"I see too many pastors over-functioning for their people. They make way too many decisions for them." Wise words from a seminary professor that still ring in my mind years later. I think he was on to something. Add that to the fol-lowing passage from Mark Batterson's 2008 book, Wild Goose Chase: "I'm afraid we've turned church into a spectator sport. Too many of us are content with letting a spiritual leader seek God for us. Like the Israelites, we want Moses to climb the mountain for us. After all, it is much easier to let someone else pray for us or study for us. So the church unintentionally fosters a subtle form of spiritual codependency." Wow. How refreshing that some of the leaders in the church are willing to come out and name the elephant in the room. People in the church, myself included, depend entirely too much on their leaders to spoon-feed them morsels of spiritual truth. The office of the pastor and preacher, to my conviction, is much less "spoon-feeder" and much more "spoon-teacher"—as in, "teach people how to hold the spoon!" I try to always stress to my leaders that I am "no better and no different" than they are. I happen to be in a place of leadership, yes, but they have an equal part to play in what God is doing through our ministry. I wonder if the problem we're seeing with leaders in the church is the same problem we're seeing in schools? Parents depend-ing on teachers to not only teach their kids but to also raise them, advising them on everything from morals to mathematics. I wonder if it's the same problem we're seeing in our homes, depending on our televisions to watch our children as a more conven-ient (and less expensive) babysitter. Are you seeing any of this? Do you feel like your congregation depends too much on their leaders? As a pastor, do you feel that pressure?
DIFFERENT ISN'T WRONG
I was talking with my friend Mitch recently and he told me a story that made my head spin. Mitch was on an airplane talking to the guy next to him. It ended up that his travel buddy was a Presbyterian pastor. They got to talking and eventually ended up discussing the movement of the Holy Spirit and what that looked like. The pastor said this: "To a Presbyterian, the Holy Spirit is moving when everything lines up in order. When one element of the service flows perfectly into the next with no seams, we feel like the Spirit is at work powerfully. If there is perfect order to a service, we feel exceptionally blessed." The pastor continued, "Now, contrast that with a different tradition—let's say Pentecostal. Pentecostals feel like the Spirit moves when schedules are put aside, the pastor or preacher gives a message that lasts two hours, people are clapping and speaking in tongues and laid out on the floor." Which one is right? Is there a "right"? Can you tell one tradition that the Spirit is not moving in their church because, on the surface, it seems to be at odds with another tradition's definition of the movement of the Spirit? Could it be both? We Christians spend so much time judging one another that we can't step back for a minute and ask the question "Is God big enough to move in different ways in different churches and traditions and still be God?" Nothing bothers me more than when I visit a church that cannot accept faith traditions that express themselves differently than their own. A relationship with God goes so much deeper than our cultural assumptions and traditions. Plainly speaking, that's what most of our wor-ship expressions are—traditions that have been passed onto us by the people who have gone before us. This isn't a bad thing; we just need to be aware of it. Perhaps the tradition that makes you feel most expressive in worship before God is the same tradition that makes another Christian feel the most inhibited and uncomfortable before that same God. They aren't any less faithful; they just aren't like you. Different isn't wrong. It's just different.
Advertising Is Dead
I was watching a commercial for some "gold-into-cash" website the other day. They used adjectives such as "the best," "better," "faster" and phrases like "we pay top dollar" to describe their service. My instant thought was: "How do you know?" How do you know that your service is the best? How do you know you're better or faster than the competition? How do I know you pay top dollar for my gold? Are you going to return my gold so I can send it to another company for the sake of comparison? And here's one for burger joints: How do I know you have the world's best burgers? Or that your particular brand of burger is "world famous"? Really? You sure people in Bangladesh are going to know what I'm talking about when I say "Burgerland"? Doubtful. As a matter of fact, advertising seems to be having an adverse effect, with people simply turning off the "ad chatter." (Case in point: While listening to the radio, I heard a spot where they gave the phone number for the company three times in a row. The announcer took a breath for the fourth round, and I promptly turned off the radio.) Online media and software expert Dave Winer shares my sentiment. He blogged: "Assuming the economy comes back from the recession/depression thing that it's in now, when it does, we will have completely moved on from advertising. The Web will still be used for commercial purposes, people will still buy things from Amazon and Amazon-like sites, but they will find infor-mation for products as they do now, by searching for it and finding out what other people think, not by clicking on ads and buying things on the pages they link to. No one needs advertising, and there are much better ways to sell products." Where am I going with all of this? Simple. This little observation has massive implications for the church. For the way we "market" our churches, if you will. No longer can we depend on "Sunday Night Casual Service" or "Wednesday Night Potluck" to get people into the pews. For the most part, a watching world has no idea what a church service looks like, let alone a casual one, at that. People will be drawn to your church—the church—once they see life change flowing from it. And not before. Amazon has a feature that suggests products to you based on what you've looked at or bought in the past. It also has customer reviews that tell the Average Joe/Josephine everything they need to know about the product and whether it delivers on its prom-ises. A business may not always be honest about the benefits and drawbacks of its product, but a consumer always will be. Could it be that the massive decline in American churches is happening because people are tired of a "product" that doesn't deliver what it promises?JUSTIN M. WISEis director of projects and development for the Center for Church Communication (cfcclabs.org), a resource for church commu-nicators. Follow him online at justin.am.