My son’s college class was cancelled one day last week because the teacher couldn’t get the projection unit to work. Apparently her lecture was dependent on the use of the computer which was attached to visuals that she needed to teach.

Teaching is different than it used to be. Teachers have to be more creative. Students are more visual than ever. They use more of their senses to learn and teachers who simply lecture lose many students to the world of daydreaming.

In case you haven’t noticed, the way churches worship has changed, too. Projection units have added videos, words for music, images, scripture, and outlines of sermons to the order of worship. These added visuals keep people engaged. In addition to these changes, bits of theater, orchestra and praise bands have been added to worship services, too. If the sermon is to be the crescendo in these services every week, the pastor has to be a superstar.

All across the country that’s what churches are looking for, their own superstar pastor. Superstar pastors usually find their way to megachurches, churches with more than 2,000 people who attend each week. USA Today reports that the number of megachurches rose from 600 in 2000 to more than 1,250 in 2005, but may have peaked now.

In the same article, Ed Stezer, head of Lifeway Research in Nashville is quoted: “You can create a church that’s big, but is still not transforming people. Without transformation, the Christian message is not advanced.”

In the movie, “Maximus,” the star gladiator stands in the middle of the arena with his sword dripping wet with blood. With the Roman emperor, Commodus, and the Roman spectators looking on, Maximus calls out, “Are you not entertained? Are you not entertained?” And the crowd begins to yell, “Spaniard! Spaniard! Spaniard!”

Although we do not have any megachurches in Colquitt County, we can fall prey to the megachurch mentality regardless of the size of our churches. We arrive at church and sit down as if we were at a play or a movie theater with the attitude, “Now entertain me.” We take our children or our youth to the church of our choice and we say, “Now keep them entertained so they will want to come back.”

The USA Today article quoted Philip Goff, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University in Indianapolis, as saying, “If church is too challenging or not entertaining, they’ll move on.”

This article isn’t against having fun in church. I hope you get the point that our faith and our worship are supposed to be more than fun; they are supposed to be transforming.

Zach Dawes, recent graduate of Truett Seminary on the campus of Baylor University and the newest member of my church staff, tackled this issue in his recent blog. He wrote: “A church’s success or lack thereof is simple — how many are attending your activities week in and week out. It’s the yardstick by which we determine if we are effective. We are decreasing in attendance on Sundays so we need some adjustment. We are increasing in attendance on Wednesdays so we are doing well. How much has your church grown in the last year or two or three is how we measure a successful ministry, right?”

“Or is it? Is that the standard? Is offering enough entertainment and activities to get them to attend week in and week out truly the measure of a successful church? Is liking the music, ‘getting something’ out of the sermon, being in church and bringing your Bible every week, serving on committees and in other ministry roles really the index of a successful Christian life?”

It should be expected that people will initially have a shopping cart mentality when choosing a church. However, after choosing a church, if there’s never more than consumerism religion occurring, the kind of transforming life where Jesus changes our world to the point that we seek to transform the world around us, we’ve done little more than sought out entertainment and we could have done that in a number of places besides church.

For Dawes, it’s not just a confessed faith that matters but a shared faith that makes the difference. He points to Amos who wrote: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5.24); and to Micah who wrote: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God!” (Micah 6.8); and to the question of utmost importance as revealed by Jesus: What have I done for the least of these? What have I done for the poor? What have I done for the hungry? What have I done for the thirsty? What have I done for the impoverished and needy? What have I done for the different, the diseased, the outcast, the orphaned, the widowed? What have I done for the “sinner and tax-collectors”? What have I done for the lonely, the hurting, the depressed, the sick? What have I done for those around me in need this day and this week and this month and this year … and this life? (Matthew 25:31-46)

Dawes writes, “For the truth of this matter is that the Kingdom manifests itself in the most unlikely and unrecognized places. Not in all the trappings and frills of ‘church,’ but in daily living out, however faltering, what it means to be a Christ follower. And the key in following Jesus the Christ is service to the least of these, not merely pious rhetoric or eloquent song. For when we serve and befriend and love the least, we find that we serve the greatest. For the Kingdom manifests itself in service to the King, who is found in the least and the lowliest. So, how do we know what it means to follow Christ and to enter in to his Kingdom? We change the question we ask each week. ‘Have I been entertained?’ Becomes ‘What have you, what have I, what have we done for the least of these?’”


The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.

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