July 16, 2012
Some nouns don’t do much to depict detail; they cover a broad range of different versions under the same generalization. Example: car. My first had four wheels and an engine, but my ’63 Plymouth had little in common with my modern Toyota, or with the myriad of machines in today’s showrooms.
Say church, and you may have even more variability. Say it in China today, and the same word would be used for the state-sanctioned, sanctuary-enclosed Sunday meetings… and the often-sequestered house gatherings that are not allowed, but exploding across the country, making China – in the opinion of many informed observers – the country with more Christians than any other.
Even in America, church needs more definition to become clear. The majority of the churches in the USA are small, and getting smaller. Many have a history of a time when they were more vibrant and vital, but they are aging and dying as their charter members pass, and no younger members appear.
Get more specific; say mega-church. Even then, the differences are very significant.
On one extreme of that spectrum is the expansive weekend gathering that offers a sanitized version of the Christian gospel. There’s no bad news; the crowd in the house is “pickin’ up good vibrations.” The offer from the platform (don’t say “pulpit;” that makes it sound like someone might start preaching) comes from a little -“g”- god who came to make your personal goals come true. Health, wealth, prominence; all will be yours if you just keep a positive attitude and invite god (little “g”) to be on your team…
Some of America’s biggest biggies – the most mega of the mega – are comfortably positioned on that end of the spectrum. Avoiding any of the tough-talk that characterized Jesus’ provocative messages, they are easy to swallow, and hard to dislike. Successful smiles are more likely than tears of conviction as their Sunday morning rallies are staged.
There are some in the mega-milieu that would be very differently experienced. Less peaceful for the culturally comfortable, they are a place where the messaging is far more demanding; their God (big-“G”) is far more expectant; the offer is far more intense. “Surrender” is more likely found in the proclamation than “succeed;” the idea that the congregation has been called to be part of God’s Plan – rather than Him being a resource for the congregation’s self-achievement plans – will be the take-away that challenges and transforms the people who came seeking more than a human potential motivational rally with a closing prayer.
The pastor of one of those disquieting churches – David Platt, from The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama – has put into print that kind of provocative thinking. It’s Radical (Multnomah Books, 2010) – the title, and the commentary – and it should be in your summer reading stack.
Let me allow you to listen in, as Platt lays out the agenda for his 217 page conversation: “In this book I want to show you that, with the best of intentions, we have actually turned away from Jesus. We have in many areas blindly and unknowingly embraced values and ideas that are common in our culture but are antithetical to the gospel He taught. Here we stand amid an American dream dominated by self-advancement, self-esteem, and self-sufficiency, by individualism, materialism and universalism. Yet I want to show you our desperate need to revisit the words of Jesus, to listen to them, to believe them, and to obey them. We need to return with urgency to a biblical gospel, because the cost of not doing so is great for our lives, our families, our churches, and the world around us…”
One kind of church allows me to say, “It’s all about me… and He’s here to contribute to my plan.” On the other end of the spectrum, there is a kind of church that makes it clear that, “…It’s all about Him, and I’m here to contribute to His plan.”
Which message did you hear yesterday? Make no mistake: we – The Master’s Program – are locked on the “all about Him” position, and challenging leaders to join in advancing His plan…