Saturday, May 21, 2005

Earthly Empires

Willow Creek Auditorium - Photo by Bill Bilsley Posted by Hello

After noticing this article in Business Week - Earthly Empires - How evangelical churches are borrowing from the business playbook
and later in Fast Company's God is in the Details blog, I've came away with mixed feelings of modern day Christianity as expressed in the megachurches. Granted megachurches do incredible work based on the sheer power of applied resources balanced with the core values of Jesus Christ's teachings of the two greatest commandments.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Without hesitation Jesus replied, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it; Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matthew 22:15-46

The article goes on to cite - "Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church is one of a new generation of evangelical entrepreneurs transforming their branch of Protestantism into one of the fastest-growing and most influential religious groups in America. Their runaway success is modeled unabashedly on business. They borrow tools ranging from niche marketing to MBA hiring to lift their share of U.S. churchgoers. Like Osteen, many evangelical pastors focus intently on a huge potential market -- the millions of Americans who have drifted away from mainline Protestant denominations or simply never joined a church in the first place."

Once established, some ambitious churches are making a big business out of spreading their expertise. "Our entrepreneurial impulse comes from the Biblical mandate to get the message out," says Willow Creek founder Bill Hybels, who hired Stanford MBA Greg Hawkins, a former McKinsey & Co. consultant, to handle the church's day-to-day management. Willow Creek's methods have even been lauded in a Harvard Business School case study.

I'm fine with where the article was going with this... but

Hybel's consumer-driven approach is evident at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., where he shunned stained glass, Bibles, or even a cross for the 7,200-seat, $72 million sanctuary he recently built. The reason? Market research suggested that such traditional symbols would scare away non-churchgoers.

I'm grieved by the statement above - when we water down the Gospel and not acknowledge the Cross, we as Christian leaders are doing a tremendous disservice to the flock. Word Lite is always appealing because our human nature is to have our ears tickled and dodge the tough issue of sin in our personal lives. I can see why a Gospel of Word Lite can be appealing to the masses - however to Willow's Creek credit and strategy as an easy and nonthreatening entry point to Christianity, many people do hunger for meatier things that are found in the Bible and the Cross and move on to churches that take the time to delve deeply into the Word of God.

Willow Creeks' approach with a contemporary setting is part of a deliberate attempt to make the unchurched feel comfortable. I understand from many of my friends that the theology they teach is extremely traditional, including the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God and that salvation come through faith in Jesus Christ.

Here's my concern - there will be attempts by the non-religious establishment (just like in Jesus' day) to trap Christians into their perceptions that would incriminate and discredit all Christians because we are not adequately equipped in our faith. We in the church need to teach the flock in such a way that all will respond by Jesus Christ's example when the Sadducees tried to trap Jesus as evidenced in the passages found in Matthew 22:15-46. Jesus stymies the Sadducees with His forthright and astute knowledge of the Bible and theology.

"Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are." I would not want God to say to me, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God." Yet in God's grace, I am encouraged to "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:15 NIV)

Backdrop from Passion 05 Conference in Nashville, January 2005 Posted by Hello

The article wraps up with an assessment that "despite the megachurch surge, overall church attendance has remained fairly flat. And if anything, popular culture has become more vulgar in recent years. Still, experts like pollster Gallup see clear signs of a rising fascination with spirituality in the U.S."

Thank God there is a rising hunger and expression for radical and vibrant Christianity expressed through college students across campuses via an agent called Passion Ministries and for men via Promise Keepers which this year, marks its 15th year of conference ministry. I've seen first hand incredible catalytic moves of God in both of these ministries resulting in radically changed lives. More later...

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