Christian Religion in America

Church-ShoppingI just finished reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir entitled, The Pastor. It was thoroughly enjoyable, informative, and engaging. Peterson has a settled peace in his writing and reflections that always blesses me regardless of how I may agree or disagree with that he says.

Among the countless treasures I pulled from his memoir, it is his reflections on the Christian church in America that resonated powerfully with me. I think his observations match with much of what I’ve experienced in my short, inexperienced life. He observes:

When I became a pastor, I resolved on a double focus for keeping my vocation on track: worship and community…The religious culture of America that I was surrounded with dismayed me on both counts. Worship have been degraded into entertainment. And community had been depersonalized into programs.

By the time I arrived on the scene as a pastor, the American church had reinterpreted the worship of God as an activity for religious consumers. Entertainment, cheerleading, and manipulation were conspicuous in high places. American worship was conceived as a public relations campaign for Jesus and the angels. Worship had been cheapened into a commodity marketed by using tried-and-true advertising techniques. If so-called worshipers didn’t “get anything out of it,” there had been no worship worth coming back for. Instead of calling people to worship God, pastors all over the country were inviting people to, “have a worship experience.” Worship was evaluated on the “consumer satisfaction scale” of one to ten…

And community. The church as a community of faith formed by the Holy Spirit. Church in America was mostly understood by Christians and their pastors in terms of its function – what it did: build buildings, become “successful,” change the neighborhood, launch mission projects, and create programs that would organize and motivate people to do these things. Programs, mostly programs. Programs had developed into the dominate methodology of “doing church.” Far more attention was given to organizing and giving leadership to programs than anything else. But there was a problem here: a program is an abstraction and inherently nonpersonal. A program defines people in terms of what they do, not who they are. The more program, the less person. Church was understood not in terms of personal relationships and a personal God, but in terms of “getting things done.” (Taken from The Pastor, p. 254-255).

Don’t walk away from this thinking that somehow programs are the devil and trying to think wisely about how the church is perceived by the culture are inherently bad. But, allow these words to challenge the heart, motivation, and faith that underlies our practices. At every point the church of Jesus must be examining itself to make sure that good things don’t distort the best things; that our savvy cleverness does not overshadow our salty call.

About Dana Dill

I'm a Christian, husband, daddy, pastor, professor, and hope to be a friend to pilgrims on their way home.
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