There is a difference between a principle and a method. A principle is the thing that never changes regardless of the time, people, place, culture, or setting. A method, on the other hand, is a time-bound cultural expressions of a principle. Someone wise once said, “Principles never change. Methods always do.” Our methods constantly need updating because our method communicates our principle. Our methods not only communicate our message, but often times they are our message.
The unchanging message of the Church is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the point of that Gospel is that people are justified before a holy God so that they can become more like Jesus.
It is long past time for the modern Evangelical Church in America to seriously look at some of the methods we are utilizing and ask ourselves how congruent those methods are with our message. Because not only do our methods communicate our message, our methods are our message meaning that we should gladly get rid of any method that is counterproductive to the unchanging message of the Church of Jesus Christ for the past 2,000 years.
Having gone to school with a number of people who are currently in ministry, my Facebook wall has kept me up to datewith the current methods of the day. And I have become increasingly convinced that though our spoken and written desires align with that of the message of the Church, our methods do everything but. (I write to you admitting my own culpability in this area, so you won’t see me calling the “Leg Warehouse” trying to order something to stand on.)
I have no doubt that many of the youth groups around the country preach and teach about the surpassing greatness of Jesus Christ and the good news of His Gospel…but they lure teenagers in to the youth room by appealing to their idols (food, video games, prizes, the opposite gender, music, movies, etc.). And while we proclaim with our mouths that we desire to see the Gospel change hearts and minds and lives, we have unwittingly made Jesus a gateway drug. Jesus just becomes a way for me to get what I really want which, as it turns out, isn’t Jesus at all. I wanted to go on a trip and miss school. I wanted to find a girlfriend. I wanted free pizza. So, sure, I’ll listen to the faux hawked guy in the skinny jeans ramble on about Jesus…if it means I get what I want.
In the same way, I have no doubt that many pastors across the country preach the Biblical message of dying to self…but they cater to people’s preferences when it comes to music style, carpet color, or age demographics. They advertise their church as a place for families and what they really mean is when a family walks in the door, each member is pulled in a different direction and they aren’t a “family” again until they walk back out the door. Don’t want to strain to hear the pastor’s sermon over a crying baby? Don’t want to teach your first grader how to sit still and be quiet? Don’t want to take personal responsibility for the spiritual life of your teenager? You won’t ever need to! We have a program for that with a specifically designated “pastor” for the job.
Similarly, I have no doubt that there are many churches in America that preach about the necessity of the faith community…but they don’t emphasize the reason Jesus told us to live that way. We have life groups/community groups/cell groups…for the purpose of having life groups/community groups/cell groups.
The list goes on and on. Bible quiz? “Sword drills?” By the way, I am almost positive that speed at which someone finds the book of Habakkuk isn’t any indicator whatsoever of their understanding or acceptance of the Gospel or their progressive transformation to look more like Jesus.
What I’m advocating for is a serious processing of the question, “Why?” Why are we doing what we do? Let me suggest that if the answer isn’t, “To make people look more like Jesus,” then stop it!
In our entertainment and consumer driven culture, not only should the message of the Church stand in stark contrast to what the world ‘preaches,’ but so should our methods. Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message.” Posited differently, the medium (or methods) through which we communicate holds equal, if not greater, value than the message itself. The medium (or method) through which the principle is presented plays a vital role in the way in which it is perceived. This alone should make all of us seriously consider the methods we use to communicate our principles.
However, in an effort to sell our “product,” many pastors, churches, and youth groups attempt to “win” people with great marketing campaigns, a slick website, and lots of hype. But, ultimately, what we win people with, we win them to. Jesus isn’t a brand name, but the more we try to sell Him like one, the more our medium will become our message and our methods will overtake our principles.
“What you win them with is likely what you’ll win them to. If you win them with the Gospel, you’ll win them to the Gospel. If you win them with technique, programs, entertainment, and personal charisma, you might end up winning them to yourself and your methods…”
– Mark Dever, The Deliberate Church