December 14, 2017

A Parable for our Seeker-Sensitive, Purpose-Driven, Church Growth Oriented Friends

Once upon a time, there was a village that had a great heritage of education among its citizens. For many years, the community had wonderful schools, but more importantly, great scholars, statesmen, artists and educators. Education was important to families, children and businesses. For years, it was rare to find anyone who wasn’t a graduate, and almost everyone believed in the worth of a good education.

Over time, the community’s commitment to education waned, and more and more students lost interest in education. A steady stream of students dropped out of school. Absenteeism grew. Test scores declined, discipline problems increased, and many children began to rebel altogether at the idea of going to school. Few people wanted to teach. Smaller schools arose for those families who cared about education, but even those schools could tell that times had changed. Students were no longer interested in education. It wasn’t important to the community.

Families became less and less supportive of education, and some insisted that too much time was spent in class and on homework. Some parents questioned the purpose of classes that had always been part of the school. The village was reaching a crisis point.

Of course, there were some who insisted that the community should redouble its efforts at education. They spoke and protested and wrote, but to little avail. Only a remnant listened or wanted change. Education declined and declined, until the time came that the village schools were a shadow of their former self. More seriously, few students were getting a good education, and the community was suffering in every way, but fewer still cared.

And then one day, there arose some younger educators with new ideas. They believed they could turn the schools around. They were excited about their plan, and met with the leaders of the community. The community leaders asked if these young educators were committed to producing truly educated students? Were they committed to graduating scholars who would be able to write, invent, lead and create as educated people? The young educators assured the community that they could. Their confidence was infectuous, and the community handed their schools over to these new teachers.

Soon the plan went into effect. Within weeks, everything had changed. All the old classes were dismantled. The school day was shortened. Classes were now filled with movies, music and entertainment. The goal of every class was to have fun. Where classes were taught, they were aimed at interests of the children: sports, MTV, dating, fashion, pets and so on.

School was hardly recognizable to the old guard. What had once been a school, now appeared to be an entertainment mall, where everything was done for the amusement of the students.

But the interest in school returned, and then increased. Every student loved school. They couldn’t wait to go and see what concert or movie was planned for today. With more and more fun, there came more and more students. Special events got larger and larger, until school became almost like going on a cruise or to an amusement park. Attendance, enthusiasim, and excitement were at record levels.

The new leaders were justifiably proud. “This isn’t school the way it was for your parents. This is school just for you and your friends. This is school where you can be comfortable and be yourself. We want school to be fun, and we want you to be excited about telling other kids how great school is now.”

Other communities came to observe, and more and more communities began to rework their schools in the same way. A movement of new, fun schools began to spread across the country.

Of course, there were a handful of people who were unhappy. They gathered in their homes and kept their complaints to themselves, but finally, they asked if they could meet with the town council, and with the educators.

The town council agreed, and everyone gathered. The new educators were basking in their success, and many congratulations were offered from families whose children were now ready to go to school every day. More and more students said that they wanted to be teachers too.

Time came for the critics to speak.

“Friends, a few months ago, we sat here together and asked these educators if they were committed to education. We asked if they were committed to turning out educated young people. Scholars and leaders for the future. They assured us they were, and we gave them our schools.

They lied. They didn’t believe in these things. Instead, they changed what we called education to something else entirely. They devalued education, and replaced it with entertainment. They found out what our children wanted OTHER THAN education, and they gave them that very thing, but CALLED IT education. It’s a bait and switch, and we’ve been snookered.

Now the world is singing their praises. The schools are full and the children love what is going on. But I have some questions for you:

What are the ACT scores for these schools? You see, we no longer give the test.
Where are the foreign languages? We no longer teach them.
Where are the Math courses? We no longer have them…or any engineers.
What are our students reading? Not books. Maganzines and the internet. Junk food for the mind. Almost no novels are being read. Our students watch movies and TV instead of reading.
Where are the scientists? We don’t teach science anymore. We teach about celebrities and fashion, but we don’t teach science.

I could go on and on, but I wonder if anyone cares? Does anyone even realize what has happened? We’ve been lied to, and we’ve accepted the lie!”

The young educators listened to this, shook their heads, laughed, and asked to speak.

“Friends, today, your schools are full. Your children love school. They can’t wait to come. They are busy and involved. They have school pride. They love their teachers. Many of them want to be involved in education. We’ve given you results that you never saw before. Change has been hard, but change is good. It’s been good for our children and community.

We believe that one day, these students will become great scholars and truly educated people. But first, we had to get them into the schools. We’ve done that. Be patient, and watch them as they become more and more the educated people you wanted them to be. Just remember that times have changed, and we can’t do what we did before and get results. Can you really argue with success?”

The room was filled with applause.

Comments

  1. Matt Enlow says:

    Excellent. And the story itself is not all that far off! Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves To Death”, anyone? All public discourse is being infused with (replaced by?) entertainment.

    I wrote some related thoughts on my site a while back, but about–what else–math education:

    http://matt.enlow.net/2003_04_01_archive.htm#92576931

  2. I hear you on this. I used to go to a small church that was singularly focused on getting “education” right. It was a mile down the road to a pioneer of the “new math” approach.

    Now I attend the pioneer of the Christian Disneyland gospel. It was a hard decision since we used to refer to the church as the “Whore of Babylon”.

    I found that the new church is increadibly focused on very clear lingo-free communication tied to challenging standards of “education”. It works for us. The messages are timely and very helpful. As for my old church, it turned into a cult.

    My great dissapointment is that the new church (for the most part) doesn’t worship. They entertain. If they were singing secular words, I wouldn’t mind so much. But the secular music and sacred lyrics don’t work for me. A secular friend quipped to me that “The problem with Christian Rock is that it is neither.”

    In another post, you mentioned how poorly Christians often communicate. This new church I go to does a much better job of not falling into that trap. Is there something that’s getting lost. Certainly. But, overall my new church is far better than my old one and its navel gazing insanity.

  3. I think there are a number of streams within the church growth movement that are beating the tides. Example : Mars Hill in Seattle. I love this guy’s preaching, and I can tell he is working at something.

    But my strategy is to provoke the people moving in these circles to see the problems, and correct them. I join you in rejecting the “navel gazing” insanity. But I have to reject the trivializing of God. I mean, to devalue God in order to “talk” about Him is awful, and that’s what’s happening.

    Look at Joel Osteen. America’s largest church. NO JESUS PREACHING at all. Yikes.

  4. David Scott says:

    Or the Crystal Cathedral-Rev. Schuller-His theology is more or less unitarian, though evangelicals still embrace him, which I personally found odd-Evangelicaloutpost.com had a good post or two on him, tho I’m too lazy to find them for you.

  5. Amen on the bait and switch part. I believed that the seeker sensitive movement is bait and switch Christianity

    http://www.availablelightonline.com/blog/index.php?p=477
    http://www.availablelightonline.com/blog/index.php?p=273
    http://www.availablelightonline.com/blog/index.php?p=284

  6. If heritage and education have been set aside then what is there of value to bring to the future? Then where will the passion come from?
    Education goes with growing, heritage goes with roots and if you have neither you will be blow away with the wind.

  7. Did they teach spelling at the new school? If so, they would “redouble its efforts.” (not it’s)

  8. Thanks for the correction.

  9. Wondering What's Better says:

    I see the point. I would just add one paragraph in the middle of the parable.

    “The educational institutions were no longer fulfilling their task of educating the entire world. They had found a way to take the joy out of education to the point that no one wanted to come to school. In fact, they had done such a poor job at reaching the lower economic classes, some new educators decided to do something creative because no one in the old guard was doing anything about it.”

    I see both sides of the argument and bad theology isn’t good even if it’s reaching millions. SOMEONE, however, has to do something to bring the message of Christ to the next generation. It was not happening. A theology that doesn’t compel its adherents to reach their world for Christ is MORE dangerous than the seeker philosophies. All of the good theology that came out of Europe years ago — have you seen their churches lately??? I’d rather have Warren’s church than the dead and empty churches of mainline protestants. As least the seeker folks are trying to take the gospel to the lost while the Reformed Calvinists debate Open Theism among themselves!

  10. Scott Clark says:

    “Be patient, and watch them as they become more and more the educated people you wanted them to be.”

    I am thrilled to death when I see non-believers who are attending our youth group. Little by little, they are coming to the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Several have come to know Christ through what we do. We do “contemporary worship,” as such. I suppose the difference is what I’ve experienced here and your parable is that we continue to preach Christ crucified.

    I will agree that the youth group (or church) that is designed to help people just have fun is bound to fail in the eternal scheme of things.

  11. if you were satan which church would you spend more time on? Assuming we are in a war that is. most important which one is Jesus going to marry?

  12. As a Reformed Calvinist and mainline protestant, I also read this blog. I am actually quite proud of my theological heritage. Maybe someone could enlighten me on the debate regarding “open theism”. Allthough I am not sure that I will read it.

    In our hearts some of us (Reformed Calvinists) do have a burning desire to reach our generation and the next generation for Christ. Never easy.

    In my country 50% of the people do not have work and do not have a regular income. 98% of the people in my country will never have the privilege of reading this blog, because they do not have access to a computer or the internet. But they do need the truth of salvation in Christ, but with their hungry stomachs rumbling for food,(Is that the right expression? – English is my second language) they cannot hear a word I’m saying about a God who loved the world so much that He sent His Son. So we feed them and we learn to love them. As we give them food, we earn the right to be heard. And once we have earned the right, we preach the gospel. How do we know when we have earned the right to be heard? When the person asks: Why are you doing this? Sometimes it takes weeks.

    First God feeds them (through us) and them God saves some of them (Through our preaching of the gospel). Full stomachs, hearing ears. Empty stomachs, deaf ears.

    That, is the way we as Reformed Calvinist live theology. When we have the opportunity (mostly when others are sleeping) we read and discuss theology and we enjoy it very much.

    Good theology? I don’t know. Maybe something about a great commission (make disciples) and the great commandment (love your neighbour – feed them if necesarry).

    Regards.

  13. I’m clearly way late to this conversation. Nevertheless I agree with Wondering What’s Better above. The old guard wasn’t really educating anymore. Something did have to be done. As it turns out the New Educators aren’t really the thing to go with, but they are correct when they say that times have changed and we can’t do things exactly like they used to be done. So I think it’s somewhat of a both/and, rather than an either/or.

  14. This hits home in a painful way. I went to my old church just last night. It was youth night and I was shocked to see that the youth had a “show” prior to the servfice starting. The kids sang You can’t hurry love, Can’t buy me Love, I’d like to teach the world to sing, Butterfly kisses (totally mocking marriage at the end of the song ) and it seemed like I had entered Mars instead of a worship serice. No one’s heart was prepared to enter into the Presence of the Lord…it was comedy, fluff, entertainment and I was grieved. The pastors’ daughters seemed like lounge singers. WHen worship finally DID begin not one song mentioned JESUS…HIS NAME was absent. At the end of the message, with all those youth sitting there no call for repentence was given…no call to surrender your life to Jesus, repent and make Him Lord. I was stunned. The place the Lord had led me to when I first rededicated my life to Him has become an entertainment zone. The pastor and assistant pastor’s sons now play rock n roll songs in the bars…they have big numbers , are considered a mega church and are doing much in the way of serving…but WHERE IS JESUS? Sadly, it seems like they are doing all of this in their own name.

  15. Interesting article….

  16. yikes!!

    “Though seeing, they do not see;
    though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
    ” ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
    For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
    Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
    and turn, and I would heal them.’But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”
    Matthew 13:13-16

    God Bless you!!