December 23, 2009

Style or Substance?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey from 2007 talked about how a growing number of people "church shop"; meaning they move from one church to another as if grabbing lunch at a buffet-style restaurant picking what they like and leaving what they don't. More recently Outreach Magazine came out with their report of the 100 Largest and Fastest Growing Churches in America (the list) and I thought it was interesting to note that the vast majority of the churches on this list tend to have more of a "the special is your only lunch option" type of theology.

I kept riding my train-of-thought into this depot......

There are a couple of larger church pastors whose podcasts I listen to on a fairly regular basis (if you are ever curious who that might be or want to check them out just shoot me an email) and got to wondering if people enjoy some of the popular ones like Mark Driscoll, Francis Chan or Matt Chandler because of their preaching style and obvious passion or because of their theology. Are people aware of the substance of the pastors they listen to or is it simply a matter of style? I happen to find the theology of these three guys that I listed to be pretty solid but I know there are plenty of other large church pastors that have little to no theology at all and yet people listen to them by the tens of thousands. Why is that?? It seems as though our culture is so prone to consume that many would choose a pastor that preaches with misguided passion, void of any substance, over a pastor with solid substance and less style. If you find one with both, you better make sure your church holds on to them.


DavidT said...

Being Methodist, I see a spectrum of theologies and skill in oratory as Ministers move in and out of a church. Thankfully, I always know that I can outlast a Minister whose belief in God is lacking, and while (s)he is speaking, I get a fire in my belly and get prodded off my metaphorical comfy couch that I settle into.

Something to consider, though: You and I tend to be thinkers; posing questions to ourselves and others. We want to reason out what the speakers are saying. The majority of Jesus' audiences listening to Him while He taught were not thinkers (even the disciples had to be trained into asking the right questions). They were like children, who were searching for Him, for Truth. It's not wrong to be passive in thought; it's just a different (largely common) learning style. Jesus never condemned the throngs as "stupid sheeple". They were His lambs, yes, but they were to be fed.

Look at it this way, if they're going to listen to a vacuous speaker because he's energizing and exciting, they're not going to pay attention to his bad theology, because they wouldn't pay attention to the theology one way or the other. They're there to experience the joy of worship, not the drudgery of learning.

Matt Lipan said...

DavidT: thanks for sharing your thoughts.

some response...

seems like a sad state of "being Methodist" if it simply comes down to being able to "outlast a minister".

i'm not sure it's safe to assume that the majority of Jesus' audience were not "thinkers", though they may not have been formally trained, i can't help but believe they thought about all sorts of different things, including the implications of putting their faith in Jesus.

i agree that if people are listening purely for the excitement and energy they won't pay that much attention to the theology but i'm sure you would agree that doesn't mean we should ignore sound theology all together. what i think we must do is turn the perception that learning about theology/faith is drudgery and help people see that it can be a meaningful act of joyful worship.

thanks again for being willing to share some good points.