The Counterintuitive Church (pt.4, Let’s Be Clear)

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So far, three parts into my multi-part series on the counterintuitive nature of life in Christ, and I’ve yet to receive any comments accusing me of being too negative or of harboring jealousy over the megachurch’s success. Clearly, I’ve either offended (or bored) away everyone who disagrees with me, or I’ve not been clear. Let’s be sure it’s not the latter.

Megachurches are based in extreme pragmatism. Consider the rationale behind them:

  • “They allow the church to have resources that smaller churches just can’t have.”
  • “We didn’t set out to build an impersonal empire of seeker-friendliness, but its what the people wanted.”
  •  ”Hey, God’s blessing it.” or, “As long as people are coming to faith…”
  • “The Bible doesn’t say we shouldn’t have a multi-million dollar building with a coffee shop and a parking structure.”

Video Venues are an exercise in pragmatism. Supporters will be quick to claim:

  • “The video sites allow our pastor to increase his influence.”
  • “This way, I can spend more time with my family.”
  • “People don’t even seem to notice that the preacher isn’t physically there.”
  • “Whether we like it or not, people come to hear (our pastor) speak.”
  • “Paul wrote letters and sent them around. We use DVDs and streaming live video.”

Professional parachurch missions are a pragmatic response to the Great Commission. Churches outsource missions to them because:

  • “Our people are better trained for missions than most people in the local church.”
  •  ”People are dying and going to hell.”
  • “A small church with limited resources can’t do as much as we can.”
  • “We’ve organized the work into strategic priorities.”
  • “We have a great insurance program.”

I am not saying any of these things are necessarily bad. I am saying that they are sensible solutions to perceived problems that may not be God’s best for His church. We should not default to these sorts of pragmatic approaches to ministry, mission, and church just because they “work” or “make sense.” Why not?

How we do ministry has profound and long-lasting detrimental consequences on the churches we serve. If we elevate practicality, effectiveness, and sensibility as church values, we risk changing the very message we preach. So much of who Jesus is and what Jesus does is counterintuitive. Why is it that so much of what the church does just makes sense?

My question is this: how can someone like me (missionary, practitioner) gently and lovingly point out the pervasive pragmatism in the American church without coming across as a negative, overly critical, know-it-all jerk? 

NEXT: What’s Wrong With Pragmatism?

8 thoughts on “The Counterintuitive Church (pt.4, Let’s Be Clear)

  1. Some of the prophets sounded like know-it-all jerks. Maybe you should just use old language to something more like… “Woe to you, pastors, elders, mega churches and missionaries, you hypocrites! You focus all of your time and energy developing the perfect Sunday morning experience complete with video screens and stadium seating. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without forgetting to think about the implications of the former.”

  2. Well done! I believe that 10 churches of 250 people lead by the Spirit of God will always do more real work than a church of 2500. That church may have more stuff, but those ten churches will have more impact.

  3. I think maybe you aren’t getting push-back yet because folks aren’t quite sure what you are getting at or the counter-intuitive alternative you are proposing. “If we are reaching people by being ‘pragmatic’ then what is your point?” I think I know what you are saying and therefore probably agree but folks in these “pragmatic” mega-churches have never seen anything else so can’t imagine anything else. I am hoping you will follow up this series with an explanation of your counter-alternative approach and how you know that is what God is leading you to do. Sorry, is that too pragmatic? : )

  4. I agree with what you’re saying…I think that pragmatism has become the measure of success among many. I’m not a fan and I can’t stand the ‘it must be God’s will because it working’ bit. What we see as ‘working’ just might not be what God sees as working. In defense of the sermon being piped in bit…I had to wrestle over this, and then I realized that I no longer believe the sermon to be the life changing, disciple creating element of the Church..so who cares if a preacher is live or not if they both border on the idolatrous either way? In contradiction to that…I would say that each community of believers needs to have an incarnational teaching voice, I just don’t think it needs to be in the form of a sermon…thoughts?

  5. Paul told Timothy to preach the word. Be instant in season and out of season. To rebuke, reprove, and exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. When preaching ceases to be the prominent method of getting the message out churches are in trouble.

    I believe that the scriptures are clear about the need to emphasize the preaching of God’s word and that no matter how the Holy Spirit leads a church it would never be away from the central place of preaching. It is what John the Baptist did, it is what Jesus did, it is what the Apostles did, and I believe it is what we should do.

  6. Dave,
    I guess I don’t really come to your same conclusions about preaching. Maybe it’s a matter of word definitions, but I don’t think that the NT concept of “preaching” necessarily = sermonic teaching.

    I believe that the Word is central (as you mention- our foundation, our only authority) to all that we do, but I don’t think it’s a Biblical requirement that we communicate it through “preaching” as it’s commonly practiced today.

    In the context of church, we can teach, rebuke, reprove, exhort, and evangelize without preaching a sermon. If a casual spiritual conversation (no less bold in presentation and assertion of the truth) can be considered “preaching,” I suppose I’d agree with you.

    Justin,
    Yeah. If the “sermon” isn’t as necessary to church as many would claim, personal communication of the truth is. When a church relies on a sermon podcast (no matter how good the preacher may be), they tend to be lazy about their responsibility to do all that Dave reminds us about in his comment. If half of the meeting time in a typical hour-long gathering is spent listening to Mark Driscoll (or whomever), there’s usually not much time left for a pastor (who knows the group members personally) to communicate the Word to them in a personal and meaningful way.

  7. Stepchild – I think that preaching is a unique experience that is based upon the direction of the Holy Spirit. There are all different kinds of preaching.

    Paul tells the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.” (Acts 20:26-32)

    So, call it what you like, but the work of the Spirit will always cause the word of God to be made clear through the voices of those called to speak it. I call it preaching. Some may call it teaching, others may call it mentoring, however it is all still the proclamation of truth expressed in the power of the Holy Spirit.

    It is counterintuitive in this modern world to trust in the foolishness of preaching to do God’s work in this day.

  8. Dave,
    Well said. I appreciate what you’ve written here and agree 100%. The proclamation of the Word must never be forsaken.

    And you’re right- it is counterintuitive. While many, in the name of contextualization, seeker-sensitivity, or post-propositionalism might abandon the regular proclamation of truth, we really have nothing else. As Martin Luther famously wrote, he taught the Gospel “again and again, because I greatly fear that after we have laid our head to rest, it will soon be forgotten and will again disappear.”
    Thank you.

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