One night I was flipping through the television guide and saw, “Hannity: special,” and I began watching what turned out to be an enjoyable episode of panel (sort of) discussion about America. This panel was made up of FOX and CNN reporters (around 20 people), to whom Hannity posed questions to and allowed feedback from.
On this show they played a Paul Harvey audio clip, the focal point of the special, saying “if I were the devil I would…” To divide America and break down her moral framework, some of the proposed methods were things like divide families, churches, take God out of schools, create a welfare state where there is no incentive to work, etc. One of the things he mentioned was to make religion like a business, which I found to be an interesting suggestion or perhaps prediction on Harvey’s part, as did a panel member.
One man in this group was a pastor, an African-American pastor, formerly of a large church. This man said that Millennials (generation born early 1980’s – early 2000’s) are partly turned off because religion in general, and the church in particular have become more like a business opportunity.
And I agree.
We hear about pastors selling books, DVDs, speaking at large conferences. Pastors are becoming a brand. Their churches become a brand (for example think Driscoll; Mars Hill). It seems inauthentic, and more precisely, plastic. It seems to be about revenue and promotion. Money.
We hear of these grand book ideas and conference tours, but we don’t hear about how these (usually megachurch) pastors are in the hospitals visiting dying cancer patients or little children that have just had their tonsils taken out. We don’t hear about the weddings and funerals these men perform. To be honest, we don’t hear much about being a pastor, the office they are said to hold. What they model as “shepherds” doesn’t resemble, hardly, what the New Testament describes (1 Tim; Titus). What about living amongst their flocks?
This isn’t to be cynical and say that these men aren’t doing those things, but I would bet a lot of them aren’t.
I’ve heard a few megachurch pastors say they “have staff” that do the hospital rounds, and that do the funerals and weddings. Paul stayed in Corinth for the first couple of years to ensure they were on the right track; letting go of idols, repairing division. He didn’t have staff to do it. And Paul was a well-known man. Ephesus, Galatia, Philippi, Colossae, Thessalonica. These places and churches had need of him and were involved with him, but when Paul made a commitment to be somewhere he was there and did what needed to be done (unless he was prevented because of his imprisonment). He didn’t just go from city to city selling his brand and moving on. He dwelt places, set up roots, and made a difference with the gospel and how he ministered to the people there.
Though this is a different subject this is a problem I have with the American megachurch model: Men who are called to shepherd, tend to the needs of their flocks, cannot adequately do so due to the sheer size of the flock. A man cannot know and tend to 1,000 people on a daily or weekly basis. He would never sleep, or get his sermon prepared. This is why Voddie Baucham, very admirably, has (loosely) limited the size of his congregation. Once it reaches a certain figure (I believe 275 congregants), they send people out to plant churches, and I might add, not so he can become a video-screen preacher (another problem I have: how do you know the needs of a congregation of which you have no interaction with in an authentic manner), but autonomous Bible-believing churches with real-life pastors, men of God who shepherd well.
That is what Millennials want: authenticity. Pastors who genuinely care about individuals, not crowds. Pastors write books and preach for their congregations not so their videos can trend on YouTube or be a New York Times Bestseller. We need to recover Church and how it is to be structured.
It’s not a business. It’s a body. A real-life body that is stricken with diseases, needs, crises.
Pastor, stop selling yourself. It’s not about “your” plan to do x, y and z. It’s about Jesus and how we need Him for everything in our lives. And we want you to be serious about individual relationships, ministering to people yourself, preaching sermons that edify and instruct. Where have we lost the real call and role of the pastor? What shifts were made that led to something sacred like Church and like people’s relationships with God to become something so wooden and inauthentic?
That’s a problem some of the Millennials I know are dealing with, and the consumer-driven “pastor and church as brand” trend is only deepening the divide.