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The Show Must Not Go On
by Derek Elkins
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The Show Must Not Go On

What sort of company would we have if we simply hired someone, gave them the most basic of training and then left them to figure the job out on their own? If they wandered around for months, we would have no one to blame but ourselves. However, we expect more from our employees, because their boss is providing their pay and benefits. Isnít God the boss of bosses? Why shouldnít the church expect more from its members than companies do their employees? Is financial gain more important than eternal security?

The problem stems from our hiring and initiation methods. When a personís salvation is embedded on such a loose foundation as emotion that was produced directly from church entertainment, why should we be surprised when the submission departs as soon as the entertainment subsides? Yet we often enlarge and complicate the situation by busying our members with additional entertainment and building-edifying acts of service. Like a circular argument, we want new members so they can take care of the church. Then the church can get new members. We are exonerating our buildingís existence. Our evangelism is designed to get unbelievers into the church so that they can be presented the gospel. But, why arenít the laymen of the church the ones who are responsible for the presenting of the gospel message to their friends and relatives?

Itís a huge conspiracy. One day, when we were all looking the other way, someone, seeing that the laymen werenít going to carry the evangelistic load, decided that the church had better pick up the slack. So, now unbelievers are lead, or enticed, to the church to be evangelized, instead of the church training and sending disciples out to do the work of evangelization. This current state is detrimental to the local church on several different fronts.

First, as the emphasis of responsibility toward evangelism is shifted away from the layman to the church, the laymanís attitude toward spiritual responsibility becomes lax. If the laymen are reduced to glorified advertisements for the local church, there would be no need for them to learn how to lead an unbeliever to salvation as the job could clearly be better accomplished by the minister, who has been formally trained and is paid for just such a task. The obvious conclusion to a decreased involvement in spiritual processes for the layman leads to a feeling of disinterest, as well as a feeling of inadequacy in relaying the gospel. Practice makes perfect, but no practice increases ignorance. No wonder the Mormons grow and continue to grow. Their laymen own responsibility in the growth of the church.

Training on evangelism is, of course, available in the majority of local churches. However, the ones attending those classes are usually the ones who are doing the majority of work in the church. The laymen represent the ten- percent who are spiritually alive in the church. The remaining ninety- percent will not attend a class and will subsequently never share their faith with a lost person. Their evangelism experience will likely plateau with an invitation to a friend or relative to attend the laymanís church, if that.

After we have established the church building as the main evangelistic tool, it naturally follows that we would reshape the worship service to cater more to the unbeliever. So, additional entertainment is introduced in our services, such as skits, additional soloists, and choir ensembles. The preacher must alter his style so he is less fire and brimstone and more master of ceremonies. If the pastor doesnít keep the parishioners interested, they will not come back. Itís no wonder that some of the largest churches today are run by a pastor that has been commandeering the show for the past ten years or more. His charisma and leadership is the cement that holds that particular church together. But what should happen if that cement should be suddenly removed?

The entertainment driven quotient would not be near the problem it is if those pesky laymen didnít continue to get caught up in the situation. The newly saved believer, instead of being trained and discipled, is left to his own devices. When steady progress is not checked and encouraged, the baby Christian is left to fend for itself, often falling back on bad habits. This is one reason why baby Christians often remain spectators instead of participants in the Cause of Christ. Unless someone comes alongside them to offer assistance and guidance, they usually do not grow beyond their spectator status, unless there is internal motivation, namely early submission to the Holy Spirit. Often, our newly emerged Christians are sharing pews and basic Bible knowledge next to unbelievers and rarely can the two be told apart.

Entertainment as evangelism is personified best in the childrenís musical. The religious truths shown can be little more than basic, so the full intent must be evangelistic in nature. What must we be teaching our children regarding evangelism when their role amounts to little more than getting their relatives inside the church and acting cute onstage? Here we also have Christians who may or may not behave in any Christ-like fashion outside of the church inviting relatives and loved ones to witness our children parade themselves in the attempt to interest the unbelievers in the Christian religion or, at the very least, give them a moral nugget to chew on until they come back for more at Christmas or Easter. Meanwhile, the parents of the children may or may not be illustrating a different standard outside of the church, thus damaging the credibility of the church further.

When we focus on pleasing and enticing the unbeliever, we enter into direct competition with the worldís media champion. We present plays, sing songs, compose and deliver sermon-like monologues in an attempt to gain and hold the attention of the passer-by, who may have only the slightest interest in our religion. And when, by some ill wind or blind chance, an individual comes to accept the truth of Jesus Christ, we stand ready to baptize them, perhaps present a basic Christianity class, and then abandon them to their own wiles. If they do not grow to spiritual maturity, it must be because of their own ineptness or lack of motivation. But arenít we all responsible for the growth of our new believers?

Christianity has its own music, rivaling mainstream secular music. We produce our own movies, put on our own plays, write books for our people, and even have our own awards shows. All the while, we are maintaining our monastic culture, continuing to separate the saved from the rest of the world. Our methods of enticement consist of usually substandard performances compared to the secular industry.

Mass conversion for many churches is simply not spiritually feasible. It is not that God couldnít handle the conversion of thousands at once. Itís the fact that the churches are not handling the people they have right now. So why should God give them more? If we are not bringing our people to spiritual maturity so that they can go out and evangelize and disciple, then why should God send us additional pew warmers? At the moment, most churches can apparently only handle ten percent of their congregation because that is the percentage of the church that is actually alive in Christ.

Now, donít get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with singing to God or producing a skit that enables people to manage a spiritual concept better. But when the entertainment becomes the focus, then the focus shifts from edifying the believer to attempting to convert the unbeliever. If our churches are evangelistic tools, then it is no wonder why the majority of the congregation does not know how to share their faith or does not want to share their faith.

Take a look at evangelism in the early church. They were certainly several outbursts of mass evangelism, including Peterís sermon at Pentecost and Paulís method of preaching in a new town. But, the majority of the work was simply one on one. The church as an institution existed to bolster and train its Christian converts with the expectation that those converts would share the gospel with their friends, neighbors, and co-workers. The church was not created so that Peter could sermonize every Holy Day with the remainder of the apostles sitting in pews and absorbing Peterís great and wondrous teachings. The real evangelism of the early church didnít need gimmicks or flash to spread the gospel message and to grow the church.

So, what was the reason? Did the apostles have more of the Holy Spirit than we do? No, because that would be limit Godís sovereign-ness. Is it because they were the men that walked with Jesus and actually knew Him? It certainly is a possibility. But, wait. Arenít these the guys that ran and hid when Jesus was being put to death? Okay, so maybe that isnít a factor. So, what is the factor? Their gospel was propelled by their relationships and the growth of the individual was sustained by their relationship with a local body of believers.

Entertainment as a vehicle for evangelism cannot be denied its impact. However, look at the results. We are creating conversion based upon emotion. This foundation simply cannot hold up under close scrutiny. So, when the newly-converted attempts to share their faith and the unbeliever tries to determine why the believer believes what he or she believes, guess whoís the one to fold first. When we do not prepare our people sufficiently, when they are raised and created by an experience, their foundation will simply not hold up against the storms. They are told what they believe and do not know why they believe what they do. When they do not know why they believe, their belief can change on a whim.

Emotion-based Christianity also produces an ill effect on the converted, who grow lazy and unresponsive as they lay back and consume their feast of spectatorship. It is simply no wonder that we produce such ineffectual Christians when we grow them on a steady diet of entertainment. Why should they put forth any effort to affect their neighbors and relatives for Christ when the church is there to evangelize for them?

The light shines despite the darkness. The light does not attempt to imitate the darkness in order to shine to those in need. The light does not need to clothe itself or decorate itself in fancy colors to entice those who are wandering in the darkness. Church buildings are not the light of the world. Christians who are actively following the will of God are that light. But, the modern church is not currently treating them as such. If the church did take this charge seriously, it would stop trying to do the laymanís job and start focusing on growing all disciples to maturity in Christ.

We need to start revealing the seriousness of the problem to the laymen. If I am not evangelizing, I am sinning against God. Didnít Jesus specifically command that we go and make disciples? So, if I am not making disciples, am I just not being all that I can be as a Christian, or does it simply come down to sin? Well, if I know that God wants me to spread the gospel and I am purposely not doing so, then I am sinning against God. Why is this message not being preached from the pulpit of every church that faces a problem with motivating its members to evangelize? Is it because we do not think that evangelization is the laymenís responsibility anymore? Does the laymanís responsibility end at asking a friend to attend church? Not according to the Bible. But, is this attitude a direct result of an entertainment driven church and society?

It is amazing to note the force in which our entertainment driven culture has pervaded the church. First, note the attendance drop at football season. Then, consider the average Wednesday(or alternative night)ís attendance compared to that of Sunday morning. People are chasing their own comfort and interests over what the church has to offer. If the church actively commissioned its parishioners to demonstrate Christianityís ability to transform lives on a regular basis, people would flock to be a part of that fellowship. People need to have a purpose. The loftier and more socially impacting the purpose, the better. Why should people invest their lives in the upkeep and glorification of a building?

Partially, we are warring against entertainment, and the war has invaded the church. Parishioners would rather relax at home or watch TV or a movie instead of forging relationships that will lead to changed lives. We have settled for the temporary pleasures of this world, and in doing so, we have neglected the eternal. Instead of fighting against this cancerous dynamic, the church has attempted to replace it with its own version. Entertainmentís influence is evident in almost every aspect of our churchís routine.

These days, we tend to emphasize the star quarterback a little too much. Perhaps this is a direct result of movies or entertainment leaking into our church culture. Or maybe this is a direct result of people expecting great leadership to pop us and direct us in the way we should go, so that we donít have to think it our for ourselves. But, leadership by example goes only so far, then hits a brick wall called laziness. True growth cannot be gained second hand. True spiritual growth works from the inside out.

If a church is founded on the star sermonizer, then what happens when the star quits shining? If the church building were destroyed, would the active Christians from that church still have an active ministry? If my ministry exists to justify the existence of the church building, then my ministry is treading water. My ministry is a circular argument, existing to justify its own existence. I do not see where this ministry is a fulfillment of any command of God.

For example, choir members often consider their time in the choir, practicing, singing on Sundays, and participating in musicals, to be their active ministry. But if the choir memberís purpose is to glorify the church, then that choir member is not contributing toward the Cause of Christ. After all, the healthy should not need the doctor. The sick of the world need the doctor. So, what is the purpose of the choir? Is their purpose to enhance the worship experience? Do they edify the body of Christ in some mystical way? Or does the choir exist solely as a showpiece, an entertainment vehicle ready to dispatch its message to the slumbering masses?

Look at the expectations that entertainment places on the typical pew dweller. A good skit can make us cry or laugh. A good scripture reading may make us meditate, for a moment, on the truth of the word of God. A good sermon may make us feel convicted if combined with the workings of the Holy Spirit. But these are all superficial results. Can a sermon prepare us for a battle in the trenches of the secular world? It can if we apply the information we receive. But it can only prepare us if we are at the level that is being preached, and if we do not already posses the information being generated. It does not ensure that we will ever utilize or even remember the dispensed information. All preaching is not flawed. But we are flawed when preaching is our primary means of teaching and training.

Another problem inherent in the entertainment ministry is that the spectators are rarely required to think or reason things out for themselves. This non-thinking produces a couple of unfavorable results. First, if the laymen are fed doctrine, Biblical truths, etc. that they did not discover for themselves, they will be less likely to question ideas presented to them, and are more likely to accept the majority of doctrine that is introduced. This would make the laymen extremely susceptible to false teachings.

Second, because they are spoon-fed information, laymen will rarely acquire Bible study or theological reasoning skills. The absence of these skills could be quite detrimental if the layman were forced to defend his faith to his friends, neighbors, or co-workers. When presented with an argument they may not be able to counter, most will simply discontinue trying to defend their faith. Failure will breed the fear of more failure. As a result, failure will force Christianity back into its shell.

Why do we have such an upsurge of Christian-marketed products, such as music, books, and movies? Is it to create more jobs for Christians? Is it because we need something to combat the onslaught of secular music, books, and movies? Or, is it because we needed something to fill the evangelism gap created by the lack of training for the laymen? If we continue this creation of a separate culture for Christians, we will be powerless to act within the confines of the secular culture. We will be viewed as elitist and we will perpetuate our monastic ideal. As cultural monks, we will be powerless to do little more then shake our heads at the lack of morality that continues to swallow this culture.

In America, we are in a fight for our basic Christian rights and the best that the church can come up with is to make our churches more attractive and interesting so that they will hopefully entice additional unbelievers. If we lost our Christian rights and began to receive persecution for our faith in this country would it be any less than what we deserved? The responsibility of evangelism must be placed squarely back into the hands of the layman. If we based the results of our church growth solely on the outcome of the individual believer we would not have half of the churches that currently exist. But the churches that existed would be much stronger than they are today. If the blood of the martyrs has built the church, then the contentness of the church has broken it down. The secularization of the church is simply another nail in its coffin.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Steven Wickstrom 07 May 2003
This is a well written and very thought provoking article! It is sad to know that the church is more focused on itself than it is on God. Perhaps we need a revival in the church itself...
Rod Smith 06 May 2003
In short, we need a revolution! A well-written article, and there is much food for thought here.


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