by Ken Gardner

A newspaper columnist by the name of Leonard Pitts wrote an article a couple of years ago about the “megachurch” he attends. He says a thousand people gather for services—they even have a tram that ferries “parishioners” from the parking lot to the front door. He’s not real comfortable with all the goingson in this huge congregation. He calls it the “First Church of the MTV,” especially as he sees the video screens slide down from the ceiling. He sarcastically writes that even the announcements are rather spectacular: Church functions are promoted “with the kind of quiet dignity one normally associates with monster truck rallies. (‘This SUNDAY . . . the First Church of the MTV presents Jesus Jam ’98, a house-rockin’, hip-hoppin’ concert for Christ featuring Gospel Dawg ‘N Tha 3 Wize Men! BE there!’)” He continues: “Your basic megachurch also features aerobics classes, singles clubs, audio-video production facilities, Internet capabilities, child care, sports festivals, concerts, carnivals, dances and dinners.”

Mr. Pitts certainly has some misgivings, but he says his children love their megachurch. His fifteen-year-old son says it’s “perfect.” “Maybe he recognizes the importance of the values that teach,” Mr. Pitts says to himself. Then again, maybe his son “is just hoping to kick some _____ in the upcoming, church-sponsored basketball competition.” And Mr. Pitt’s two younger kids “are begging to sign up for the martial arts contest.”

Mr. Pitts is concerned that his children are not learning the principles he was taught as a child attending the small congregation in his neighborhood. Are my children “picking up” the kinds of values I learned in church when I was a youngster? is his question. His answer? “I just hope mine [my children] are picking up something besides nun chucks and basketballs.”

I wonder how many other people have the same kinds of concerns that this newspaper columnist has? He writes that “the house of God is just following fashion.” He’s saying that it’s fashionable to be large (“Thin might be in, but large is in charge,” he quips), and he’s insinuating that churches are more interested in being big—and thus fashionable—than anything else. Their goal is to enlarge, not enlighten; to grow, not guide; to increase, not instruct; to expand, not expound; to multiply, and not mature. They want to be gigantic more than they want to be good, huge more than holy. This is harsh criticism, to be sure, but please keep in mind that it comes from a newspaper columnist, not a preacher. If these kinds of questions are being asked in the newspaper, shouldn’t they be asked in sermons and Bible lessons as well? If a secular newspaper asks these questions, then shouldn’t church bulletins? Doesn’t God ask us to examine our hearts and our motives? Are we really trying to help others and serve God as He directs, or are we simply serving ourselves and doing what we want, catering to our own needs? Are we doing what God wants, or what we want? Is our goal to please God, or ourselves and our neighbors? Are we fostering commitment, or fueling complacency? Are we appealing to what’s noble in people, or are we simply trying to give them what we think they want? Are we trying to build character, or just attract characters?

Compare the general religious tone of today with the attitude of Jesus and early Christians. Jesus stressed that we must count the cost before becoming one of His disciples (Luke 14:25-33). He made it clear that we must forsake all, and take up our cross, in order to follow him. We must hate (that is, love less) our own families and our very lives to be His disciples. He turned away three would-be disciples (Luke 9:57-62). On one occasion “many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). Did Jesus go running after them? No, he even asked the twelve if they, too, would go away. Our Lord never hid the fact that we must strive, or make every effort, even agonize, to enter in at the strait gate (Luke 13:24).

It seems that today we’ve confused the narrow way with the broad way, that we’ve tried to disguise the narrow way as the broad way. Instead of following fashion, let’s follow the Lord.