What are we doing?

It’s a good question to ask ourselves from time to time. Few people start off wanting to move away from the central point of glorifying God. Instead, it happens almost imperceptibly. And if we continue to fail to train ourselves to stop and look around every so often and honestly question why we’re doing the things we do, that imperceptible drift becomes almost inevitable.

This may be old news to a lot of you, but a few days ago I somehow came across an interview from a few years back, talking about the Newsboys scandal of the late ’90′s. The article is linked to there if you want to read it rather than me explaining it, because if I went through something like that, I’d want to be able to tell it in my own words too, rather than having the story told in someone else’s words around the internet. The important part is that one of the members became involved in illicit sin, was asked to leave, and then the official statement was that he was leaving to do church ministry. (Thank God that that is in the past, and He seems to have restored the folks involved.) Ironically, around that same time, they released a song containing these lyrics:

“Are You still listening
Because we’re obviously not.
We’ve forgotten our first love
We have lost the plot.”

Now I’m not really a Newsboys fan. I remember owning some albums in the ’90′s, mostly due to the fact that I was 10 years old, and 10-year-old little boys from Christian families listen to the Newsboys. I have to admit still listening to those ’90′s albums; I’m not sure if it’s because I subconsciously associate them with my childhood, because Jody Davis is a fantastically tasteful guitarist when they let him play, or because ‘Going Public’ is basically U2′s ‘Zooropa’ with more compression and overtly Christian lyrics. Probably a little bit of all of those. But I do know for sure that part of the reason is lyrics like those above. Not every song had them…but some of the ones that Steve Taylor helped write, had an honesty found often in the Psalms, and not often in Christian music.

Interestingly enough, in the article I linked to, the former Newsboys member refers a couple times to ‘losing the plot.’ I checked the liner notes, and he did not have a hand in writing or singing that particular song. But perhaps it was making an impact on him as he left. And it’s making an impact on me, or rather bringing to point something that has been brewing for a while. The last couple years for me have seen a lot of church scandal, both locally and nationally. Leaders who have failed. Pastors who have done the unthinkable. People wrecked with doubt over believing themselves to be have been healed of an ailment by someone, only to find out later that while they were healed, that person had had a secret life contrary to God. And then to combat that ever-growing doubt, we scramble to get closer to God, to bring on more elders, to increase accountability, to change our church by-laws…etc., etc., etc. And I’m glad we do that. But statistically, it’s not really working to bring about less scandal.

David slept with Bathsheba, and thousands of years later, despite our most valiant (and I mean that sincerely) efforts, nothing has changed. This has really hit home for me in the past two years, as I’ve seen six churches within my home town go through this. Mega-churches. Mid-sized churches. And small churches. Non-denominational and ultra-denominational. All the things that I’ve said over the years…’Well, that’s the problem with the charismatic church’, or ‘Well, that’s the problem with a congregationally-run church’…they just don’t matter. I’ve seen it happen everywhere.

And as I got to thinking about it, I started to wonder if this will ever change. Meaning, as long as we live in a sinful world, will this ever change? What if Peter had been the pastor of a church? His church would’ve melted after he denied Christ publicly. Moses killed a dude. Abraham slept with his servant. James and John wanted to be at Jesus’ left and right hands. All things that perhaps would’ve disqualified these guys from ministry for at the very least a few years by our current standards.

For those of you getting a little worried about me after that last paragraph, don’t worry; this is not the point where I say, ‘Well…everyone fails, nothing you can do about it, so let’s live and let live and keep on preaching the Gospel!’ Not in the slightest. We live in a real world where there are consequences that God has set up for some very good reasons. Pastor embezzles money? I’m gonna have a hard time giving money to that church. Elder mistreats and neglects his wife? I can’t send my younger friends to him for pre-marital counseling. Rockstar sleeps around? Gonna have a real hard time listening to him sing about the contentment found in Christ alone. Real world consequences, real world stepping out of ministry. It’s just how it is.

But…this is the point where I talk about our culture’s fascination with church leaders, church rockstars, church authors. See, if history has taught us anything, it’s that people will fail. Christian leaders absolutely not excluded. And that brings consequences for those people. The issue is, that it also brings consequences for hundreds, thousands, millions of people around them. The scandal is not that someone sinned. The scandal is that people were trusting this person not to sin. This person was romanticized, made into a hero, thought to be above sin, looked to for answers and purpose, and then they crashed and burned, wrecking all our hopes and faith along with them. And that is what I believe needs to change: a culture where we look to people instead of God.

Of course, we don’t often put this into words. If someone asked us why we went to church, we would say for God. But this culture of subtle hero worship is defined not through our words, but through our actions. For instance, I quite often hear, ‘Ah man. Did you hear what Chan said in his latest podcast?’ And let’s be clear, nothing against speakers with podcasts. Those are great. But, and I could be way off here, if what he said made a lasting impact on your spiritual life, wouldn’t you be more apt to say, ‘Ah, man. I can’t believe what I learned about God this week!’ It’s a subtle difference, but if the podcast and the pastor are only the means to the end of glorifying God, wouldn’t we have just a few less instances of people getting excited about the means, and a few more instances of people getting excited about the end result? In many ways, Christianity has become slightly less about people loving God, and slightly more about a passion or a hobby. Some people like the Denver Broncos, and discuss all things relating to football; but not for the end result of playing football…just simply because they’re a football fan. Others like listening to preachers on podcast and discussing all things related to ministry and theology; but not for the end result of how that theology can help us glorify God more…just simply because they’re a Christian. And if we were a little less hero-focused, and a little more God-focused, I think we wouldn’t necessarily have to change what we say, but that what we say would flow naturally from the fact that we’re not viewing these preachers as anything more than guys trying to get us closer to God. And I’m going to assume that the majority of these preachers would agree (hopefully), and would be overjoyed to see their names ‘trending’ less on Twitter, but the Godly concepts they helped bring to light, trending more.

Another thing I hear quite often is, ‘Dude! That Hillsong concert rocked!’ or ‘The new Elevation Church album was so epic!’ Again, nothing wrong with that. Hillsong, thank you for rocking the concert, and Elevation Church, thank you for epicly producing another album. I just think that if the focus were worship of God, you’d hear a lot more often than you do, ‘Dude! I’ve never worshiped God so freely before’ or ‘Last night I just sat in my room, turned on this album, and lost myself in prayer. It was epic.’ And I just don’t hear those things too often. I hear so much about the heroes, who are supposed to be…if I can use a very Christian metaphor here…the donkey on which Jesus rides into Jerusalem. That’s our role, and the role of all Christian celebrities, or heroes, or whatever you want to call them. The plot is about Jesus. And we are supposed to celebrate Jesus. And we pay upwards of $40 to celebrate Him sometimes. I’m not saying paid worship concerts are bad; but we market them as worship with posters of people lifting their hands to God, all the lyrics are pointing towards God, we call it a worship concert, but then we pay $40 to see a band. If that’s for entertainment, or art that’s God-centered, then cool. But if you market it as worship, then we should probably be attending in order to simply worship, should talk afterwards about God and not the band, and pay our $40 as an offering to help pay for the band’s gas or plane ticket. And if it is all about worshiping, then maybe we have to ask ourselves why we spent $40 instead of just going to a local church worship night for free. So maybe it’s not exactly all about worshiping, and is somewhat about the band and the celebrities. Which is not sinful or wrong, and maybe that band does give a great experience where you can let go and worship God; but a $40 experience? If it’s the presence of God we’re looking for, I think He’s also at the local church worship night, our late night Bible-reading, our visiting a friend in the hospital, or in taking care of a wife or family who may need us. We might need to admit that these paid concerts are for more than just God’s presence. Which could be fine…I’m all for concerts, and it’s not bad or sinful to enjoy a worship band for art’s sake, or entertainment’s sake with a positive message; but it does go to help prove the point that we do tend to be a very celebrity-driven culture, and church culture.

It is this very celebrity-driven culture within churches that causes people to become so wrecked after church scandals. Rather, what if we all saw each other as human, and somberly prepared for these scandals? And definitely dealt with them Biblically when they arose, but also were so real about them, that we set church and Christian culture up differently so that everything did not rest upon the charisma of one person, or one worship band, or one movement? But it rested upon Christ alone, and the glorification of Him as the main plot, which everything else supported. Ironically, we might even see less scandals. Worship albums, Christian books, podcasts, pastors, paid worship concerts…keep them all, if you want. But keep them in their proper place of mere support beams for this glorification of a huge God of which we may have lost sight. Nobody starts off wanting to replace God with a concert, or a person, or a culture. But as we use these things with good intentions to glorify God, sometimes they become all God is to us. And that needs to change. It’s a subtle shift in our mindset. But a shift that puts God back in His rightful place in our lives and our culture, and downgrades people, celebrities, and ideas to tools in the quest to love and glorify that God, is a shift that could have universal consequences.

“Once we could follow,
Now we cannot.
You would not fit our image,
So we lost the plot.

Once we could hear you,
Now our senses are shot.
We’ve forgotten our first love.
We have lost the plot.

When I saw You for the first time
You were hanging with a thief
And I knew my hands were dirty,
And I dropped my gaze.
Then You said I was forgiven
And You welcomed me with laughter.
I was happy ever after.
I was counting the days
When You’d come back again.
We’ll be waiting for You
When You comin’ back again?
We’ll be ready for You
Maybe we’ll wake up when…
Maybe we’ll wake up when
You come back again.

Let’s be blunt.
We’re a little unfaithful.
What do you want?

Are You still listening?
‘Cause we’re obviously not
We’ve forgotten our first love
We have lost the plot.

And why are You still calling?
You forgave, we forgot.
We’re such experts at stalling
That we’ve lost the plot.
Lost the plot.”

As always, I’m a person; so as such, this could be dead wrong. But I think there’s some merit to it. I’m not against any of this stuff; on the contrary, I’m for it in it’s proper place…with the glorification of Christ alone as its purpose. The plot is God’s glory, and if we don’t like the answer to the question of ‘What are we doing?’, then it may be time that we, myself included, brought Him back into it.