Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Congregations Gone Wild - New York Times

One of the members of my church forwarded a short and important article published in the New York Times over the weekend.  The article concisely explains why ministers are burning out - they are trying to please the ever changing tastes and desires of their congregations.  He writes,
The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.

As a result, pastors are constantly forced to choose, as they work through congregants’ daily wish lists in their e-mail and voice mail, between paths of personal integrity and those that portend greater job security. As religion becomes a consumer experience, the clergy become more unhappy and unhealthy.
I think that this is something often overlooked by most of the people in the pews.  Church has become a consumer experience for most Americans.  They 'shop' around to find the best deal for music, programs, teaching and facilities paying little attention to doctrine or denomination.  Sadly, we have seen it in our own community when people with a PCA background move to town and choose to worship somewhere else because 'we aren't the flavor of PCA that they prefer.'  Now, no one comes out and actually says this, but it it is pretty obvious that after a few questions you learn that they are choosing a church home for something other than reformed theology.

This article has bearing on what occurred at my denomination's recent General Assembly in Nashville.  By day we debated the Strategic Plan and whether or not the denomination needed a major overhaul (those backing the plan argued that we are losing young people and the plan must be implemented).  By night the worship services featured innovative formats that pushed the envelope on what constitutes faithful worship.  To me it became apparent that those backing the Strategic Plan planned those services as a means to lobby for their point of view.  This was most clear on Wednesday evening when Dr. Bryan Chapell served as worship leader with Indelible Grace handling the worship music.  I do not wish to debate the merits of their music.  I only mention them because the implicit message of that evening was this: young people like this form of worship.  If we are going to attract and keep them we have to give them what they want.  This supports the thesis of the NT Times article - give people what they want or else they will walk. 

I'm saddened that many in my denomination have surrendered to consumerism.  I saw this play out when the Baby Boomers came of age and it happened when Gen-X arrived on the scene.  Now it is happening with the children of the Boomers.  This surrender reminds me of the book, "No Place for Truth".  Is this where we are heading as a denomination? 

You can read the NT Times piece here:  Congregations Gone Wild - NYTimes.com

1 comment:

Bobby Avant said...

Just curious about your remark regarding Indelible Grace. You seem to infer that their music is a compromise or perhaps falls short of reformed worship. Now that may not be what you are infering and I know you don't want to debate so I won't respond unless invited. But Indelible Grace uses traditional hymns with new tunes. I'm not sure I see a problem.