(with apologies to Led Zeppelin)
I work with and preach in churches, including my own. Over the years I have known and now know many pastors, so I get to keep an eye on what is happening in the “church scene”. I have said before that more churches, lately, are avoiding names that reveal who they really are, like Assembly of God, Church of God, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Methodist or Baptist. Instead they use names that sound either like new subdivisions or tech companies, hoping that will “trick” seekers or something. Just from my area, we have names like “River Ridge”, “Bridgepointe” or “Stonebridge”. Then there is “North Link”, “Catalyst”, ”Momentum”, “Epic Church” and one of my favorites, ”Sunnyside”. That last one sounds either like an IHOP breakfast special or a beach resort!
Anyway, with all this marketing (the action or business of promoting and selling products or services) going on, it reveals that leadership in businesses and churches see branding and promotion as a crucial way to get themselves noticed, especially if they are a new church plant. This is understandable. One of the key aspects of this trend is for churches to have a short “to-the-point” mission statement that sums up the church vision. Of course, for new churches, there is no way they can know that their motto will have ANY bearing on what they are, because each living expression of the body of Christ is much like a child. You can name your baby, but you will have no idea for years what that “child” will look like. Naming is an expression of faith but branding and describing something that is in its infancy is either awesome prophetic faith (oft times not) or a desire to brand it something that people may like (more likely).
In this flurry of many mission statements, I find it mildly amusing how in their frantic desire to be “different”, pastors end up all sounding eerily alike! By the way, I love pastors, am still a pastor and have been for 33 years now! One that many are using now is: “Love God, Love People”. I imagine this must be based on the scripture in Matthew 12:30 which sums up the law in two commands: “Love God with all your heart soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” OK, I get the reasoning behind this. But, in the quest to be concise, they pretty much promise that somehow, their church will REALLY do it, in a way that no one has done ever done well since Acts 1. Maybe they should use something more realistic like “Trying to love God, REALLY trying to love people”!
When I saw this on someone’s “new church plant” bumper sticker the other night, I had to say to myself, after working with people for over 35 years and pastoring for 33 years, “Do these people have any idea what they are saying?”. As former president Bill Clinton said in an interview attempting to evade blame for his sordid Monica Lewinsky scandal, “It all depends on what the definition of the word “is”…is.”
I have been accused of being a “power guy”, a “faith guy” and even a guy “totally on the edge” as far as my brand of commitment, results and integrity. I’ve never had anyone call me a liar, but I have had people think I was crazy because I insisted that we do what we say. But, come on, for a church plant to claim it is now going to “really love God and others” is more than a TALL order. It is like promising the service and excellence of the $300 per person menu at the world renowned “French Laundry” restaurant in Napa Valley and then coming up with only less-than-Denny’s quality food and service! Not that Denny’s doesn’t hit the spot occasionally. It’s just actually not being completely honest or integrous to overpromise. This is one of the key reasons the church has so little credibility in our culture now. We say things, but don’t live up to them. We over-promise and don’t deliver. Sometimes that great marketing doesn’t guarantee anything except we may end up having way too much to live up to.
Like the 80’s ballad band Foreigner sang, ”I want to know what love is, I want you to show me.”, the world is increasingly needy for the body of Christ to step up and SHOW the world what God’s love is by their actions, not their many words. The church calls “love” something God does not far too often. If the church is sending such mixed signals, it is going to be hard for people to “get it”. Love is not a feeling or some kind of sappy, syrupy tolerance or niceness. God’s definition of love is summed up in John 3:16 which we all know yet don’t understand . Love is a noun but it is also an action verb. “God so loved…, He gave…”. Looking the other way when sinners sin, with no remedy, is not love. God got involved and He actually became the remedy!
First, love is fidelity to God and in that, the church has clearly failed, just as our aforementioned former president did.
(Continued in Part 2)