The Awesome Church

Pastors often say Monday is the hardest day of the week. They feel tired and spent, sometimes beating themselves up over Sunday. However, if you examined the Facebook and Twitter statuses of some church leaders on Monday morning, you would get the opposite impression. Status updates regularly proclaim that the previous Sunday’s service was “awesome,” “special,” and “amazing.” The music was “off the charts,” and the preacher “killed it . . . as usual.”

Not that we expect anything else. In the days leading up to Sunday we read many promises over social media about how Sunday is going to be “awesome,” “the best Sunday ever,” “not to be missed.”

Pulling the lens back even more, e-newsletters and annual reports of various churches confirm the awesomeness of their ministries and the huge influence God is giving them. There is a never a down week, month, year. Everything the church does is clearly blessed and a sign that God is with them.

Maybe all of what’s being said is true. Perhaps many churches out there are indeed on the cusp of confirming the postmillennial view and will soon usher in the kingdom of God. Or perhaps many churches (myself included) have fallen prey to a culture that encourages us to constantly promote and market ourselves in grandiose ways.

Props to Jesus

In Matthew 23:5 Jesus talks about the temptation to do things in such a way to attract attention. This is an especially strong temptation today, given the boom of outlets for people to see and know about what we are doing. We are eager to let people know all we have done. Even more, we want to be sure we come across as successful, doing uniquely great things.

Of course, many of us church leaders are quick to say that all we’ve done is all for “God’s glory” and that “the Lord gets the credit.” However, if we’re honest, we sometimes apply a light glaze of “props to Jesus” over what is in effect boasting about ourselves.

Promoting our churches is necessary if we want to grow and reach more people. But is there a way to bring less attention to ourselves and more glory to God? What if we deliberately don’t tell people everything? What if we let some things happen without seeking a way to get credit? What would it look like to celebrate God’s work through simple, direct, and honest thanksgiving? What if we gave annual reports that told not just all the good things from the past year but were honest also about the challenges, disappointments, even failures?

This approach certainly swims against the stream of an increasingly self-referential, self-promoting culture. But I think it has the ring of Christ to it. For we follow a Jesus who “had no form or majesty that we should look at him.” His humble service has accomplished the kind of glorious salvation and redemption that needs no flashy status updates but only our regular, faithful, ordinary witness.

  • Micah

    A great rebuke. Thanks so much.

  • Stephen

    Excellent food for thought. It is far too easy to get swept up in promotion rather than to remain humble, faithful and dependent on the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

  • Steve

    Culture imitating church or is it church imitating culture?

    • Lavendergrey

      Oh, I believe it is church imitating culture. “Hip” and “current” churches are doing everything they can to appeal to youth…including 20’s and 30’s, not just teens. If they can present a rock concert (complete with light shows) every week, along with a message that almost always focuses on how we all struggle with sin and we are not alone, then they will do it. Our church has increasingly become a place that is “awesome” and “amazing” and so the message is watered down to what they believe the younger generations want to hear. No longer are the long faithful, older members being fed much or encouraged much, nor are we deemed relevant…it is all about fitting in with and appealing to the culture of today. Scripture references are quickly becoming less and less evident in the sermons/messages…and are being replaced by personal experiences and stories that will amuse and shock. I guess I needed to get that off my chest. Anyway, just my opinion from what I’ve seen my church going through the last several year. And where it is headed? I’m not really sure.

  • Emerson

    Thank you pastor Pierre. And thank you TGC for posting it.
    Now comes the challenging opportunity to respond. Will this influence the TGC community/movement that is quickly slipping into the same triumphalism of evangelicalism as a whole? Or will we too continue to fall into the sin of self-promotion and celebrity culture.

  • John

    This is a great post from a great pastor and probably resonates with a multitude, but for sure with one. I think it’s kind of amusing that as I write this response, flashing to the right of my screen, is an ad to have 24/7 access to some of the most respected, influential and powerful Christian voices. I think we’ll all be surprised in a hundred years or to see who our Lord has chosen to use to glorify Himself in our day.

  • Brenda

    Pastor Vermon it is very cool to see your thoughts on another venue.
    I enjoy you on BPR. Thanks for being a light in a dark world.

  • David

    I definitely agree with this post. Though I must say the only churches I see doing this are the ones we see in social media. The churches i my circles have the opposite problem. Nothing is ever said about anything good that ever happens. Perhaps after some revival meetings the pastor may say something like “last week was a great week and God did some amazing things” but nothing is ever specific and that’s about the extent of it. Perhaps another necessary article is one to reach out to these types of churches about “how to humbly yet publicly and concistently share excitement about what God is doing in your church.” Because honestly, if the people are not hearing how God is always at work in the church, they are missing out on great resources for further encouragement and motivation. If they don’t ever hear how God is working, they naturally just begin thinking He’s not, at least not in their own lives or in our church.

    • Aaron Thompson

      I’m glad you raised this, because it’s something I see. Even in our church where we do a lot of hyping, we tend to do it looking forward. We’re always about what’s going to happen and rarely take time to review, appreciate, and thank God for what has happened.

      I suspect that the social media hyping is a result of a few dynamics – marketing, social media culture, and maybe a real desire to celebrate what has happened?

      Hard to untangle the motives when you have those streams all coming together.

    • Bumble

      “Though I must say the only churches I see doing this are the ones we see in social media.”

      Not really. Our church don’t have a website except for our facebook page. So we must be in social media. But mostly we sucks, not awesome. As a pastor, I feel beaten-up every Monday because of the Sunday before and wondered why other churches were so “awesome”…

      Thanks to the encouragement from this article that there is grace for the not “awesome” after all.

  • Susan C.

    Yes. I get really tired of “bigger and better,” (what about “stable” or “reliable?”) and I don’t believe I’ve ever left a worship service thinking “Awesome!” I’d rather be saying, “That was good,” like a good meal. If I wanted an amusement park ride, I’d go to an amusement park.

  • Aaron W

    I think this article is a good start, but I would probably take it further. Why are we suprised at all with this “awesome” church phenomenon when looking at the form and function of today’s evangelical monuments-to-self?

    “But is there a way to bring less attention to ourselves and more glory to God?”

    Sure, die to self and bring fame to Christ. How do we know how to do that? Well, maybe we look at how Christ did it and how He told us to do it. Did he tell his disciples to build multi-million dollar facilities with state-of-the-art sound systems for worship services? Did he tell the Church to build an entire industry and culture centered on Christian rock stars and celebrity pastors? Did he tell them to simply slap Christ’s name and Gospel-centered theology on existing cultural institutions and practices and call them “Christian”? Well…you get the idea.

    I think TGC and its supporters (including me) are making steps in the right direction and have been successful in challenging the consumer-Christianity so prevalent in today’s evangelicalism. But I think we have a long way to go and there seem to be significant blind spots, even in so-called “Gospel-centered” circles.

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  • Janet McConnell

    I am quoting from an advertisement postcard I received last week (also received one last year that is pretty much the same) I will withhold the name of the church:

    Front of card: Picture of ice cream cone and popsicle with a banner proclaiming “IT’S BACK!” “Back to Church Sundae at…” (name of church, and yes, it’s spelled sundae)

    Back of card: “We put the ‘Chill’ in Summer! It’s hot and there’s one sure way to cool off – free frozen treats. Grab a Choco-Taco, DrumStick, or whatever your favorite treat is and join us for Back to Church Sundae, August 25th! We want you to check out (name of church) and ENJOY A GREAT TIME FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY…”

    This card is sent out by bulk mail to every mailbox in our community. We used to attend this church, it used to be SBC, but has even taken that designation off it’s name (lucky for SBC). We left because Sunday “worship” was dumbed down below the level of Bible camp or VBS.

    I would like to send this card back to them with a comment but I don’t feel that, as a woman, it is my place to confront the pastor.

    Any thoughts?

    • Christian Vagabond

      I used to head up my church’s advertising, and we used to go through lighthearted flyers like that as a way to promote our church. My pastor wanted to adopt that kind of image – not to dumb down the service, but to make church seem like a fun place to be.

      While we were reviewing the ads campaigns, we were begging for feedback from the congregation on the different ad campaigns. We wanted to know if people in the church wanted to be promoted in this way. We got no feedback at all. Then when we started sending out the flyers, members complained that they didn’t like them.

      My point is that churches do value feedback! It’s really important to let them know why you left. Maybe it’s a common complaint, but if the leadership never hears from people like you, they have no idea that their strategy isn’t working.

      • Janet McConnell

        It’s been several years since we left, and the pastor and staff were aware of our reasons. Several other people expressed the same concerns and I have heard that his response was that he didn’t care about what “older” members of the church thought and that things wouldn’t change…obviously things haven’t.

        What I struggle with now is that if I say what I think about his latest marketing campaign then I am taking it on myself to instruct a man in authority over a congregation and maybe that isn’t my place as a woman.

        Maybe I’m out of touch with the times, but I am appalled at the lack of reverence for the House of the Lord, and would like to know what’s biblical about Sunday Funday week after week with no regard for spiritual worship and the preaching/teaching of the Gospel. All for the sake of increasing in number. I thought the Holy Spirit was the One to add to the church as people believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and His work.

        • Bumble

          Hi Janet,

          I feel your pain, but I would probably employ the same type of postcards if my church could afford it (I am a Pastor). When we have these mailing campaigns, they are designed to reach the un-churched, who often don’t see beyond their “felt-needs”. By talking to the Samaritan woman about what she know about the need for water at the well, eventually Jesus can get to the point where He can satisfy the much deeper thirst she has.

  • Val

    Here is a sample of the opening lines used in my church’s weekly email:

    “Last weekend was one of the most amazing in the history of XXXXX Church.”

    “As one of the busiest and most productive summers in the history of the church winds down,…..”

    June Swoon’ is a slang term used in the financial industry or among baseball fans. It talks about dramatic declines in energy or performance in the weeks leading up to summer. At XXXX Church, there is no June Swoon. We are energized and excited about what God is doing at XXXX Church.”

    “We are in that last blitz before the start of summer here at XXXX Church! Read through to see all of the exciting events coming up this weekend and throughout the month. We have so many incredible things we want you to be a part of.”

  • Aaron Thompson

    This is a tough one. I think maybe there’s a distinction to be made about celebrating the “products” of the church (AMAZING music today) vs. the ministry of the church (Here’s a picture of our men’s ministry…).

    I think that more transparency about spiritual practices is a good thing. Many people have negative associations with churches because they miss seeing all the good that the people in the congregation do.

    At the same time, there is the call of Christ to do good without trumpeting it. But as a pastor I guess I make some distinction between celebrating my own virtue and celebrating the work of my students. When they hit it out of the park I want parents, deacons, and their friends to know about it.

    I do need to think this through some more. But those were my first thoughts. Thanks for the thought-provoking article.

  • Lucas Dawn

    In Mt. 23 Jesus often uses the word hypocrite. The Greek word for hypocrite was used especially for “actors,” who “put on a show” like those in the theater, who thus “do all their deeds to be seen by men.” The scribes and Pharisees wanted to impress others so that they have the best seats in the synagogues (23:6), sitting on Moses’ seat (23:2), front and center, as the experts on the law, and being called by rabbi (23:7). This synagogue setting and show is not unlike churches and their elevated platforms and pulpits and preachers.

  • Ann Kilter

    It always made me uncomfortable when I would go to the beginning of the year congregational meeting, and the reports from each department were handed out to the congregation.

    Every department quantifies what it does. I suppose there is no getting around it. I guess we do want to know if anyone came to the outreach picnic, and if anyone was saved at VBS.

    I guess we ought to be concentrating on our awesome God.

    • Christian Vagabond

      The frustrating things is that the people who have write those reports know that 99% of the congregation doesn’t care about them or read them.

      • Bumble

        “The frustrating things is that the people who have write those reports know that 99% of the congregation doesn’t care about them or read them…”

        …unless you are a church planter like me and wondering why do I need to keep doing church unless the church bearing the fruits of new converts. If it wasn’t for reaching people who haven’t known the Gospel, it is better for our group to join a dozen of really fine churches in the area too.

  • Julian Thompson

    Great post. Thanks for the convicting reflection. Begs the question – how do we celebrate what God is doing in our midst AND reflect the difficulties, nuances, or even failures of our communities in a public fashion?

  • Steve Cornelll

    It helps when leaders begin to realize that the sales pitch approach only increases the exhaustion. The life of a pastor is a continual reminder that God put His “treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (II Corinthians 4:7). The last three words “not from us” sit in my heart as a deep reminder that the resources for living for God and serving Him in ministry are not within me but “other” to me — “from God– not from us.” Let these words ring in your minds. Repeat them often to yourself.

  • Jerry Wragg

    Vermon –
    This was excellent! Portraying our ministry with optimism and hope in God for great things is far, far different than seeking potential consumers with market-savvy branding lingo. Real church life—Sunday to Sunday—is an experience in redeeming grace! Sinners saved by grace, gathering to worship the God of grace, being equipped by the word of grace, serving one another in the strength of grace, confessing and forsaking sin in the power of grace, proclaiming the gospel of grace, and longing for our full redemption in the presence of His grace. In fact, if everything were always as “awesome” as we boast, we would have no need of grace! How ironic. Hospitals may have their names brightly lettered on the building, with lovely landscaped grounds and to-die-for waiting rooms. They may even fill their hallway walls with testimonials of stunning healings and renown life-giving skill. But explore the inner-workings and you will find rooms still filled with disease, affliction, and death. Go deep enough and you will meet loved ones with inconsolable heartache, medical staff struggling to find answers, and physicians pressing through long hours to care for strangers. Stay longer still and you will find recovery rooms with ecstatic care-workers who’ve just told someone that they’ve been cured! That is the life of the church. Where sinners are being transformed from our “un-awesomeness” into the likeness of Jesus Christ the grace of God is in sharp relief against the backdrop of our weakness.

    I love the work of ministry!

  • bondservant

    In the mid-late 1970’s, I was a part of a twice-weekly youth program that reached approximately 100-200 different high school students each night – and intended to be an outreach to those not going to church. Rock music, lights, smoke-fog-flame throwers, drama, media, teams and competition, wrapping up with a 15-20 message, and the kids going back to their respective team rooms to have a chance to talk about the theme of the evening. One of the things I remember our youth pastor sharing with the staff at the time still resonates – a trend he noticed. When his messages were lighter in nature, we’d have more people coming, but not as many returning. When his message had more meat, weekly attendance dropped, but more people became “regulars.”

    I still think people ultimately get tired of “the show,” but will come back if there’s meat on the table. The question is – how much “show” do you really need? Can “the church” really compete against what the world has to offer in that arena, and if not, should we even attempt it?

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  • Danny

    Awesome post Pastor Vermon. Enjoy your thoughts as always. Love catching you on You never ending rebuke and reproof of the heterodoxy taught on is much needed.:)

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