Thursday, December 4, 2008

Is Image Everything?

I found this over at Out of Ur with the accompanying comment by the illustrator:

"This image reminds me of something James Twitchell writes in Shopping for God:"

"Megachurches concentrate on what makes the brand powerful: growth. What you sell is the perception that whatever it is that you are selling is in demand."

This seems cynical but I don't think that it is. Even small churches are trying to keep up with the megachurches with MP3 downloads, video sermons, projectors, mass-media, dazzling websites, even concerts and special events. They are trying to project an image of being bigger and more sophisticated than they really are. Similar things happen as 'pastors' and 'pastoral staff' spend more time creating video clips (that eventually show up on YouTube) than they do cracking the books in their study and preparing sermons.

Not long ago I heard about a new church in a neighboring city that was going to do things differently from the conventional and 'stodgy' way of most traditional churches. They were bringing in someone who'd been on staff at a leading seeker-sensitive church. They were also going to do satellite feeds to download relevant sermons. And, (most importantly), their music would be cutting edge too. After all this was not your father's church. I'm sure that they have attracted some people with their slick marketing but it really begs the question as to whether this is the right and biblical way of planting a church.

Where does prayerful dependence upon God and the work of the Holy Spirit fit into the slick marketing plans and the franchise models of church planting? Does God work regardless of who employs the strategy? Here is an even more pointed question: Is He even needed if one uses the right marketing strategy?

I would dare say that many Bible-believing churches put more time and energy into projecting an image than they do in prayer. By the same token they spend more time following a strategy than in prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit to work through the means of Word and Sacrament. I'm not just talking about others as I'm including myself and my church in this too.

John Piper said it well when he wrote a book entitled, Brothers We Are Not Professionals. That might be a good thing for pastors to read over the holidays when they have some extra time on their hands.

Ministry is more than image and so is the historic Christian faith. Jesus didn't leave the glory of heaven and take the form of a servant (Philippians 2) so that his life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven could be trivialized by slogans, tee-shirts, bumper stickers, and video-clips. The historic Christian faith is about more than making us happy now. It is about the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God into time and space. And His kingdom grows slowly, imperceptibly, and irreversibly (Matthew 13) through the means of the faithful preaching of His Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and church discipline. That has been His strategy since Jesus' ascension to heaven (Acts 1:8) and more pointedly, that has been His strategy throughout redemptive history.


Jim said...

Excellent and convicting article.

Anonymous said...

Very good! Sadly, even the Anglicans here have adopted a lot of the seeker elements and mixed it in the service.