A massive steel lion, dancing sharks and palm trees with faces, explosions, “fireworks”, and even a sparkling, flaming star resembling “The More You Know” TV ads. No doubt, Katy Perry went all out as usual for the Super-Bowl half-time show.
It got me thinking. The church in America is trying to reach our culture with what our culture is familiar with by competing with the entertainment industry and world of media to some extent. At the core, there are good motives behind that. As legit missionaries we should be trying to engage culture where it’s at, and not create some kind of time warp vacuum where people are stepping into the bizarro land of the 1950’s or 1980’s in order to meet with Jesus. We need to live and breathe in 2015, because that’s the year we currently live in. That’s the culture we’re engaging. That’s the year that this article is being written, and in two years time, no doubt culture will rapidly change.
A common argument that leads to the kind of thinking we have in the 21st century is that the church should be the center of creativity and the arts, and shouldn’t be copying culture, but creating culture and being an influence. After all, the “church” as an institution was once this way, and produced amazing art like the music of Bach, and the art of Michelangelo.
But we need to learn lessons from our past as well. Along with the church being a central institution of culture came a power hungry mentality that burned people at the stake, ostracized malcontents, and became greedy, corrupt and hypocritical. At some points in history both the Catholic and Protestant churches have controlled cultures, and thereby the art produced within them had to be approved by the institutions to even become public. Hence, any underground art that disagreed with the church wouldn’t have been remembered in history.
So I would say that our efforts to compete with Hollywood in America for the sake of Christ are misdirected. For one, if I want to see a good concert, I’ll go to see U2 or the Black Keys. If I want pyrotechnics, I’ll go and see Kiss… are they even still touring? But trying to recreate emotive, high-budget experiential realities within the church is honestly kind of silly. We’ll never have the budget to pull it off like Katy Perry did at the half-time show. We’ll never really compete with entertainment at that level. And churches of our era are blowing massive amounts of cash trying to compete with Hollywood, and never coming close, while people die of poverty, neighbors in our communities have real tangible needs, and the gospel of consumerism is creating a generation of experience addicted hypocrites that aren’t pursuing real discipleship, but instead hopping from church to church to find the most high quality production, when they should be looking for leaders to emulate that exude Christ-like character.
Now are fog machines and colored lights wrong? Is having good musicians playing good worship music wrong? Is having a gifted speaker teach about God’s Word and a well-executed and produced worship service/experience wrong? No, not at all. We’re privileged to live in a culture where we can have people utilize their talents and passions to serve Jesus and the church as an organism and institution.
But when the church becomes a utilitarian organization that desires to market Jesus as a brand, utilize people’s giftedness while not caring for their souls, maturity or character, and peddles a cheap watered down gospel that is devoid of scriptural wholeness to a culture that knows nothing of who Jesus is and will easily accept a counterfeit version that is wrapped in a sparkling package, it is basically on the path to hell. This isn’t the opinion of this writer. It’s what Jesus was saying when He warned listeners; “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:21-23)
To be a “worker of lawlessness” means to be a person who practices unrighteous things themselves, and leads others to do the same. The danger that Jesus is talking of is the fact that one can appear in the public eye to have it all together for Him while secretly living a duplicitous life. We, as pastors as ministry leaders, are in especially grave danger of this. This is just a speculation and opinion, but I think many may come to the throne room from this generation of ministry leaders and say to Jesus on the day of judgment; “Lord, did we not have the most amazing Sunday services? Didn’t we see people come to know you often because of them? Didn’t we have the tightest productions? Didn’t we have 100% accurate theology and doctrine? Didn’t we strike fear into the hearts of people to obey You? Didn’t we make you relevant to a new generation?” And Jesus will reply with the same words to some- “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
The point is this; Jesus desires our hearts and lives. He wants to live in the hidden corridors of our souls so that we won’t need any mask of pretension to hide anything of shame. He would rather that we be sincere, devoted followers of Him that have been captivated by His love and forgiveness to the point where we embody authentic, transparent lives of holiness and grace to a watching world, and pastoring a church of twenty people, than that we’re pastoring a church of thousands and live a life of inch-deep character where no one really knows our true darkness within, and the person behind closed doors. In the age of social media platforms we are in extra special danger of becoming hypocrites. Granted, there are amazing followers of Christ that will see tens of thousands of people meet Him through their ministries, and may pastor incredibly large institutions faithfully. There are also missionaries who will labor in the Middle East, Europe, or maybe tough to reach areas in the U.S., and see very few people come to know Jesus. But God cares for faithfulness. We may be a fruitful tree that yields one healthy piece of fruit or tens or hundreds or thousands, but we never want to be a fake tree that yields plastic fruit of any kind, or even worse, a rotten tree that yields poisoned fruit. (Matt. 7:16-20)
And when it comes to all the bells and whistles that we tend towards in the Western Church, we must be careful. We can’t allow our methods and presentation to supersede the pursuit of true biblical character. May we pursue Christ with everything we are, and use everything that we’re given to glorify Him, help people to meet Him, and help those in the greatest need!
Let’s let Katy Perry do what she does best, and let Jesus take care of the rest.