I was fascinated this week by one of the networks investigative news programs. This particular program was interviewing one of America's most popular preachers.
The show was 180 degrees opposite of what I expected. The preacher (if you can call him that) was defending his position on why he only preached positive, life-building motivational messages. My surprise came (the 180 degree thing) when the reporter argued that the man was a gifted motivational speaker but not a true preacher.
The interview was, in my opinion, quite civil - on both the minister and reporter's part. You could tell that there was a mutual respect that these men held for one another (and that was refreshing). But the reporter was relentless saying, "But that's not preaching. Aren't you afraid that you are misleading people into false hopes by refusing to talk about sin, judgement and the reality of hell? What makes you different from any motivational speaker?" The only answer the minister had to these questions was to the last, where he claimed that using scripture to back up his positive message is what made him a minister and not just another motivational speaker.
I have to side with the reporter on this issue. Jeremiah wrote, "From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed. From prophets to priests, they are all frauds. They offer superficial treatments for my people's mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions? Not at all - they don't even know how to blush! Therefore, they will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them," says the Lord" (Jeremiah 6:13-15, NLT).
The subject of the interview mentioned above continued to hold his position. He was convinced that people didn't want to go to church to hear about their failures and he was going to give them the encouragement they craved. Jeremiah wrote, "'From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed. From prophets to priests, they are all frauds. They offer superficial treatments for my people's mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their disgusting actions? Not at all-they don't even know how to blush! Therefore, they will lie among the slaughtered. They will be brought down when I punish them,' says the Lord" (Jeremiah 6:13-15, NLT).
The outcome of this interview, for me at least, was that I found myself asking why is it that the church is suffering today? Why do we have to consult church growth experts, have analysis done to identify our weaknesses and work so hard at attracting people?
I am sure there are all sorts of reasons that can be given to my questions. However, I am personally convinced that the reason the modern church is losing ground so rapidly is because the modern church member is not living as a Christian. For most in our churches today, Christianity is little more than giving lip service to the "Golden Rule," striving to be good moral people (in the sense that we are not as immoral as some - though we long ago gave up on the general immorality clauses of the Bible), and not making any waves. To a watching world the church is neither dangerous nor desirable, and the modern church member seems to be happy with that state of affairs.
The desperate need of the church is not that we become more relevant. It is not that we create programs to make us appear more desirable. The desperate need of the church is true transformation in the way the average Christian thinks, talks, walks, and lives. We do not need how-to manuals, church growth gurus, entertainers for pastors, we need a fresh touch from the Spirit of God that sets us on our feet, and gets us living lives worthy of the name we claim. The interviewer in the report above is right: as long as lost people can get motivation from a seminar, what will compel them to get that same information from a church? We in the church need to preach Christ, and we need to live for Christ, and then a skeptical world will take notice.
Dr. John Pearrell is pastor of Gateway Community Church. Write him in care of the church at 11677 Brown Bridge Road Covington, GA, 30016. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org