There is a place where we go and have gone many times. I wanted to switch it up a little this year, so we'll probably go someplace else, and part of my planning is where we'll go to church, usually on a Wednesday night. The place I was looking is a major metropolitan area, and I was looking at various websites of churches. I couldn't find anywhere to go. I might have found someplace to go if so many churches were not so clever.
I'm telling you that it is impossible to find a church that is just a church. I am happy that you can look for churches via websites. It makes things much easier on that front. Before it would have been yellow pages. You would get to the area, get the phone book and start a half hour to hour search in the yellow pages, making phone calls and using the map in the back of the phone book to figure out how long it would take. Sometimes you arrive and the church changed locations. Some churches would have gargantuan half page ads, some colored. If they were big ads, that wouldn't mean you wanted to go there. I've been to half paged ads in someone's living room. But if they were small, you might wonder if they cared. It was tough. Pre-internet, I remember driving up to a church and you wondered if it was still open. You get out, start looking in the windows. I was more than once just ten minutes early and the first person to arrive. Your goal for the night was to encourage the pastor. One man asked me to preach right on the spot, and I declined, because it's not a precedent I liked setting for him.
Alright, I want to get to my point. Almost everyone thinks they have to be clever. It is about impossible to find a regular church. Everyone wants people to think something about them. The things they emphasize are what they think people want. It actually makes me sick. Please don't think I'm saying a "dead church." Please. I'm talking about church that just does what the Bible says without all the bells and whistles. I'm sick of the bells and whistles. Come on. Stop. You get to these websites and it's like entering the wonderful world of Disney -- some type of award winning photography with emotional scenes caught in action.
Where can I start on this? The percentage seems to be about 50% clever, 40% really bad, and 10% awful. Let me get the last two out of the way first. The really bad are those who don't believe like we do in too many different ways. The awful are those who are very close to us in beliefs, if we laid the doctrinal statements out, but they are just awful. It doesn't look like they know what they're doing. It looks like a few people who have been there for years, who have taken ownership, and almost no one else. Very little is happening. There seems to be little to no accountability. I really am tempted to choose one of these places over clever. If the pastor preached a good sermon, I would take this over those other ones.
There is very little normal anymore. There is very little sensible. It is very difficult to find a place that is just rock solid. They respect God with their music, not attempting to have grammy production. Instead, there's a sermon series with the very clever title page with the catchy, hyper-practical label. You're entering an adventure in this new series. Every class has a catchy name. Everyone looks to be having a great time. Every service is a production.
When you see the clever, you know they're clever. You've got to be clever to grow. What if the church just had the basic marks of a good church that come from the Bible? What if it just had expository preaching? What if the people prayed, they sang hymns, they evangelized their community? That's not going to be enough. You need to have that mod picture of the pastor with the designer glasses, shaved head, or soul patch. Every family is smiling. They're all casually dressed. Nothing is hard. Everyone is comfortable and successful.
I understand that these churches, the clever churches, their leaders, know that this all works. Clever works and begets more cleverness. When clever works, others emulate. You know why their churches grow. They're clever. You've got be clever to grow. That's how it happens. You need someone clever. Just explaining what you're about, and showing it from the Bible -- that's not enough any more. You've got to convince someone that you're the church equivalent of a blockbuster movie.
The clever church says it's God, but you really know that it's the cleverness.