According to a new study by Gallup, the hottest thing at church today is not the worship and not the pastor. It’s not the smoke and lights and it’s not the hip and relevant youth programs. It’s not even the organic, fair trade coffee at the cafe. The hottest thing at church today is the preaching. Not only is it the preaching, but a very specific form of it—preaching based on the Bible. And just like that, decades of church growth bunkum is thrown under the bus. As Christianity Today says, “Despite a new wave of contemporary church buzzwords like relational, relevant, and intentional, people who show up on Sundays are looking for the same thing that has long anchored most services: preaching centered on the Bible.” Praise God.
Praise God, but please don’t jump on the bandwagon. The last thing we need is a bunch of preachers responding to this poll by suddenly ditching their series on “7 Keys to Successful Relationships” or “5 Secrets to a Happy Home” to dabble in biblical exposition. What we need is for preachers to search the Scripture, then to commit to biblical exposition.
Pragmatism Dies Hard
For decades, the Western church has been dominated by the church growth movement, a movement that drew heavily from the business principles of pragmatism. Pragmatism insists that the end justifies the means. It demands that we establish goals, determine the best means to achieve those goals, then assume that success proves that both the goal and the means are good. As one of the fathers of church growth said, “Never criticize what God is blessing.” According to pragmatism, there is no distinction between what works and what is experiencing God’s hand of blessing. One proves the other.
The church growth movement established the goal of having as many people as possible profess faith in Jesus Christ. To do this, it would need to make church attractive to unbelievers. This demanded changing the services to make them seeker-friendly, changing the music to make it more contemporary, and even changing the gospel to make it less offensive. Of course, it also demanded changing the preaching to make it more palatable and that meant preaching themes and principles rather than preaching the Bible itself. Pragmatism is so ingrained in the very fabric of the church today that it is extremely difficult to root out. Churches that have been immersed in it have to battle tooth and nail against its seductions. They need to retrain themselves to look not to what appears to work, but to what the Bible demands.