Don’t Laugh; Your Church Might Be Miley Cyrus.

This entry is a re-post from a blog written by Bob Hyatt. He communicates some of the things that I have been contemplating of late.

She’s nothing if not pragmatic. And so are we.

Yes, it was bad.

Judging by the reactions to the former child star’s very adult performance at the VMA awards, we had a cultural moment there. We again realized that not everything that can be done should be done.

She did things that clearly made many in the audience uncomfortable, though many seemed to enjoy it very much. It was over the line, but it was also something else— it was effective. Her routine did just what it was meant to do. It got people talking (about little else, in fact); it grabbed ratings, headlines and publicity. It was… creative. And it worked.

But at what cost? Is publicity worth that type of debasement? Her management surely must think so. Was it worth the further coarsening of our culture and the message it sent to the many children and teens watching? “She’s an adult now,” people say. “She can do what she wants to do,” as her song and her actions so adamantly proclaimed. But again, not everything that can be done should be done, just because “it works.”

I’ve read a lot of reactions from Christians in the past few days. Some laughing, some judging and derisive, some expressing sorrow for a young woman so seemingly off track. But most missing that we’re increasingly seeing the same “whatever works” dynamic play out in the local church.

Unbound by the wonders of technology, churches are going BIG. Big promotions, big gimmicks, big spectacle. One pastor drove a tank on stage. Another projected his holographic image to satellite campuses. Many others are doing bigger and bigger prize give-aways just to get the people in the door, so many seem to be throwing away any sense of what used to be called decorum all in the name of “what works.”

The theological justifications are there too. “All things to all people!” is the cry, ignoring the fact that for Paul, that was a missiological statement about adopting Jewish vs Gentile identity and customs in order to build relationships and share the Gospel, not a carte blanche justification for kooky ideas and gimmicks. It certainly wasn’t permission to spend ludicrous amounts of money for the latest and greatest just so we could “keep up.”

But it works. People show up.

Can vs. Should

Creativity is a wonderful gift from God, and ought to be set free in the church. But it ought to be directed to our main objective, not secondary ones. And it ought to reinforce the message of the Gospel.

Every church should be asking “What if we…?” But they ought to be asking that question in terms of our main objectives: discipleship, equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, evangelism. Put that question to the service of those objectives and we have something powerful. Put that question to the service of “butts in pews” and all we have is spectacle.

Yes, the spectacle “works.” But at what cost? Smoke machines and lasers, pastors in bed with their wives on the church roof, hi-value contests for bringing in visitors? What are we communicating? That our main objective is to get people in the door so the preacher can take a whack at them? That evangelism is about Sundays? That is the very opposite of the equipping of people for the work of ministry. We debase the Gospel with give-aways, offering cheap (and sometimes not-so-cheap) prizes in a religious bait-and-switch.

When I look at Miley Cyrus I see a desperate need for attention. Unfortunately, when I look at what some churches are doing, I see the same—the same “Look what we’re doing!” and “You won’t believe what we have cooked up now!” mentality.

Church, don’t be Miley. It may entertain some, but the long-term cost is too much. What we win them with is what we win them to. We can give away houses, dazzle people with our tech and fill an auditorium with all manner of creative gimmicks.

We can do it, but should we?

Bob Hyatt is a pastor and writer in Portland, Oregon.

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