Shane Raynor has written a post on the Wesley Report comparing the situation in the United Methodist Church with the problems NBC has had changing programming. He concludes:
In the world of TV, people don’t care as much about NBC as much as they care about good content. And in the world of faith, substance trumps denominational loyalty and brand names every time. To thrive, the United Methodist Church needs to forget about surviving and go back to its Gospel foundation. By majoring on the majors, keeping the minors in “late night”, and diversifying our distribution channels, our church could once again become a potent force on the spiritual landscape. Time will tell.
While I’m not sure about “distribution channels” I think there is much here that is of importance both to the United Methodist Church and to other denominations and local fellowships. Gospel without action and action without gospel are both failures of Christian witness.
We need both a Christian identity, which can come only from Jesus of Nazareth, the Word become flesh, and also a life that reflects that identify. The name on the church sign will mean nothing if the same name is not reflected in the lives of the church members.
My concern about distribution channels is simple. I have been in too many church committee meetings where the topic of debate was the color of the carpet or the aging chandeliers, obviously in immediate need of replacement. Any suggestion that maybe we could live with an older carpet was met with dismay and hostility. “We need to reflect well on the gospel!” people said. But I wonder just how well Jesus himself, the one who had “no beauty that we should desire him” reflected on the gospel, if the standard was the color of the carpet or the quality of the chandeliers!
Some of my best times with the Lord have come in places where the church had no carpet, often because there was no church. Some of my best times in worship came where we had no equipment, no musical instruments, and we just began to sing from our hearts.
I think Dave Black expressed it very well in The Jesus Paradigm:
What might this kingdom-focused church of the twenty-first century look like? It will be a serving church. Its organizational structure will be simple, unencumbered by bureaucrats and bureaucracies. Its financial priorities will reflect a commitment to missions, local and global. Capital expenditures will be reduced and the savings earmarked for discipleship. Most jobs that are currently salaried positions will be filled by volunteer help or eliminated. Denominations will make drastic reductions in funds spent on publications that are a waste of the church’s money (bulletins, glossy magazines, and Sunday School quarterlies – the Bible will be used instead). Church buildings will be used for primary and secondary Christian education. Believers will gladly work transdenominationally and cooperatively, especially at the local level. The church will proclaim the Good News of the Gospel as its first priority while not neglecting the cultural mandate. A full-fledged lay ministry will replace clericalism. Individual believers will be expected to assume specialized ministries according to their giftedness. Churches will provide regular lay training and build voluntary programs of education into their structures. Worship will no longer be confined to a single time or place. Preoccupation with church buildings will be seen for what it is – idolatry. The church will no longer cling to its prerogatives but take the form of a servant. It will refuse any longer to shun the secular. Trained pastors will become humble assistants to the “ministers” – every member. Disciples will take the going forth as seriously as they do the gathering. New believers will be asked to specify a regular community involvement (neighborhood council, PTA, volunteer library staff, nursing home visitation, etc.) in addition to their commitment to a ministry in the church. (p. 3)
I’m not against doing things to reach people for the gospel and attract them to church. But if the attraction is comfort, I have to ask whether we’re attracting them to the right identity–the one given by the gospel portrayed by the crucified Christ.
This may seem strange as a post for a business blog. Indeed, you could read some of this as suggesting that you don’t buy what I publish but go to your Bible instead! But I wouldn’t be in business as a publisher if I did not regard it also as a ministry. As a ministry, my business should also reflect the One who is Savior and Lord.
If my publications will help you be a better disciple, I hope you buy them. If you’re choosing between buying my materials and following God’s call for you in mission, please follow God’s call.
(Henry Neufeld is the owner of Energion Publications and author of a number of books, including Not Ashamed of the Gospel: Confessions of a Liberal Charismatic. He reflected on this same topic in fictional form in The Organ and the Tramp.)