Thursday, September 14

The One-Stop-Shop For All Things Spiritual

When church becomes something we do or a place that we go, instead of a people of God, than we are in serious trouble. I couldn't say it any better than the way Dan Kimball said it in his book The Emerging Church,

"If you woke up this morning and said I'm going to church today, you would actually be making a theologically incorrect statement. I [am] trying to get the point across that the church is not the building or the meeting. The church is the people of God who gather together with a sense of mission (Acts 14:27). The way leaders define church will determine how they measure success, where they focus their time and energy, how they design their strategies and form their ministry philosophies [emphasis mine]. Over time...the definition of the church itself [has become] a 'place where' idea instead of a 'people who are' reality.

In our desire to attract people to our churches, have we subtly taught that church is where you come to learn about how God can help you fix your problems? Where you come to have others teach your children about God for you? Where you come for your weekly feeding in the Word of God? Where you come for quality programs to help you live life better and develop a social network. Where you come to experience high quality worship music.

If the church has become the place instead of the people on a mission, leaders only naturally start focusing their efforts on what people experience when they come to the place on Sundays. In recent years, we have added the words excellence and relevance to our value statements for church. In doing so, we naturally began spending more time focusing on the quality of the music, sound system, and bulletins. As the church grows, the pressure to continue this focus increases and the problem escalates.

The phenomenon of church shoppers has profoundly shaped the contemporary church. The entire conversation is not about relevance but convenience. The focus is not in serving the world; the church itself became the focal point. If we don't build everything on the biblical definition of what church is, then we will simply be fueling the consumer mindset."
This is one area where I believe the emergent critique is right on. They see great problems in the megachurch/spiritual mall approach to church ministry, as do I. I will be calling it the "mall-ification" of the church. The mall-ification of the church comes about when we view the "church" (when in quotes I am referring to the organization & location, not the people) as the supplier/provider of all spiritual blessings.

  • Do your children need evangelized and discipled? We have just the program for you! Bring your children every _____ night for ____ and we will take care of it for you.
  • Do your neighbors and co-workers need Christ? We have just the thing! Get them to attend ______ with you every _____ and we will evanglize them for you.
  • Do your teens need spiritual training? We've got that covered. Drop them off every _____ and we will mentor and disciple and teach them all they need to know.
  • Are you stagnant in your walk with God? Come to our _______ class in Room ___ and you will never be the same!
  • Are you lonely and in need of friendship? Join _______ which meets every _____ in classroom __ for one hour every week. You will be blessed with transparent relationships and true accountability.
  • Are you in need of exercise? Men's basketball meets every _____ & _____ nights in the gymnasium. Ladies jazzercise meets every _____ & ____ morning in the fitness center.
  • Don't forget to stop by our Christian bookstore and pick up your latest Christian t-shirt, DVD, CD, bumper sticker, welcome mat, or bracelet. Also stop by our Christian Coffee House right here on campus to sample the latest Christian coffee in a Christian coffer mug or have a Christian Energy Drink. While seated on chairs made by our own Woodworking ministry, be sure to try a Christian Bagel or Christian Energy Bar made from ingredients straight from the Holy Land.
  • Coming soon to our campus: Christian homes, apartments, and condominiums built by our own Home Building Ministry (all proceeds go to funding our summer camp and retreat center).
  • Future plans for our campus include a Christian Grocery Store, Christian Pharmacy and we just struck a profit-sharing deal with Chick-Fil-A.

I know I am stretching this a wee bit, but just think about the schedule of the average megachurch/spiritual mall member or attender in America.

  • Sunday: 8:00 AM - Sunday School (Discipleship); 9:00 AM - Worship Service; 6:00 PM - CLASS (Discipleship)
  • Monday: 7:00 PM - Monthly Leadership Meeting (Training/Mentoring/Ministry)
  • Tuesday: 6:30 PM - Visitation (Evangelism)
  • Wednesday: 6:45 PM - Children & Youth Programs (Evangelism/Discipleship/Ministry)
  • Thursday: 7:00 PM - Homegroup Bible Studies (Fellowship) OR Choir/Orchestra/Praise Team Rehearsal (Ministry/Worship)
  • Friday: 7:00 PM - Men's Softball/Basketball/Soccer (Ladies have their exercise in the mornings during the week.)
  • Saturday: This day is set aside as a family day in which the day is spent running errands, taking the children to soccer/football/baseball/volleyball/swimming/tennis/golf practice and getting them to their weekly church activity.
How much time do you spend on your "church campus" every week? Haven't we bought into the philosophy that everything of a spiritual nature takes place at "church"? I worship at "church". I am taught at "church". I am trained at "church". I serve in a ministry at "church". I evangelize by bringing my unsaved friends to "church". Isn't that why evangelism has mostly become an "Invest and Invite" strategy? If we can just get them to "church" or to a worship service than they can be reached for Jesus.

How are we teaching our people to be authentic Christians out in the real world? When do we have time to be authentic Christians in the real world? Where did all the salt and light go? Maybe they are all gathered together on a "church" property somewhere brainstorming, planning and praying for ways to get the unsaved to join them. In almost every city in America you can find at least one of these megachurch campuses. This philosophy is out there and maybe you are buying in. Do you dream of this type of "church"? I did not too long ago. What should we do about? I will try to give a few weak, humble and untested suggestions in my next post.

Disclaimer: This is not about size or numbers. It is not that large churches are evil and small churches godly. It is not that churches with large facilities are wicked or unbiblical. I am not against Christian businesses. I like eating at Chick-Fil-A. They have a great indoor playground and wonderful customer service. I am not against having a Christian bookstore or coffee house. I own Veggie Tales DVD's and a few Christian t-shirts. I love the guys at teampyro and I am not trying to suggest that they are wrong for selling "Christian" merchandise. This disclaimer does not cover all the things you might get offended about so please take this post in the sarcastic spirit it was written in.


Blogger David Poehlein said...

All I took out of this is that I really want a dog so I can buy it that doggie t-shirt!!! That's so cool!

I bet if I brought a dog with a Christian t-shirt to church, people would really think I was a good Christian!!!! PK, whatdya think? Good idea?

9/14/2006 04:05:00 PM  
Blogger Gordon Cloud said...

Don, you have been doing a stellar job with this series.

I just got back from a planning meeting for our church calendar. I am fast becoming an adherent of the concept of "less is more" when it comes to some church activities.

9/14/2006 10:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Mitch Kehr said...


Kimball went straight to my point. I was trying to subtley point out that the "we want" people, ascribing to a program mentality that addresses the "wants" identified (whatever they may be), are often those who lose sight of the fact of what Kimball highlights.

We have lost the focus that the spiritual gifts given to the believer by the Holy Spirit are to be used at the gathering of the physical body of the church...the people. The physical meeting place of that body is less important (there is more here that I must ignore) than the use of the gifts.

Example: I, as a teacher and administrator, need the member whose gift is mercy to be to the peacemaker and soften the rough edges in the employment of my gift within the body (teachers ruffle presuppositions, especially of new Borns as they are taught to put off the old man and put on the mind of Christ).

Kimball is rightly pointing out that we go to "church" to be filled (the focus is on us) and never consider that we should go to fill. Church shopping is about getting that "feel good" feeling and/or seeing if it is going to satisfy my self generated (and self fulfilling) requirements. Seldom are those requirements drawn from scripture. The programs that you outline are the result of the "I want/we should have/there should be" mentality, the consumerism of affluence that is destroying the Western Church. Interestingly enough as a contrast, the church in China, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe aren't suffering this malady.

Sorry to be so vague in my earlier post.


9/15/2006 10:50:00 AM  
Blogger Don Fields said...


Thanks for clearing up the ambiguity.

"Interestingly enough as a contrast, the church in China, Africa, South America, and Eastern Europe aren't suffering this malady."

Not yet. Unfortunately the program-driven mindset of the American church is making its way oversees through books, missionaries, conferences, etc. Many of them want what we have thinking it is better. Unfortunately, we are all too willing to share it. I would say to them, "Be careful what you wish for."

9/15/2006 11:12:00 AM  
Blogger Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

This post is dead on target. Great thoughts.

9/18/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger centuri0n said...

I think there's a difference between "Christian T-Shirts" and fan paraphenalia. For example, your link to the Pawn Shop show all the cool TeamPyro wear, but isn't it interesting that the Pawn Shop doesn't make any references to how these t-shirts are witnessing tools or somehow ways to become more "Christian"?

The stuff in my Pawn Shop is plainly fan paraphenalia -- meant for reads of my blog(s) to get in on the jokes. If it ever becomes a ministry, we will have discovered exactly how low one can go and still be in something called "ministry".


9/25/2006 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger Ken Fields said...


9/25/2006 12:01:00 PM  

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