Entertainment vs. Authenticity
David begins the "Church Teeter Totters" series by discussing the debate between churches who overly focus on entertainment and those who shun relevance.
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church.
Thanks to Tim Hale and his band for filling in for Zach this morning.
Tim is going to be the worship leader for a brand new church from our church planting network called Connections Church that is starting in Ramsey.
They are going to launch on Feb. 27th.
We are super excited they could come here because we LOVE church planting at Renovation Church and hope to help plant churches ourselves someday.
So pray for them. And if you know people in Ramsey, tell them to go to the Grand Opening at Ramsey Elementary at 10am on Sunday, Feb. 27th
Obviously since they are here, Zach is gone this week.
Zach and a few of the guys from our church are actually leading worship for 600+ college students at a huge conference in Milwaukee this week!
Pretty amazing. We feel pretty honored to have Zach here at our church plant.
Well, we are starting a new series this morning called Church Teeter Totters.
Sometimes we do series that really dig deep into your heart. And that’s important. But, for this series, I want to stretch your minds a little bit. Particularly on what the “Church” is meant to do.
So: We’re going to talk about Teeter Totters. Who doesn’t love Teeter Totters?
Actually, I’m pretty sure I didn’t even like Teeter Totters as a kid.
Unless you had someone that was like the same weight as you, they never really worked.
You’d just end up stuck on one side or the other.
And that’s kind of what this series is going to be about.
See Churches have this uncanny ability (or actually, a disability) to get stuck on one side. We tend to just give in and just fall to one side.
I’ve touched very briefly on this issue before and referred to it as a pendulum.
The pendulum of church history.
When it comes to issues. Whether that be theology, the process of how to do church, morality, you name it, church history looks like a pendulum.
It is constantly swinging back and forth.
Let me give you an example from theology. Let’s take God’s foreknowledge. How much does God know of the future?
The pendulum is always swinging one way or the other. In the 1500’s during the reformation, guys like John Calvin (you might know him from Calvinism) really influenced the church to believe that God not only knows everything but planned everything.
Then the church gets really excited about that for a while until somebody says, “Well, that’s not very loving. You mean God chooses to send people to hell.”
And then theology, just like politics and the rest of history, always overcorrects like a teenage girl driving in snow.
And before you know it, we’ve swung all the way to something like Open Theism where God doesn’t even fully know the future with 100% accuracy, he just knows all the possibilities.
And then someone says, “Wait a second, that doesn’t make God very all-knowing!”
And the pendulum swings again!
BLACK/WHITE VS. GRAY
However, the pendulum swings take place over long swatches of history. Sometimes hundreds of years.
If we break it down to the microcosm of say just a modern day decade. And we zoom in on a particular 10 years of history: What we see is what I call the teeter totter approach.
Politicians, business leaders, philosophers, theologians, and yes even churches are so uncomfortable with the middle, that we just default to one side because it’s more comfortable.
I mean, how obvious is this teeter totter paradigm in American politics right now?
And churches are the same. And where we really struggle with this is the area of ecclesiology.
Ecclesiology is a really fancy word for the study of church and how churches operate and are structured.
And, when it comes to WHAT we do in church and HOW WE DO church, we really struggle to be balanced thinkers.
Before we get into this week’s teeter totter, I have to paint a different teeter totter for you first. Because nothing I say the rest of this series will make sense unless you can get past this.
I’m not 100% sure why, but American Evangelical Christians have a really hard time thinking in the “gray.”
In fact, let me set up a teeter totter for you. On this side is thinking in the gray. ON this side, black and white thinking.
American evangelicals tend to be really black and white thinkers. This is right. This is wrong. Right. Wrong. Right Wrong. There are two options in life. Right and Wrong.
This is somewhat of a generational thing. If you are over 30 in this room, statistically it’s more probable that you would default to the black and white side of the teeter totter
It’s the difference between growing up a Modern and a Postmodern.
But, and I hesitate to say this, but it’s true. Only thinking in black and white is a lack of critical thinking.
Cuz not everything is black and white.
Here’s where I think Christians get confused. Most of morality IS black and white. This is right. This is wrong. Most of theology should be pretty black and white.
For instance. Is murder someone in cold blood wrong? Yes. Is Jesus real. Yes. Is the Bible True. Yes. Is abuse wrong. Yes.
There’s no gray area. And we’re so accustomed to thinking that way, that some of you have lost all your ability to think in the gray in areas where YOU SHOULD indeed be thinking in the gray!
For example, how we do things: What’s right? Singing hymns or worship songs with a band? What’s right? Wearing a suit to church or wearing shorts? What’s right? Reading out of a Bible or reading on a screen?
Neither are. It’s a gray area. They’re just processes. Ways to do thing. Some are more “right” (a better fit) for certain contexts, BUT NEITHER are inherently wrong.
Let me also point out though that constantly thinking in the gray (which the younger you are, the more prone you are to think this way), can also be a lack of critical thinking.
Because if you can’t find a right and wrong in life (especially when it comes to morality), your moral compass is going to be spinning around so fast, you’re going end up vomiting all over yourself.
Stabilize your life and find the truth.
But here’s the important point: If we can’t learn to live in the black/white some, AND IN THE gray some, especially when it comes to HOW WE DO CHURCH, we’re going to foolishly default to one side of the teeter totter and thus mistakenly miss out on part of what God wants from us.
So, the task at hand. Today’s topic (PUT UP TOPIC SLIDE)
Entertainment vs. Authenticity.
Let me first confess that I’m not sure entertainment is the best word. It’s not actually.
Here’s what I mean by the entertainment side of the teeter totter. There are churches that put all their eggs in this basket. And it literally feels like a Sunday morning service is a performance you are attending. Or a show you just went to see.
I’m talking fog machines, light shows, bookstores, cafes, sermons with the latest movie clips, fancy transitions, cameramen on stage, fancy instruments, topics that focus on the what everyone’s talking about this month…and so on and so forth.
And I’m calling that side of the teeter totter “entertainment” because that’s what its critics often call it.
However, the proponents of it don’t call it that. They call it relevance. Being culturally relevant.
Many of you might define relevance in terms of using relevant content in teaching (so I didn’t use that word), but they are “somewhat” interchangeable, so I’ll probably use both words this morning.
“So, we’re looking at is the teeter totter balance” of being extremely culturally relevant vs. not relying at all on relevance but just relying on God.
Now, here’s how we got into this mess: Around, say 35 years ago, this wasn’t even that big of a debate in American Christianity.
But at some point, during the 70s and 80s, the church woke up, took a good look around, and realized they weren’t relevant anymore.
You mean people prefer to listen to Bon Jovi on the radio instead of 50 piece choirs singing hymns from the 1700’s? You gotta be kidding me!!
So, the church began to update itself.
And the pursuit of relevance began! And we did it by updating music, updating technology, adding entertaining pieces, and so on and so forth.
Yet, for FAR too many American churches, we didn’t just start pursuing relevance, we became drunk on it.
If I showed you how the majority of pastors in America spent their time, you’d probably cry.
Pastors are obsessive about trying to prove to their communities that they are updated and relevant
It sort of reminds me of a young boy trying to play basketball, but he was too short. Let’s pretend that this boy was told by countless individuals that he was never going to make it as a basketball player even though he so strongly believed in himself. If that boy was truly wounded inside by those words (which many often are), he will spend the rest of his life trying to prove to people that he can be a great basketball player. And even if he makes it to the NBA, that won’t be good enough for him. It won’t heal his wound. He will never be able to stop proving himself. The Church is kind of like that little boy. We were told over and over again that we were irrelevant and not important anymore, and now that we’ve made a comeback on the relevance scale, it’s still not good enough. We must always do more.
Yet, let’s ask the question: Are we still that outdated? Do we still need to become more relevant? OR, Is there ever an end to the pursuit of relevance? Can the Church ever be as cool as the world?
And anyway, most people seeking God do not come to church expecting the church to compete with the latest new years eve show you watched on TV. They come seeking other things. It’s a nice bonus when the Church is doing a fairly good job with it, but that’s not really why they’re here.
Entertainment, OR, Relevance doesn’t change lives. It’s not inherently bad; it’s just not life changing. The amount of people who have been changed by a set design or a brand new light scheme is next to none.
And I think churches have got to start asking themselves this: “If relevance only makes 10% of the difference, why are we spending 50% of our time working on becoming more relevant?” “Why are we spending all our resources and energy on set designs, fog machines, light shows, pyrotechnics, and on and on”
Think about it this way: Jesus taught from boats and hills, not the best amphitheaters and coliseums. His time was not spent worrying on how the production of his “service” might come across, but merely spent in prayer, love, and teaching.
So what is it that really brings life change?
Well first of all: Major life change, salvation, is from God
(Colossians 1:13-14) – NIV
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
And how does the renovation process happen once we are saved? How does change really happen??
(Romans 8:5-6) – NLT
5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.
So how does real change happen in people and churches? Not just attendance going up in churches? Change? It happens when we let The Holy Spirit start controlling our lives and getting in us and changing us!
So, let me show you what happens now. We hear all of this. And here’s exactly what we do. We over-course-correct.
We say, “That! That right there. That cameraman on stage playing, flat-screen TV’s all around the church displaying, that trendy video operating, that church…that…is WRONG!” “And I want to look nothing like that!”
(MOVE) And we move to the other side of the teeter totter.
Where everything HAS to be just about raw authenticity.
Where church should be just about some simple music, teaching the Bible, and that is it.
But yet, as heretical as this is going to sound at first: That’s not completely the answer.
Zach Foty, our worship leader, told me a story once where he was asked one time to lead worship at an event for young people.
The people leading the event gave him a song list of songs he should do and included tons of hymns.
They even made a note on one of the hymns, “and no modern day refrain nonsense!”
And that’s a great example of a philosophical and theological fallacy humans have been making since the dawn of time.
We take a certain time period in history (usually the one we grew up in) (so, in this case, let’s say, church music in the 1960’s) and we make it the golden period when all was good and God was moving.
But true history always tells us otherwise. Um, the 1960’s.Hmm
Or, think about it this way. We get so obsessed with being authentic and simplistic, that we think WE ARE authentic and not entertainment-focused because of A, B, C, D.
“We’re NOT THEM!” We don’t have cameramen on stage, we don’t have fog machines, we don’t have….
True, but here’s where that logic falls short: Your system for “how to do church” is not locked as pure for all time.
In fact, do you realize that if we could somehow timewarp in a Christian from the 1920’s, you would probably be an abomination to them? J
Here’s what would happen:
They would walk into your simple church and right away be confused.
The lights would dim for worship (cuz that’s how you 20somes like it), but the lights would dim…
They would gasp: “The lights are out? The lights are out? Is not God light?! Why are we in the dark?
The music would start and they quite possibly would scream:
A drum set!?! The tool of Satan.
Your pastor would get up to speak. Simple set-up. Maybe even a stool.
What?!? No pulpit!? Is this not a man of God? And a microphone? Did not God give him a voice to preach?
And then it would be time for the offering.
And all of you that are so averse to online giving because, well, it’s so, it’s just not how church giving should be done, would get out your check books and write a check because that’s how good holy Christians give
And meanwhile, the 1920’s person next to you might literally slap you in the face at this point
“A check book!?!? A check book?!?! Get that sinful abomination of a check book out of here and give with cash like a true Godly person!!”
Do you see my point?
There’s no such thing as being so simple an authentic that you are somehow free from using relevance, maybe even entertainment, and technology. We’re all using relevance in some capacity.
“Some of you just pretend like you’re not” because you’re not doing it AS MUCH AS this other person or church
And then we throw stones at churches that are reaching tons of people for Christ because “they’re on the wrong side of the teeter-totter”
We can’t get away from it. We all use relevance in some sort of way, and that’s okay.
Which is news especially to many of you postmodern younger people who are much more known for having labeled relevance in American churches as if it’s not worthwhile.
Forgetting that the generation of young people ahead of you (generation X) spent all it’s time trying to update the church for you and make it relevant.
And now young people are unhappy because it’s too relevant.
We’ll never win. J
Think about relevancy this way: the number one thing we stress with our Christian missionaries that go overseas is this: You HAVE to be culturally relevant. Don’t go over to Sierra Leone if you’re not going to dress like them, do music like them, and teach in their language and style.
Everybody knows this. It’s missions 101. It’s SO obvious.
Yet, why is it not then obvious in our context?
We (you and I) live in a culture. Where there is a majority shared culture of style, experiences, language, teaching, a level of technology, a level of expectations etc.
And it’s a culture we should try and completely be aware of when we do ministry
Another place we totally get this principle is youth ministry
Churches expect their youth pastors to know the latest music, dress in the latest fashion, and know the latest slang.
And I would ask, why is that SO important for missions and SO important for our 14-18 year olds, but as soon as people turn 19 we pretend like we’re too holy to be relevant
And ironically, the same Christians who would say it would be flat-out-dumb for a missionary to not have the local music style at their church in Africa, are the same Christians who hold up their noses and shake their heads at Christians in the inner city doing rap worship. Or churches in the suburbs doing worship with modern bands and using modern day technology.
Paul leads us through this context in the Bible.
(1 Corinthians 9:19-22) – NIV
19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
So we have to strike a balance!
But it’s just like a teeter totter. Did you ever try and get it to stop right in the middle at a balance? It’s really hard!!
It’s always easier and takes way less work to just default to one side and then throw stones at the other.
But God’s not calling us to something easy. He’s calling us to do what’s right. To follow His word.
And His word calls us to a balance.
We HAVE to be relevant to our culture. Jesus’ teaching was NOT this unbelievably complicated message that no one understood.
No, he used examples from their culture: He taught using illustrations of farmers, and local commerce, and told parables and stories about people from their day
SO relevant to their culture
And we strive to do that at Renovation Church. To make our teaching relevant to people living in 2011. And we’ll talk about more about that in great detail in a few weeks.
But sometimes you’ll even see us do other things here. We used internet technology to make a funny animated video you all laughed at earlier to make a point. Our worship band is extremely modern and up to date because that’s the type of music ppl listen to nowadays, we sometimes show videos because ppl are visual learners, we tell you to read your Bible on your phones, and so on and so forth.
Why? Because that is our culture. That’s what 2011 is like.
If you were a missionary in Indonesia, you’d find out what the culture of Indonesia was like in 2011, not 1985.
And we have to do the same!
WE have to get past this arrogant snobbery of we’re too holy be really relevant.
And lot of our young people who have come out of Christian backgrounds in particular are stuck in this.
We are wasting our time throwing stones at other churches who are reaching 100’s of people for Christ rather than working with them, or learning from them.
It’s not bad to use the things of your culture as a TOOL to tell people about Jesus.
It only becomes bad when you think the tools of your culture are the things that are actually saving people.
Let’s get this straight: God does the saving. The tools are only tools. They’re not inherently bad, but they’re tools.
And that’s why we don’t a whole lot of our stock into those tools here at Renovation.
I mean, sure, we put some. But this probably isn’t the coolest place you’ve ever been. For GOODNESS SAKES…WE’RE IN A GYM RIGHT NOW. J
And that’s okay. Because we’re trying to go for a balance.
And ultimately OUR TRUST is not in how cool our Sunday morning “environment” is, it’s in God to change and save people. And renovate them. Not in our stuff.
And it’s not like our balance in this is perfect. I’m sure we’re off somehow. But let’s pray that God would continue to guide us and inspire us to try and live in the balance.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
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