The Industry of the Church and “Actor Preachers”

That’s an odd way to describe the church, but it seems to be the trend–seeing the church more and more like an industry; something to build in number, brand, and influence.

The church is competing with the world’s entertainment. This has led to extravagant lights, programs, music, videos, and emotionally driven productions. The question is no longer “How can man be made right with God?” The question has become, “How can we get more people here?” And “here” is defined as more than the other church down the road or across town.

We all see what people are attracted to, so the logic goes like this: “Why not use these elements to attract people to us–only with a little spiritual spin on it?”

Success in the church is now defined by how many people are coming and how many are become new members. That’s why the question pastors often receive is: “So, how’s the church doing?” And by that, the person means, “Are you growing?” And by that, he means, “Are you increasing in number?”

We are far too easily pleased.

For many, the church may be lacking in doctrine, poor in health, and pragmatically driven, but as long as she is growing in number then all is well! But growing in number was never the ultimate goal–if it were then Jesus would have ran after the crowds and begged them to stay when he got a little too deep or things got a little too hard.

Jesus did care about reaching people. He came to “seek and save the lost.” So I trust that many churches have good motives in their pragmatic strategies. Caring about reaching people in numbers is not the problem. Every church wants to reach people.

But Jesus wanted to reach them in the truth–in the right healthy ways. He wanted to reach them on his terms, not theirs. There was no compromise in order to gain a follower.

The church must be comfortable in “her own skin” and stop competing with the world of entertainment in order to gain another follower (or in our case “an attendee”). Mark Dever once said, “What you win a person with is what you win the person to.” There’s a lot of wisdom there.

One of my favorite preachers is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. In the 1930s he assessed the “industry” of the church in Wales. He compared what she was doing with what she needed to be doing. It’s amazing to me the need is still the same nearly one hundred years later in America.

His quote:

The danger in Wales has been to produce a race of actor preachers, and that their pulpit eloquence merely pleased the ear but had no permanent effect on the heart and conscience of men and women… The chief need of Wales (insert America) is great theological and doctrinal preaching which will emphasize the sovereignty of God, the ugliness of sin, the uncertainty of life, the judgment and eternity, the glory of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the all-sufficiency of his saving work for us on the cross, the resurrection and the blessed hope we have.

So, how’s your church doing?

Is she driven by emotionalism, productions, and programs that attract large numbers?

Or is she driven by the Word, doctrinal clarity, and a love for the gospel that leads to genuine transformation?

Let’s pray that the church would grow in these things (even in number!).