Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.
Read the Article here
by Marcus J. Carlson
Is Culture Leading the American Church?
The church today resembles culture more and more, and unfortunately, instead of changing the world, the church has been changed by the world. This is backwards, and while we must minister to the culture we live in, the church is losing its identity. Here are five of the ways I believe the church has been changed by the world:
The church has become overly corporate. The church has become too corporate. In fact, most churches in the United States today look and act a lot more like a business than they do the body of Christ. Certainly the corporate world can teach the church much about systems, processes, policies and how to handle finances; however, the church has not used discernment as to which corporate values should be applied to the life of the church and how those values should be applied. We treat our ministries and programs as products, look at our congregation and community members as customers, and seek to please rather than to lead.
The church is incredibly consumeristic. Evangelism has turned into marketing. We have turned the church into a fast food restaurant, seeking to have a sleek appearance in our buildings, our worship services and even our staff. We are constantly trying to find ways to meet everyone’s needs so people will come and stay. We inundate people with programs and ministries for every niche so that they do not leave us for the church down the street. We want to be sure to offer the right kind of worship service, whether it is one that ends in exactly an hour or it is a worship service that is perfectly scripted. Entertainment and comfort have replaced theology.
The church is too democratic. Most reasonable people would argue democracy is the healthiest and best form of government we have in the world today, but like any system or philosophy, democracy is not perfect. Somehow the freedom we are promised (and often feel entitled to) in our country has become the expectation in the church. We assume the values of democracy should be the values of the church, but even a cursory examination of the life of Christ demonstrates this is not the case. Our call is to sacrifice not to entitlement.
The church has become a capitalistic institution. For the record, Jesus was not much of a capitalist. In fact, Jesus was not much of a socialist either. The worship of capitalism in the church has given prominence to the prosperity gospel, one of the great heresies of our modern culture. Grace and capitalism are not always compatible, and the church is called to be a mission organization focused on service, not what it can do, earn or produce. The production of fruit is God’s business; our business is to trust God and to be faithful.
The church is dangerously individualistic. We have lost sight of community in our world. Our focus is on our own individual needs, wants and desires. Our energy is poured into our own sense of justice, fairness and our rights as individuals with laws, systems and expectations emphasizing the individual to a high level. The church iby its nature and definition is a communal organization. Yet our own focus on individual salvation often neglects our need for community, so our churches have become a collection of lonely, isolated, individual participants rather than a community of faith.
The church is called to be different. Jesus is the light of the world and the church is his bride. It is time for the church of Jesus Christ to act more like his partner and less like a religious mirror of the world Jesus came to transform.