Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Are Christians Doing Less With More?

It never ceases to amaze me how many professional Christians we have running around North America, busy with professional Christian stuff.

And I'm not just talking about ordinary senior pastors and church staffers.

I'm talking about the people of faith who write books and blogs and magazine articles, who guest-preach and teach and hold seminars, who pontificate on nuances in doctrine and theology, establish non-profit ministries to advance their viewpoints, market their radio and TV programs and websites, and generally contribute to a vast religious subculture of ways to propagate faith among the world's wealthiest Christians.

Not that it's all bad, wrong, ill-intentioned, or even new. It's been going on for at least half a century, and probably only now seems overwhelming since the Internet and social media make it so easy for anybody to set up a website, blog, or Twitter account. Granted, some individual participants in this mass-marketing of Christian ideology may not present the best expressions of faith-based ministry, but as a whole, I cannot dismiss the potential efficacy and sincere intentionality of many of these professional Christians. After all, we're promised in the Bible that when God's Word goes out, it does not return void.

But I have to look at all of this professional Christian activity, and then at our country, and wonder: God's Word may not return void, but how productive are all of the efforts of these professional Christians? Judging by the evangelical church's impact on our modern society, it looks like rain falling on fields of netting: the nets get wet, but most of the water just drains right through.

Or, perhaps what we see today in our world would look far worse if we didn't have this massive religious marketing machine churning out new books, paradigms, formulas, growth models, CDs, and opinions?

I look at my own blog, and question its relevance and necessity in the North American church culture. As I mentioned almost two years ago when I started, this blog primarily is supposed to be serving as a living resume for me to secure a writing job. Of course, I've been pleased at the feedback I've received along the way, and it has been helpful as I've tried to hone my writing craft and provide readers with a better product that's more respectful of their time and attention. But at the end of the day, isn't it up to the readers who are willing to invest that time and attention - especially to stuff by far more eminent people than myself - to make this material worthwhile?

Doesn't it seem like those types of readers, perhaps even instead of we bloggers, writers, teachers, and ministry leaders, are the people upon whom the legitimacy of this massive Christian publishing and marketing industry rises or falls?

Because I have no real reason to do otherwise, I'll take on face value that most of the personalities and material that North American Christendom is churning out these days has some benefit to Christ's kingdom. Every generation has people upon whom God has provided an impetus for writing about aspects of His glorious character, and any of us who squelch the honest calling of God in this way is to be pitied.

But let's face it: very little of what any of us write or teach is actually new. Everything we NEED to know about God is provided in His Word, while a lot of what the Christian marketing industry produces these days addresses materialistic, hedonistic, and narcissistic issues God never intended His people to prioritize in their lives anyway.

Good and insightful Christian writers and teachers inevitably rise to the top in every generation as people blessed with more skills and gifts than others, and I try not to be jealous of those people, like the Al Molher's, Tim Keller's, and Tim Challies' of our day. Besides, my purpose isn't to pick apart some leaders and ministries as inferior to others. To the extent that people believe they are being led of God to participate in His work on Earth by writing and teaching, I pray that they are indeed glorifying God with the talents they believe they've been given. Remember, what makes me question this whole industry is the apparent lack of impact this massive confection of professional Christianity is having on our world, not the likelihood that some participants in this industry have more integrity than others. The stronger one's faith, the easier it should be to discern the better messengers of God's truth.

Think about it: more resources are available to North America's believers than to any other cohort of believes at any place at any time in the history of the world. And to whom much is given, much is required, right? Yet we evangelicals still burn through our marriages at rates equal to the society around us. We still bicker, squabble, and gossip in churches like they're more country clubs than houses of worship. Most of us even center our lives around our careers, instead of Christ, and that's reflected in the choices we make regarding how much time we spend teaching our children about Christ in our homes.

Perhaps most telling, I'll point out to the consternation of most Christians, is the amount of energy we spend trying to emulate the things of the world rather than the Son of their Creator.

After all, careers, nice homes, vacations, technology, sports, education, and even politics and church have been created by a God Who loves us. None of them are bad in and of themselves, and there's not one verse in the Bible which tells us to flee any of these things. Yet in our society, they all add up to a culture of urgency, necessity, and consumption which inevitably distracts us from what should be our overarching aim in life: to worship God and enjoy Him forever.

So to many people of faith, it makes sense that consuming books and seminars and blog entries presenting concepts and ideas and opinions of urgent necessity plays a legitimate part of faith. In fact, technology has widened our access to all of this media and our natural inclination to feel behind the curve if we're not up on the latest popular preaching series propels us to continue feeding the obligation to continue consuming more and more of it.

Whew!

Along the way, of course, a number of people actually do get fed, and people of faith do encounter gems of truth presented in novel ways that help them capture God's Word in a fresh relevance. If none of this stuff had any value, the market for Christian material wouldn't be running rampant with new content all the time.

But at what point should we be seeing a credible impact by the way we live our lives and believe in God on the society around us? Rather than having a Christian subculture that would be sorely missed in North America if it disappeared tomorrow, how many of us would be mourned if our spheres of influence were denied our presence? Remember the early church in Acts, which actually found favor in Jerusalem at large by fellowshipping and worshipping with each other in counter-cultural ways?

Let's fact it: we are not influencing our culture in North America as much as copying it. And the volume of material cascading over and generated by the Christian community appears to be concealing that fact.

But is that the fault of the people and ministries producing this material?

Or the people who are supposed to be consuming it and letting God use it in them to live for Him?
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