At work not long ago, a large group of us were having a luncheon meeting to discuss an upcoming marketing campaign. Part of the campaign involves talking directly with the public, which is something of a leap for a non-consumer business.
This has been building for months. And on this day, the discussion is around the company’s “persona” or voice, and what it should sound like, what language should be used and what language to avoid, and possibly even what movie actors in various roles might suggest for the effort.
The discussion reaches a point where it’s noticeable that I’m not participating. So I’m asked for my opinion.
“When did we forget how to talk with people?” I ask. “When did forget to put ourselves in others’ shoes, hear what they’re saying, and find a way to respond to their concerns? Why do we think we have to script everything? We’re talking about being authentic when it sounds like what we want is to control the conversation.”
The conversation takes a turn, and in a good direction. Not everyone agrees with what I say, but it’s not easy to argue that authenticity may be the antithesis of what’s being proposed. But at least this issue is out on the table, recognized, debated, and, if not resolved, at least understood.
I’m passionate on this subject. The people around the table hear it in my voice. I hear it my voice.
This is one of those days I feel like a dinosaur. This is not generally the way the company is going, nor is it generally the way the world is going.
Afterward, alone in my office, I think about the church. And I understand what has been troubling me for almost the last 15 years. The business conversation we had at lunch applies to what I’ve experienced at two churches for the last 15 years.
Here’s what Francis Chan says: “We’ve created a whole brand of churches that do not depend upon the Spirit, a whole culture of Christians that do not depend on the Spirit, a whole culture of Christians who are not disciples, a new group of ‘followers’ who do not follow.”
I read those words in Chan’s Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, and I feel burning coals being heaped upon my head.
Been there, done that.
When did we forget to depend upon the Spirit? When did we decide that Willowcreek is the model, or Mars Hill is the model, or “one church / multiple campuses” is the model? When did we start applying the notion of “success” to the church and defining and measuring success by size and numbers? If it was about numbers and size, why didn’t God start with the power and size of Rome instead of some fishermen in an empire backwater?
Perhaps it’s the effects of getting older and more curmudgeonly. Perhaps it’s heard one too many church transformational plans. Perhaps it’s walking into too many church meetings or seminars and being ambushed with a great new revitalization proposal to “bring millennials back to the church.” Perhaps it’s singing one too many repetitious praise songs in worship services.
Those heaping coals are burning.
“God is not interested in numbers,” Chan says. “He cares most about faithfulness, not the size, of His bride. He cares about whether people are lovers of Him.”
And big buildings, big music, big attendance, eclectic services, church planning consultants, fundraising programs, new communications technology and coffee bars can’t do that. None of these things can do what God cares most about. These things come from man.
Only the Spirit can do what God cares most about.
Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading Forgotten God. To see more posts, on this chapter, “Supernatural Church,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.
Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.