There is a sentiment out there in church world right now, and the sentiment comes from a struggle to process a key issue – that of contextualization. Contextualization is, as I understand it, the way the church seeks to adapt the presentation of biblical truth according to the culture its in. So based on that principle, the presentation of the gospel is going to look different depending on whether you are in a rural church, an urban church, a church in Liberia, or a church in Switzerland. And frankly, it’s a hard issue that divides alot of people. You have to ask questions like:
“What is the role of illustration in presenting the gospel?”
“How does media play a role in that presentation?”
“How far do we contextualize without distorting the rock solid truth?”
These are tough questions, and I don’t want to make light of them. But I think there is a danger here when the contextualization becomes the focus of the message, and that’s where the sentiment comes in. Some would make the argument, “People have technology everywhere. They’ve got MTV, streaming video, and can make their own movies on their Macbooks. If the church doesn’t have something that can compete with these things then there’s no hope of keeping people there.”
I understand the sentiment behind the statement. And I appreciate the desire for the church to be excellent in all areas. But the way this argument is presented is that without these things, the right soundboard, the great video, the engaging fireworks display, then people aren’t going to listen to the gospel.
That’s an attractional church model, and my fear is that if a church is based on attraction, then it’s one small step from entertainment. Should the church be engaging? Yes. Challenging? Yes. Thought-provoking? Yes. Entertaining? No.
I’m reminded of Paul who had to contend with the other traveling false apostles, those who were better speakers, more nicely dressed, and more polished than he was. And yet he had the confidence to let the gospel speak for itself: “When I came to you, brothers, announcing the testimony of God to you, I did not come with brilliance of speech or wisdom. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
That’s the affectional church. That’s the church that works not to compete with the culture, but to present the gospel and let people fall in love with the message. That’s the church that builds holy affection for Jesus. And that’s the church where people stay, even when they’re not entertained.