Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Don't Believe the Hype!

Flavor Flav is a hype man…the hype man. He is fun, crazy, entertaining, and even a bit talented. With his shades and grill and goofy hats and that giant clock around his neck, Flav is a standout in the pioneering hip-hop group Public Enemy. He was the comedic foil to Chuck D’s intense stage presence and politically charged raps, working the crowd and punctuating Chuck’s lyrics. He’s even an okay rapper; but a solo artist, Flav is not. No one goes to a show to watch Flav jump around and yell “Yyeaah, boy!” for two hours. Without “Fight the Power” and “Rebel Without a Pause” and “Welcome to the Terrordome,” Flavor Flav is just a classic fool.

Many in the church have become hype men (and women). We have taken on the role of getting people “pumped up” about God, pandering to the potential audience to get them in the doors and jumping up and down. And it works. I’m not talking about good Christian people who are excited about sharing their faith. I’m talking about pastors and church leaders who have drunk the Kool-aid, jettisoned the challenging—even off-putting—leading of God, and are becoming fools in the process. But I’m here to urge us, in the words of Public Enemy: “Don’t Believe the Hype!”

We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken. How much energy do we in the church spend on a shakable kingdom, to the neglect of the unshakable kingdom (Heb. 12:18-29)? We obsess about buildings and productions and numbers (we call them “metrics” to sound businessy), comparing and competing with each other over nothing but hype. We ignore walking the path of God’s darkness, God’s light, and God’s union. But this is exactly the path that the church should be walking, the path into God’s mystery, into God’s revelation, and into life in the Trinity. All other paths are dead ends.

What if our efforts in the shakable kingdom—for surely we must give due attention to some externals—were all for the sake of the unshakable kingdom? How might the church do everything, not with thought and motives for attracting people, but all motivated by leading people into God’s mystery and God’s revelation and God’s abiding presence?

The domain of nominal Christians and anxious leaders—of shaky churches and shaky pastors—is, naturally, the shakable kingdom. Those who lead the church with a mind and heart for attracting people might do just that. How impressive! But last time I looked, “go into all the world and attract people” is not Christ’s commission. “But it’s evangelism,” they say. “We’re preaching the gospel to them.” To which I say, “What gospel are you preaching?”

The gospel of Jesus Christ has nothing to do with attracting people. I dare say Christ repelled far more people than he attracted. The gospel of Jesus Christ is about transforming people…to the glory of God alone. Can the externals be used to point to this Triune God—the shakable kingdom a pathway to the unshakable? Oh, they can and they should! But only that—all things pointing to this God and life in him. We must move on from the shakable kingdom as soon as possible. Yet the tendency of many is to move in there permanently.

The trend for more than a generation has been the opposite of moving from shakable to unshakable. We have used people’s hunger for God to be the means, and attracting them to our buildings and productions and swelling organization has become the end. (Read that again.) We say, “Well, we’re just attracting them to the church.” But is it really the church they’re coming to? No, we are attracting them to themselves.

Not enough people seem to be genuinely hungry for God, so we’ve started serving up platefuls of what more people are naturally hungry for: entertainment, affirmation, being part of a large organization that is better than the competition, superficial connection with others who are like us…a shakable kingdom.

Let’s be honest. There’s a line we must walk. We certainly want to offer our best to God—our architecture, our arts, our organization, the stewardship of externals. And we do want people to be part of the church…lots of people…every person! There’s nothing inherently holy about being aloof or small or old-fashioned or superficially ritualistic. On the contrary! There is no “right” set of externals that make up the unshakable kingdom.

It is only the mysterious, illuminating, abiding presence of God that makes up the unshakable kingdom. What that looks like on the outside is vast and varied. The only right externals are those that point to God and his kingdom. Any church must figure out what those things are, finding the harmony of orthodoxy, mission field, tradition, culture, etc. But they cannot do this by following trends.

We must stop turning the church into a Cosmo-girl, seeking superficial advice on the latest fashions and “how to attract a man” and “getting noticed in 7 easy steps.” The church and her leaders are unnecessarily anxious, hurried, shaky. But in the end, only the unshakable will remain.

God’s kingdom doesn’t need another twitchy hype-man. God’s kingdom needs devoted leaders who are fixed on the Trinity. God’s kingdom needs churches that exist only to follow God into darkness and light and union, where everything—from the building to the finances to the worship to the people—points in that direction. God’s kingdom needs God. The circus of the shakable kingdom might attract people and dazzle audiences and sell books. The fools might be entertaining. But don’t believe the hype…yyeaah, boy!


Daniel said...

This was so good that I was ready to explode, and then in fact I did explode when I came to the line that says, We must stop turning the church into a Cosmo-girl, seeking superficial advice on the latest fashions and “how to attract a man” and “getting noticed in 7 easy steps.” The church and her leaders are unnecessarily anxious, hurried, shaky. But in the end, only the unshakable will remain.

robertcpelfrey said...

We've become a product of our culture...and not necessarily the good parts. Thanks, brother.

Anonymous said...

Once again, you have adeptly hit the nail on its head. I really appreciate your insight, Robert.

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