our message becomes; ‘it is all about YOU‘ we are in big trouble. That is really what Barna is seeing in his megatrends. For the record, it is not all about ‘you’, it is all about ‘Jesus’. The less we know about Jesus, the less we live for Him and like Him.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. 2 Timothy 4:3-4
In the interests of full disclosure I get lots of complaints that my messages are too light and fluffy as well. And compared to the likes of Jonathon Edward’s ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, they have got a point. But what I do try to do is combine the powerful biblical narratives with the timeless practical applications that can be and should be found within these great stories of scripture.
Oh, one other thing here before we start pointing too many fingers. Is it the pastor’s job alone to create a biblically literate church? Do we not have some level of responsibility to feed ourselves. Only babies need to be spoon-fed everything they eat. I like to remind our church that if they only spiritual meal they eat is the Sunday morning brunch… they are going to starve to death. That is by far the bigger cause of the sorry condition of the North American church. We consume 20 million greasy fast food hamburgers every day in North America. If we would start devouring the Word of God with the same passion, George Barna’s analysis would look completely different.