Selling Out the Sell-Outs – Part 3 – Looking For Something Better

This is Part 3 in this series. If this is your first time on this site, don’t start here ;-)

Part 2 finished off with the idea that while everything can be said is marketed, we must examine the motivations.

In looking at motivations, we ought to consider the ministry of John the Baptist. It is widely understood that he did not actually “invent” the idea of baptism but was used as a means to be identified with God. Later Jesus-followers would use it to publicly proclaim their identification with the second person of the trinity, the Savior Himself. As we proceed, it is necessary to understand the distinction between human interaction/communication and tactics of marketing.

Second, as K&S point out, “Jesus and the apostles did not have a ‘marketing’ or ‘consumer orientation’ which is what they insist the contemporary church must not have if it to be effective. The reason why Jesus and the early church did not have this orientation is quite simple: As we have shown, the management theory that underwrites such an approach to marketing was developed during the middle part of the twentieth century under very historically specific circumstances” (p. 45).

It has become fashionable to insist that one be relevant to their cultural surroundings. It is also a form of credibility to demonstrate to an audience/demographic/individual the attempt to posture themselves in a way that convinces them of their care. There are clichés, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care” that capture this. But Barna’s call for “systematic study of needs, wants, perceptions, preferences and satisfaction of its members and others whom it is trying to reach” (p. 47) sounds like the institutional form of stalking as opposed to an invitation to encounter the Almighty God. It’s reminiscent of an apocalyptic science fiction movies where there is a secret meeting of aliens preparing to take over the earth. The last thing Christians need today is to appear even stranger.

It would become extremely beneficial for a church to analyze if it has been consumed in the “exchange process” (48-49). K&S made an excellent use of Scripture by using Acts 17:24-25, whereby reminding the reader that God does not need an exchange from the believers but rather the worship is an expression of gratitude and love. Worshippers would enter sanctuaries differently if they adopted that understanding and pastors would preach differently if they did. It will be an interesting to see what needs to happen first for our churches to function this way.
This is precisely one of the failures of the contemporary church. Many ministries have been set up as service centers. “Give us an hour and we’ll give you the truth – God’s truth!”, “Give us your kids and we’ll convert him to well-behaved Christian toddlers”, “Give us your tithe and we’ll give you the soundtrack to sing to Jesus” and so forth. Such a mentality is so arrogant that it nears blasphemy for it implies we are able to place God “under obligation” (p. 53). This Barthian quote ought to appear in our church as often as the times of service, “It is impossible to lay hold of God. Men cannot bind Him, or put him under an obligation, or enter into some reciprocal relationship with Him” (p. 53).

The “user-friendly” church mocks the work of Christ. Such a church builds egos not hope, builds monuments of pride not a servant-like humility and leads to a spirit of competition between other churches rather than asking the Spirit to move and work throughout the Body. To be the bride of Christ, to be the body of Christ is to love Christ first, not one’s own self.

The church board dialogue that occurs in the opening pages of Chapter 5 is all too familiar scene. The church board must decide their “evangelism strategy” It gets ugly. We want certain people over other people. We need money to pay the bills. We don’t want anymore problems than wha twe already have. And it’s among the many reasons why everyone has a terrible church board story.

The moral to most of this particular caricature of meetings is that clearly the pursuit of the Kingdom of God is third priority at best following high attendance and paying the bills. It has always been my observation that despite how serious evangelicals take the Bible, we are extremely slow in taking care of the poor, fighting for the oppressed and comforting the suffering. It is almost as if Jesus said, “Hear O’ Israel, the greatest command is build as big of a church structure as you can. And the second is imitate the world.” Jesus would find no fault with us had He said that.

In fairness, our numerous denominations, endless evangelism schemes and involvement with church marketing has been due to a perverted exaltation of how we have interpreted the Great Commission. We have strived to pursue as an efficient means as possible to mass produce and export the gospel. Our inspirations have not been Paul and Peter and the stories contained in The Acts but rather McDonalds, Coca Cola and Microsoft. By doing so we have domesticated and have sold out the Gospel.

What does one do once they realized they have ruined the family farm? Protect what little self-interest is left, liquidate and quit or start over? As much as I enjoyed reading K&S, I was secretly hoping they would transition from the accurate, critical and prophetic words of demise and conclude with a series of bold exhortations to abandon the marketing mentality, teach our churches to resist the consumer mentality and to pursue the Church that God has called us to. After all it is a book about the Church. And so, I was glad they did in the final chapters 6-8 were joys to read for their calls to courage such as this quote taken from Robert Lupton:

The Church is the only institution which , without irresponsibility, can expend all its resources on great and lavish outbursts of compassion. It is ordained to give itself away, yet without loss. The Church, above all earthly symbols, bears the responsibility of declaring in the outpouring of resources, the utter dependability of God. To preserve its life to lose it (p. 118).

Amen and Amen to Selling Out the Church. While it seems appropriate for K&S to publish a follow up to evaluate the current evangelical landscape (since it was published over 10 years ago, this text offers much to consider and reinforces a great deal of suspicion of how “we do church”. Indeed it is time to sell out the selling out the church and the first to go are my books on church marketing. It is my confident prayer that the Gospel will be enough and May the Lord lead those that persevere against the consumerism, pride and the spiritual forces at war with the Kingdom of God.

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