Just recently I read a very challenging blog. In it the writer was taking the pastors of many mega churches to task for preaching the prosperity gospel. That is not what the blogger called it because the author is not deeply enough immersed in the church culture to know insider code words such as “prosperity gospel”. I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes in this article, but it certainly has me thinking. What he was complaining about was the pop-psychology, theology-lite sermons that are preached on Sunday mornings in many churches in North America.
He put it like this: “Feel good! Be happy! Be nice” There you go. I just summed up the message that millions of Christians will be hearing at the mega churches of Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and many others this weekend. If you were planning to go, now there’s no need. You’re welcome. In fact, if you’re driving there and you see a “Don’t worry, be happy” bumper sticker on the back of someone’s minivan, you might as well turn around and head home. That’s about all you were going to hear when you got there anyway. Sure, they might come up with more compelling ways to communicate it, but in the end, when you dig past the charisma and the personality of the pastors who utter this gibberish, this is all you’re really left with. An episode of Barney. Syrup and sugar. A smile and a pat on the head. A self-help speech.”1
I certainly understand Mr. Walsh taking a shot, in my opinion a quite accurate shot, at pastors of many, but not all, mega churches. Such pastors are large and easy targets. And many of them do consistently serve up non-nourishing, mushy textured nothingness to their congregations. It is appealing and easy to swallow but isn't spiritually helpful. But they are certainly not the only preachers doing this and they did not invent the process. We mainline denominational pastors, who love to hate those mega church pastors, have been doing it for years.
We are not as blatant. We do not say that God’s basic will for your life is that you will be fat, happy, rich and trouble free. Instead we talk about stuff that doesn’t really matter. In our congregations it doesn’t matter what we say as long as it is not challenging. Most of our people don’t come to church to be challenged, they come to be congratulated, calmed, soothed, and taught theology. Not practical theology; instead, theology that reminds us how much God loves us and thinks we are the bees knees. Compelling and challenging sermons are seen as an affront to our intelligence. How dare we, the pastors, assume to speak to them about the realities and practicalities of life?
On Sunday morning in the “normal” church one hears what sounds like a lecture by a history professor or a feel-good pop psychology talk or a deep and convoluted study of the scriptures in the original language that is impossible to follow or a cute little homily with little to feed the soul. Some churches I have attended remind me of an episode of The Ren and Stimpy Show with everyone leaving singing a rousing rendition of “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.”
The most frightening aspect of modern day sermons is the lack of confrontation of our sinful lives. God is presented as some type of pleasant fellow who loves us like a grandfather and thinks whatever we do is just wonderful. And anyone who says different is a fundamentalist, legalist, narrow-minded, hate monger who is anti-Christ. Since the ultimate good in our culture is not righteousness, but is niceness, we need to get our feet off of the sin pedal. I think it was Rob Bell who articulated this idea best in his book, Love Wins. Basically his book boils down to the idea, there is no hell because God is much too nice to send anyone there. I have trouble with Rev. Bell’s conclusion since it is my belief that God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose to go there and wouldn’t be happy in heaven. The stuff that goes on in heaven is not the least bit appealing to them. Because, for the unrepentant, it is all about me. And the glimpses we get of heaven in Scripture tell us it is all about God.
My concern with the church’s present approach to sharing truth was summed up several years ago by A. W. Tozer when he wrote: “The vague and tenuous hope that God is too kind to punish the ungodly has become a deadly opiate for the consciences of millions.” Are we present day preachers going to someday stand before God and answer for the hazy, shallow, culturally acceptable, happy, happy, joy, joy crap sermons we have preached? I believe we will. And it is a scene I don’t even want to think about. Because I am pretty sure at that point Mr. Nice Guy God is not going to be all that nice.
1themattwalshblog.com – The Bible Isn’t a Self-Help Book (Despite What Your Mega church Pastor Tells You)
Copyright © 2015, William T. McConnell, All Rights Reserved
Bill McConnell is Senior Minister at Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis, Tennessee and is a Church Transformation consultant and a Christian Leadership Coach. He is a frequent speaker at Church Transformation events. His latest book on church transformation is DEVELOPING A SIGNIFICANT CHURCH and is available at Westbow Press. He can be contacted @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him on Facebook @ William T. McConnell or on Twitter @billmc45053 or visit his Amazon Author Page @ Amazon