It’s been a while since I did an old-school “iMonk-rants-about-evangelicals” post, but all of them are still there in the essays department. Someone could assume- wrongly, I assure you- that those criticisms all came from the days when I was a Calvinist, and now that I’ve jumped off that bus, I have no problems with anything going on anywhere. Not true at all, to say the least. I’m more aware of the problems in evangelicalism than ever, and more grieved by many of them.
In my seven years of blogging on Internet Monk, I’ve covered a lot of ground in evaluating evangelicals. Unlike whack job critics who see Dallas Willard as the antiChrist, and eastern mysticism under every rock or like bunkered fundamentalist critics committed to their own version of exclusive infallible papism, I want to make my criticisms from a broadly “catholic” and post-evangelical point of view. (Yes, “post-evangelicalism” wants to keep a lot of evangelicalism intact. In fact, you will soon be reading several posts aimed at potential converts to the Roman Catholic Church, jumping up and down shouting, “Don’t do it!”)
So let’s check in with what the iMonk feels are some of the most egregious and foolish of current evangelical blunders. Here’s your raw meat (in no particular order, btw), people. Get your forks and find a good fire.
1. Eliminating All Hymns: Worship leaders and churches that have dumped the entire heritage of Christian hymnody tempt me to use words like “idiots,” but I’m trying to hold that for later, but it’s among the most stupid things evangelicals are doing.
I’m fully aware that hymns are musically challenging, but hymn recovery projects like the RUF Hymns Project can help you there. (Frankly, a lot of contemporary worship music is horrendously difficult to play, and a modest keyboard player can handle 90% of the best 500 hymns ever written.) I’m not trying to say a church needs to pursue a music program that ignores missional realities in pursuit of a mission to promote classical music. What I am saying is that the heritage of the top 100 hymns isn’t seen as an incredible gift to evangelicalism, and it has sustained, discipled and given words to evangelicals in ways you can’t discount. Throwing this away is ridiculous.
There’s another good point about preserving the heritage of hymnody: it’s already been sorted out by history. Go pick up a hymnal from 150 years ago, and you will find as many bad songs as you’re hearing on K-Love today, but a modern hymnal (Trinity, Celebration, Baptist) has sorted through those hymns to the best of the best. In other words, we know how God has used “Man of Sorrows” and “Immortal, Invisible.”
Evangelicals should find a way to keep the heritage of great hymns alive. Dumping them entirely for secular and CCM music is a dumb move and evidence that too many churches are leaving important decisions to the wrong people.
2. Goofy Youth Minister Style Preaching: It’s beginning to become clear to me that there’s a stylistic issue that’s consuming a lot of young preachers. Some of you won’t like what I am going to say but I promise you 1) I am a youth minister and 2) I’ve spoken to thousands of young people. I’m a fan of a lot of what I hear from many young pastors, and I know what’s going on…..but…..
Preaching has some basics. When Mark Driscoll suggests that Chris Rock is the preaching teacher you need, I am wincing. The preaching teacher you need is someone like Lloyd-Jones, D.A. Carson, John Piper, Sinclair Ferguson or Al Martin. Chris Rock- or Mark Driscoll- is the influence you need to ADD to BASIC PREACHING ESSENTIALS in order to speak in some settings.
Basics? Yeah…Expository. In the text. Organized. Balanced. Applicatory. Good questions. Illustrations that serve, not drive. Christ-centered. Original. Gospel-fueled. Open Bible. Earnest. Evangelistic.
You won’t learn that from a comedian. You will learn some things from comedians that will make you a better communicator. But not a good communicator. Be a solid, trust-worthy, serious Biblical teacher, then you can try to be Matt Chandler.
3. No Church Membership: Oh brother. The church is not an audience. It’s not a crowd that watches a show. It’s not a fan club. It’s a community. It has boundaries. Leadership doesn’t function in the church like a guy opening a store and filling it with customers. You are in it or you are out of it. Baptism is a door into a local church as well as the universal church. The Biblical passages on church shepherding/discipline are about real churches with real leaders and real boundaries. Creed, Confession, Covenant, Constitution (and by laws.) Your church needs all four.
I realize this isn’t going to be the case with every church from day one, but it needs to be a project by year two, and a reality by year 3. Talk to people who have watched the first or second pastoral transition in a new church deconstruct a church.
I can’t say enough about the ministry and teaching of Mark Dever on the subject of the local church, leadership and church membership. This entire issue is what betrays an almost total lack of Biblical study on the part of a lot of young leaders. This is just a slouchy, lazy error among young evangelicals. What I suspect is the case in many situations is pastoral egos don’t want to have to answer to a congregation, so you have an “elder led” church- good- with no church membership- very, very bad.
4. The MegaChurch Agenda vs The Healthy Church Agenda: That sounds like an entire conference. Maybe it ought to be. Big churches have always driven evangelicalism. The influence of large church pastors has always been pervasive. I can’t imagine that will ever change.
Let me mention two pastors: Rick Warren is Rick Warren. You know his church. Ted Christman is the founding pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. He’s a man whose ministry I have watched for the last three decades. Both have done great jobs in their callings. One has a church of tens of thousands. One has a church of a couple of hundred. If we are going to reach our culture, we may need both, but we need hundreds and thousands of people like Ted and churches like HBC.
Who has the most to teach me? Right. Now who is the most likely to be plastered across every media that I am familiar with? Right.
What we have right now are thousands of young pastors and church leaders determined to build a mega-church. Not a solid church, or a doctrinally deep church, or a missionally involved church or a servant church or even a Biblically evangelistic church, but a big church. Big is the defining quality. That a mentor pastors a big church is the major qualifier to answer a question. It’s why Rick Warren is debating Sam Harris in Time, even though Ravi Zacharias could hand Harris his head on a platter.
The finest teacher of pastoral theology and preaching I’ve ever heard is Al Martin. You’ll never hear him unless you go looking. You can learn every thought Rick Warren’s ever had by just going to the book section at Wal-Mart.
I’m not saying megachurches aren’t healthy. I’m not trying to get rid of them. We need big churches in every city and in every region for lots of good reasons. But the megachurch AGENDA is different. We don’t need every church to make every decision on how to get more and more people in the building. We don’t need to have leaders who won’t go to a hospital or do a funeral because it doesn’t contribute to growth. We don’t need worship being judged by the applause meter.
Evangelicals are a Biblical people. The megachurch has a place in the Biblical message if we see what we’re about as a church planting movement. But the megachurch doesn’t have all the answers for most churches. When a small church begins to make decisions shadowing Rick Warren on the assumption that his megachurch embodies the Biblical model for every church, we’ve gone papal.
Get in your Bible and find what the church is ALL about. Quit trying to be the latest thing. No matter who your current church growth hero happens to be. Your church can learn from Mars Hill, but you probably aren’t Mars Hill, and the people in front of you- who may never be the congregation you have in your head- matter to God and need to matter to you.
5. Too Much Music: I said “too much music.” I could illustrate this by writing that sentence for 60% of the post, but I won’t be that obvious.
What’s going on right now seems to be this: The average church needs a band, a lead singer, a praise team, and 40 minutes of worship for “worship,” i.e. music. We’re going to stand the entire time. We’re going to sing what the musicians and worship leaders feel is “worshipful.” We’re going to do a lot of new songs, and we’re going to sing a lot of lyrics over again. Lights, sound and video projection are now essentials.
There is nothing inherently wrong with this picture, but there are a lot of actual and potential problems here. Let me cover some of them.
1) Too much music.
2) Not regulated by the leadership of the church.
3) Too much trouble, expense, rehearsal.
4) Aimed at a narrow age group.
5) Utterly excludes other age groups.
6) Enslaved to the new.
7) Standards set by a culture outside the church, often dominated by cultural addiction to entertainment.
8) Instead of using music to worship, we are using music to draw a crowd, and then justifying it.
9) Spiritual maturity of worship leaders is a back-burner issue in many cases.
10) Congregations are physically/emotionally exhausted before pastoral preaching appears.
There are more things that I could say, and that you could add.
I’m sure that you know I am appreciative of churches that can do this well. I have good friends that exercise their gifts in this kind of ministry and that’s great. But they will be the first to see some of the problems, and always the first to see that every church can’t do what their church does. When I read Mark Driscoll talk about how the search for musicians dominated his early years as a church planter, I’m just astonished that we are now heading in this direction as standard operating procedure in many- even most- evangelical churches.
Too much music, having too much influence in the church. Look at the New Testament, and compare what what the apostles say and do regarding music to what is happening in evangelicalism. We are way, way, way off the page. But we like it, and it’s working, so how can we be wrong. Right?
So there you go. The iMonk returns to his familiar criticisms of evangelicals. Some of our newer readers might need to go to the archives, essays and older essays tabs for more of this type of critique.
(Someone will want to know about bad theology. That’s another five, or ten, or fifteen……I’ll get to that later.)