Last week, in her first guest post on this blog, Annie Carter wrote a great critique of Western culture, in which she argued that “Though the world is awash with sensory delights, designed to allure and excite, behind the scenes many are struggling to find their place or purpose. … Like candyfloss, the culture tantalises the senses but doesn’t fulfil our deepest needs.”
She noted that “the Church is ideally placed to help people shift their focus from the superfluous features defining our culture to the intangible values that truly matter.”
In today’s post, she considers whether or not we are making the most of this opportunity.
Having seemed so out of touch for so long, the church has caught up remarkably well with current fashions and trends, and enthusiastically embraced the latest cultural norms. In some instances, we’re now at the cutting edge. But have we taken it too far?
In attempts to stay relevant and appear up-to-date, we are in danger of neglecting some of the more important aspects of people’s lives. We are so consumed with creating awesome programmes and events, that we no longer care for or value one another as we should. There is obviously an acute difficulty in balancing the Church’s relevance and impact in the community, on the one hand, with our genuine love and care for individuals on the other. How can the Church fully engage the culture yet also fulfil her God given mandate to be the church, a place that welcomes the hurt and wounded, and is known for our love for one another?
The internet and other media are undoubtedly useful tools. In Philippians 1:8 Paul alludes to the suggestion that we should use all means to spread the gospel. As churches increasingly use modern methods to connect with people and spread the message of Christ, it’s important to assess our focus and examine how well we are using those tools; we need to ensure that we’re not adopting the sparkle at the expense of the substance. We need to take care not to offer a candyfloss church.
All too often our worship can become celebrity driven, and our times of prayer or Bible study may require glitter and hype to be attended. In an attempt to stay relevant and appeal to the masses, have we overlooked the needs of the individual, neglected the personal?
The book of Acts shows us not just the fervency of the early church’s faith – but also the depth of their fellowship. The apostles were quick to engage in outreach and activities, but also emphasised quality time and prayer together. It’s interesting that the growing popularity of certain religions in the West has less to do with the tenets of faith and more to do with the depth of their community and a rejection of the immorality and excess they perceive in Western culture. Aversion to cultural excesses and outward shows of glamour is fuelling a desire to return to simpler forms of living and deeper, more genuine relationships. People are growing tired of superficiality and artificiality.
In the States many 20- and 30-somethings are leaving the modern churches they grew up in and seeking solace in the liturgy and meditation of more traditional churches. There is a yearning for contemplation, reflection and stillness. I’m thinking, for instance, of people like popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans who in this post lists her reasons for leaving the church (NB: I don’t agree with everything she says but it is helpful to hear her perspective); and people like internetmonk.com who describes himself as a post-evangelical Christian in search of a Jesus-shaped spirituality. In a typical post, Internet Monk says:
The language of liturgy has rich possibilities for reaching those who are weary of television and Powerpoint, and long for symbolism and substance to merge into something deep and genuine. Even Pentecostal/Charismatic churches have shown openness to looking at their own worship and reacquainting themselves with their liturgical, classically Christian roots. There is an exhaustion out there in the modern worship crowd, and liturgy is the oasis many will find in their staleness and dread.
Will we recognise this need and incorporate it into our church services, or like the media will we continue to serve up a steady stream of glitz and noise?
The time will soon come where people will begin to withdraw and unplug more, and be in search of more meaningful relationships, rather than fleeting friendships and flippant conversation. Will the church be ready to welcome and accept these weary souls when that time comes? To pour out that living, refreshing water Jesus speaks about?
The challenge is to go forward culturally in our churches, whilst not neglecting the strength of bonds we have and the simple facets of faith which unite us as a community of believers. We need to use modern tools and technology for godly purposes without being consumed by a desire to impress and gain worldly acclaim. We will change a generation not by the coolness of our website or PowerPoint presentations, but by our love for one another and for the Lord.
Faith, hope and love don’t need to be wrapped up or sugar coated. They just need to be demonstrated and multiplied. A world out there is watching to see if we can offer something more substantial to the current system. Will the church pander to cultural demands or be a pioneer in shaping culture – undeterred from standing up for justice and shunning expressions of excess and vanity?
It’s no secret which I long to see.
Annie has asked me to make clear that the church she attends, Life Church, Peterborough, works hard to balance technology/excellence and meeting people’s heartfelt needs. [Quote: As we build our vision for demonstrating the kingdom we’re increasingly looking for opportunities to serve our community as Life Church.]