I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we got to the point we are at today. Why has America, and the West, rejected the message of the gospel? It is clear from scripture and it hasn’t changed throughout history.
We must come to God, acknowledging our sin in repentance and humility. If we come any other way, we are actually rejected by God. Yet overwhelmingly, the gospel message today is devoid of humility. It is without repentance. There is no concept of sin and eternity. There is only help. Only good feelings. Only “God’s best” for you.
To be sure, God does want His best for our lives, but not at the expense of an eternity spent in hell. God’s best always starts with us acknowledging our sin, repenting of it and turning to God for eternal salvation. Temporal salvation from the trials we face today are important, but a distant second. But the gospel of today is just the opposite.
So how did we get here? Why have we made the gospel in our own image?
I believe it is because we have research. In all deference to men like Ed Stetser, Lifeway Research, George Barna and others like them, research can go horribly wrong. In and of itself, research is not a bad thing. In fact, churches in America are much more effective today at reaching people than ever before, in part because of our access to great research. Research has helped us change how we reach people in a very effective manner.
The problem is never changing what we do, but changing what we say.
For generations, people have levied that cry. That the gospel is getting watered down. And in many cases, they were right. This isn’t something that has just begun. It has been going on for generations. I believe what is different is that in the past ten years, it has exploded on a catastrophic scale.
I think it stems not from the explosive growth of a new trend of megachurches, but from the need to maintain those megachurches. Megachurches are like the apostolic voices of today. They set the tone of the Christian dialogue and so many other churches seek to emulate their success by copying them. That makes them the most important institutions in Christianity today, whether you want to admit it or not.
I am always amazed when I see a serial entrepreneur who will start one company from nothing, grow it to a hugely successful enterprise and then sell it for massive gain and then start over again. The good ones do it over and over again. They are masters at growing popular, profitable companies.
But if you take those serial entrepreneurs and make them the CEO of a large, established Fortune 500 company, they would probably run it into the ground. There are a few case studies out there of just that. Why is that?
Growth vs. Maintenance
Those serial entrepreneurs are great at growth. Their personality makes them adept at the fast-paced excitement of making something from nothing. But large established companies do not need growth, they require maintenance. They do have to innovate and grow, but most of their efforts are spent protecting the business models and profit centers they already have. That is a death sentence to the personality of a serial entrepreneur.
Likewise with pastors of the hot megachurches—they thrive on the explosive growth of their domains, but when they eventually level off, it becomes more of a game of maintenance. Think of how many megachurch pastors who have had to “take a break” from church life because of its rigors. I don’t think it’s the rigors of growing a church that wore them out, but the rigors of trying to maintain a behemoth.
And that leads people bent on growth to desperation. When the methods they used to grow the church no longer work at growth, other changes have to be made. I believe it is not the culture of growing megachurches that has changed our collective gospel message to a “feel-good” message, but the desperation to keep what they have.
That is when pastors get desperate enough to “tweak” their message. Maybe telling people that without God they will spend eternity in hell isn’t such a good idea. Maybe we just need to reinforce how much God loves us all. Maybe we should make it easier for people to feel comfortable in our church.
That is a slippery slope. We use research to understand what works. We can never compromise what currently works in church growth for what has to work. When we change our message to fit our models, we have then fashioned a god in our image instead of conforming to His.
I think we need to start showing our appreciation to pastors who have grown megachurches by doing what the business world does: kicking them out. Ask them to go do it again somewhere else. Become a serial church planter. The longest the apostle Paul stayed anywhere (by his own will) was just a few years. I believe Paul moved like he did because he had the same bug that megachurch pastors have today. And I think if Paul had settled down, he too would have fallen into the same pit that pastors today do.
So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. 20It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation. 21Rather, as it is written:
“Those who were not told about him will see,
and those who have not heard will understand.”
22This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you.
Instead of allowing men like Paul find themselves in places of compromise after they have done what God asked them to do, why not set them free to do what he did. To leave. Sure it is hard and emotional to leave, but what we have as a result of not doing that is something far worse.
A new gospel.