Monday, April 12, 2010

it's engaging, not entertaining

All my life I've heard Bible-believing, well-meaning Christians criticize modern ministry methods because they were more "entertaining" than "Biblical". Before I could go to "big church" the argument was over hymnals vs. projector screens. When I was 8, everyone was all bent out of shape over "dressing up for church". People had begun wearing collared shirts and khakis instead of shirts and ties. When I was 10 it was over "contemporary music". When I was 12 it was over small groups vs. Sunday School.

Because I was in a large traditional church, they just eventually took the middle ground on everything. The hymnals were left in the pews, and every so often they would have "Hymnal 138" written on the projection screen to satisfy the hymnal wanters. Strategically picked deacons would wear a jacket with an open collar. They started having "blended" services that would accommodate both crowds (which satisfies neither by the way), and they implemented small group ministry without getting rid of Sunday School.

Now, I haven't graduated from Seminary, so my opinion may be somewhat invalid (although I am in Bible School... and a conservative one at that), but oddly enough, NONE of these programs/ministry techniques are addressed AT ALL in scripture. None.

Since I started going to a "modern church" or whatever you want to call it, I've had to participate in a lot of conversations about how our method of doing church is more about entertaining people than discipling people. As if a different music style, discipleship method, or jeans make us less Biblical. As ridiculous as that is, there are TONS of evangelicals who would argue that.

So, here's my argument: It's engaging, not entertaining.


The goal is never that we merely entertain people for an hour once a week. The goal is that we help them encounter Biblical truth in a way that ENGAGES them. Having the pastor take off his tie for the message is NOT engaging! Blending a service is NOT engaging! It's a LAME attempt to do exactly what modern churches are doing!

Traditionalists criticize the modern church (that's modern... not "post" modern) for choosing to engage their audience with excellence, when they attempt to engage their audience with mediocrity. Their failure to engage the next generation is not based on their Biblical message, it's based on their outdated techniques. People are not leaving the traditional church because they're "preaching truth"... they're leaving the traditional church because they're not preaching it well.

It's about engaging... not entertaining.

16 comments:

  1. great post nate.. i love it.. you make a great point about not entertaining people but engaging them to go deeper.. Thanks for the thoughts..

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  2. Nate, you hit one of the thrusts of education--engaging students in learning. I imagine that church leaders find many of the same challenges as we educators do--finding ways to present concepts that will cause people to close out all the clutter and noise in the world. Excellent post!

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  3. Great Post Nate and something that I've been dealing with here in Australia for years. As a former youth pastor and worship director I've had to step out of serving in a church becasue of this very issue. I dont understand how churches can continue to operate in their "holy huddles" while ignoring the need to connect with people who live in today's world.

    I long to find a church in my city that sees the need to pressent the Gospel message in today's lanugage so that all people can understand it. The Truth never changes but the way we share it, deliver it and engage people with it MUST change if we are to be effective in reaching people for Christ.

    It's refreshing to see a young man who is thinking about how to be effective and not just looking to be comfortable in a 'secure' ministry position :-)

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  4. Its definately a good arguement but I believe its not entirely true. I believe everyone experiences God in different ways. Some get more out of modern services and others get more out of traditional services. I myself enjoy traditional but this doesnt mean my pastor doesnt connect to us each week. I still get a connection to God through a hymnal. I still connect to God in a tie. Everyone is different and everyone connects differently. I believe your arguement is based soley on YOUR beliefs and not EVERYBODY. People just need to find a church that fits them. Personally, I look for a church that the pastor deliverss thought provoking, scripture minded sermons. You prefer real world application but that doesnt make one better than the other. Just a thought!

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  5. Anonymous, I agree completely that everyone experiences God in different ways! My argument is not that traditional services are bad or prevent people from encountering God, my argument is that the majority of traditional churches are only continuing to be traditional because they can't keep up with the changes of culture. There's a HUGE, MASSIVE difference between being traditional intentionally, and being traditional because you haven't changed to anything else.

    A lot of traditional churches introduce small changes in order to try and appease younger audiences. That's just simply not effective. Pick an audience, and design your ministry to reach them. I'm not suggesting that modern churches are the only ones doing it right, I am suggesting that traditional churches who are traditional only because they've failed to adapt are not reaching their potential, and as a result hurting the mission of the church globally. That is a belief that should affect EVERYBODY!

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  6. Thank you Nate! I stumbled across your blog thanks to God's leading. Just had an older gentleman at our church completely labaste our worship leader for the lack of hymns in the music set, threatening to leave the church and take others with him. I so agree with you, it is about engaging our hearts and minds with the living God. He is present when we gather, but so many are making it about something else and are not open to engaging Him.

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  7. Nate, great post! You're a chip off the old block.

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  8. You are so right on Nate! Thanks for sharing--be bold & be the salt & the light!

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  9. Are you lumping ALL traditional churches under what seems to be a diatribe? For the (literally) love of Jesus can't both the traditional and modern church co-exist and honor God and minister to those who already know Him and those who need to know Him, without all this type of language? Traditional bashing... modern bashing... away, away, away... GIVE THEM JESUS..GIVE THEM THE GOSPEL and God will take care of wooing them to Him... The WORD convicts...There have always been similar arguments about "how" each of us believe the best or more effective way is to present the Gospel. BUT He, Himself and the truth found in His word are the only effective way to lead others to Him. Not judging each other (traditional, modern) would be a HUGE plus in winning our community and the world to Jesus. All "they"(the ones who don't know Him or need healing) need to see and hear are those proclaiming to know Him, fighting/arguing about the method, mode, technique, style..... From my view (which may be small to you) I see both being effective in an "engaging" way, which in turn is bringing Him glory. As a child in your traditional church, did they love you and teach you about Jesus and who He was? Did what they were doing at the time have an influence on your coming to know Him? Did you not have spiritual and Godly men and women as leaders? Were you not fed the gospel there? You were so correct when you stated "none of these programs/ministry techniques are addressed at all in scripture". That statement should stand on it's own in supporting both type of churches you have spoken about. You say since you have been going to a modern church (or in you words "whatever they want to call it") you've been told it's more about entertaining ... in the same respect the traditional church has been told they are out of touch, not with the times. Do you see any correlation between the talk on both sides about each other. I see this as a perfect tool for the great deceiver. It will divide and delute the truth of the gospel that both of these groups want to share...I do see the correlation. God is BIG enough to work thru anyone, anywhere who is presenting the gospel in truth and love and in the way in which they think their Father is leading them. I see the frustration in your having to answer or try to defend such statements that have been made to you about "entertaining" instead of "engaging", but can't you believe that the traditional church have been asked the same questions in reverse and also been frustrated or on guard? We do have an older population that should be shown respect for their wisdom and age and they can't always fit into what we call a modern church. My parents, who are both in the presence of the Lord now, would have been fish out of water in a modern chuch, yet they loved people and shared the Gospel with people right until the Lord took them home. I will tell you that when they were alive, they fully supported the traditional church they belonged to with anything new to "engage" young people. They couldn't always understand the words to some of the contempoary songs but they knew the young folks did and therefore supported it. They were proud of the young ministers and what they were doing. In saying this , their church was one in which they had traditional, blended, and contempoary. It was something new that supported all the generations. The question we come down to, is can we all believe that there is more than one way to effectively "engage" people with the gospel of Jesus? We have a vast array of ages to minister to. One way may not be effective for all, BUT His Gospel IS effective for ALL. If we speak His word in truth and love, He WILL be glorified. Praying that we all may love and respect each other while presenting a precious Savior that the whole world needs.

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  10. Oh, forgot one other thing.. Talking about when you were a child.. well, when I was a child the church we went to didn't have a restroom, had a line with a light bulb to the outhouse and boy did that cause a stew... then we got AC (you know air-conditioning)another stew... so you see there has always been something about change that people have to get used to. The Gospel was the same then as it is now...It didn't keep me from coming to know Jesus Christ and neither did it turn me off the church. It isn't truth we are having issues over ... it's stuff... bathrooms, AC, hymnals, clothes, Sunday School, community groups, music, technique, style.. see we've been changing all along.. Love each other, present the truth of the Gospel,and God will take care of the "stuff"...

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  11. Why, I even remember my mother setting a trend (and probably raising a few eyebrows)with her older Sunday School class by wearing pants to church:) You see.. she was older and she was colder:) They didn't turn her away and the Gospel stayed the same. Sorry, no more comments, and I love that our Savior died for all and that we are autonomous in working out our salvation with fear and trembling. You seem to be a young man with passion and great potential to give em' Jesus.

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  12. Came to this blog via a friend. Interesting to say the least. The big debate is ongoing over these very issues. The question..Is it about Jesus or personal? I would say a bit of both. Debate is healthy if done with love and respect. I, however, think that it is unfair for either side of this issue to say that one is "mediocre" and one is "excellent" in engaging their audience. Maybe it is your target or just demographic. I can see the need for the all contempoary church, and the need for a mixed church, and yes, even the need for the traditional church. The need is to reach ALL generations. In a church with multi generations, you may need to be mixed. In a church with a predominately older generation you might need traditional, and in a church with a predominately younger geaneration you might need all contemporary. Ed Stetzer, Lifeway Research, had a blog concerning this recently: http://www.edstetzer.com/2010/04/how-do-we-engage-culture.html#comments. If you want to see debate, take a look at the 20 comments on this post and the ones on here. Again, debate is healthy if done with love and respect. Myself, being an older believer, know that the lifeblood of any church is the younger generation. But you have to consider that their are churches in areas where the demographics have changed over time, such as an inner city church, that at one time was growing, thriving, but the population has moved to suburbia, leaving mostly an older generation and they have even lost their leadership for the same reasons. Should they just have no place to worship? and no, they are probably not going to grow as other churches would, but God knows all that. They may not neccessarily be "engaging" people as we think they should, but as long as they are presenting the truth of God's Word, He can and will move in the hearts of those present. I've seen this first hand. A 90 yr. Sunday School teacher, teaching a few precious 8 yr. olds. Still sending out the message of hope. We can not just minister to one group of the population. That is the very reason that we need to have diversity in reaching the world, including our own communities, for Jesus. It would be nice if there were a perfect plan, but there isn't. We see thru the glass darkly now, but we will see clearly one day. We are commanded over and over in God's word to love one another. I think that we would all agree that there are more than enough people out there who need Jesus for ALL of us to reach. I think Paul was a pretty good example talking to the church in I Cor. 9:19-23. All things, to ALL men. Thanks for your passion and desire to see men come to the Savior.

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  13. To both anonymous posts, I agree 1000% that the point is the Gospel. Jesus is the foundation of the church. Everything should be designed to make Him famous!

    The point of the post is very simple: the church should strive to engage their audience WITH the Gospel. The presentation matters.

    If you're being traditional to reach traditionalists, then that's awesome! Being traditional because you're opposed to change is not.

    Thanks for the comments!

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  14. You got to love Mr. and Mrs. Anonymous! They are two of my favorites in the ministry. The debate is always present whether or not you should respond to anonymous comments. I think you handled it well...and I agree with your response. 1000%

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  15. I am one of the anonymous. I choose this because I believe that it doesn't interfere with a truly unbiased debate. Maybe you and have met and formed an opinoin about Mr. or Mrs. Anonymous, this might cause a biased interaction on the subject matter. No disrespect was meant on my end, just a little open ended discussion. I believe that the young man, Nate, to be a very serious student of God's word. I think as long as we have young adults with his love for learning more about what God's will is for his life then no matter what the methodology is, the world will see KING JESUS. I choose to remain anonymous and thank the young man for responding.

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