We believers hear it often: We must be counter-cultural. We’re not supposed to follow the popular culture; we’re called to be different. The problem is, our churches are increasingly co-opting to the popular culture.
First seeker churches burst onto the scene. Seeker churches can be beneficial starting points for those seeking to know more about the Christian faith. However, these churches rely greatly on brewing up some neurochemicals to stir people up and not so much on the power of the Holy Spirit. Those young in the faith don’t have the knowledge and experience to discern between the two. The worship experience might get some oxytocin going, making worshipers feel deeply emotional. Think about how you feel when you see baby animals or hear a sad story. That’s oxy. Worshipers might feel excited, particularly in response to the drums and guitars. That’s caused by endorphins. Certain worship experiences cause people’s brains to produce cortisol and adrenaline, making them feel scared, worried, or fearful. Hellfire & brimstone preachers rely on those chemicals for “conversions.” Whatever the emotion is, many believers who are young in the faith interpret these chemical responses as the moving and working of the Spirit.
Alongside seeker churches came what we know today as contemporary Christian music, and this music is a crucial part of many worship services around the world. (Funny to note here… When I was a teen, Bill Gaither was considered a contemporary music artist. Now his songs are in our hymnal.) We used to attend a worship service that features contemporary Christian music. I enjoyed the worship experience, but I didn’t always enjoy the music, yet I couldn’t figure out why not. Then I started focusing on the words. They were very seldom about God at all. They were about us. We were the objects of our worship songs. I recently looked up the lyrics to “I Can Only Imagine,” which is very hot right now. If the incidences of the ratio of references to “myself” versus references to Jesus/God indicate their relative importance, then I am more than twice as important as the Messiah (46:20).
A lady I know once shared an incident that happened to her. She accidentally pulled out in front of a car. Who hasn’t done this? Right? The driver of the other car blew her horn at her. Who hasn’t also done this? The teacher remarked, “I thought, How horrible to spend your life being so unforgiving!” I thought, How horrible to live your life being so judgmental! The teacher genuinely felt that she was the wronged party and the other driver was an awful person for blowing her horn at her. But this isn’t the Jesus way. We’re not called to judge others based on one moment of their lives. We’re not called to think we’re so much better than others. To do that makes us no better than the Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke’s gospel, self-aggrandizing because of our righteousness and missing the cries for mercy from people around us.
Being self-centered is the world’s way of being. Being Christ-centered is God’s way of being. Judging others is the world’s way of being. Showing mercy is God’s way of being. Increasingly, the things I see at church are very worldly. That leader who uses manipulative tactics to get people to help or to draw people to the church. That’s worldly. The worship music that talks about us is worldly. The cliques and exclusive social groups that prevail in every church are worldly. Clapping for the “entertainers” is worldly. Oh, sure, people say they’re praising God with their clapping, but if that’s the case, why aren’t they “praising God” when the offering plates go back to the front of the church or after the sermon by one of those preachers who couldn’t preach to save his life?
We have attempted to make the church counter-cultural, but instead, we’ve made the church completely cultural, just with a little God talk thrown in. I guess that God-talk is supposed to make us stand out? I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem to be doing the trick. Thing is, Jesus pretty much never talked about being in church. He stated that Peter would be the rock on which Jesus would build his church, but that was it. Jesus did church. Jesus went to where the people were and entered into their lives. Jesus didn’t sit in the same building with the same familiar faces week after week. Jesus went to people where they were, people who often were different – from a different region, Gentile as opposed to Jewish, diseased as opposed to well. We are called to do likewise.
When our church experiences are truly Christ-centered, Bible-based, and ministry-focused in deed as well as word, then we’ll be truly counter-cultural. When we dissolve cliques and factions within the church, then we will be separate from the world and stand out from it. When our worship once more is all about God and not about us, then we will experience revival. Then and only then will church once more be transformative in the lives of all who enter therein.