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The Antidote to Superstar Church Is Mere Church

Chris Rock as soon as shared in an interview how he develops new standup materials. Like many established comedians, he exhibits up at small comedy golf equipment and will get on stage with 5 or ten minutes price of jokes, creating one or two at a time and stitching what works into his subsequent tour or particular.

Rock is aware of the viewers is as prone to react to the truth that he’s Chris Rock as they’re to the precise jokes. So, when he does these drop-ins, he tells the jokes with as little persona as he can. He needs to imagine they “could possibly be performed behind a curtain,” he mentioned. If these work, he is aware of when he ramps them up along with his onstage persona, they’ll kill.

I’ve considered this typically whereas engaged on CT’s podcast The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It’s the story of the Seattle megachurch that shot to prominence within the early 2000s, attracted 15,000 individuals in 15 places, then shut its doorways after founder Mark Driscoll resigned in 2014. In some ways, Mars Hill was an outlier. In lots of vital methods, it wasn’t.

Driscoll was a uniquely gifted communicator and provocateur, however the phenomenon of the movie star pastor is endemic now in megachurches. Mars Hill innovated in its use of music and video manufacturing, know-how, and social media, however what it pioneered has been extensively adopted and largely defines influential church buildings immediately.

The instruments of know-how and movie star that constructed Mars Hill proceed spreading, and they’re each bit the temptation in smaller congregations as they’re in massive ones. We’ve missed the lesson that these instruments fashioned a fragile structure: The church couldn’t outlive Driscoll’s exit.

These instruments are understandably seductive. They put a zipper on ministry the way in which Chris Rock does along with his (very un-churchy) persona. And whereas know-how isn’t essentially evil—the printing press gave billions of unusual individuals the Bible, the Ebook of Frequent Prayer, and hymnals—it’s additionally not impartial. It could actually faucet into our our bodies and our imaginations in ways in which undermine a gospel message that’s about dying to ourselves and humbly placing others’ wants earlier than our personal.

So we embrace image-magnifying video to mission larger-than-life pastors and worship leaders, by no means asking what different messages a know-how largely used at rock concert events and political rallies is perhaps speaking. We import chest-rattling subwoofers and fog machines. Leaders learn on stage from smartphones and tablets. Worship ministries distribute fashion guides for what band members ought to put on onstage (I’m not making this up), and we collect in windowless, climate-controlled environments that cease time like film theaters and casinos.

In that context, if the vast majority of Christian leaders we encounter are younger, charismatic women and men with good tooth, what occurs after we encounter somebody soft-spoken, meek, and never made for Instagram? Somebody who possesses neither the presence of movie star nor a staggering conversion story? Somebody with the type of non secular authority that confused the first-century world when Jesus didn’t demand energy or reveal it on command?

I concern we’ll miss it. We would even outright reject and condemn it. Maybe we have already got.

Driscoll typically mentioned that he hated listening to most preachers as a result of they had been boring and unengaging. As a substitute, he realized from standup comedians, together with Rock. It seems, although, that he missed the deeper ethic of Rock’s craft: that the substance of the fabric was extra vital than the presentation. It needed to work with out him.

Chip Stam, a mentor of mine earlier than he died in 2011, advised me, “A mature believer is definitely edified.” He meant that if Christians discovered themselves in a spot the place the Phrase of God was being preached, Jesus was being worshiped, and the Spirit was current within the hearts of his individuals, then they ought to depart inspired—whether or not the expertise was shallow, loud, quiet, or unfamiliar.

I’ve come to consider this as an invite to “mere church,” a posture that acknowledges that essentially the most significant issues in a church gathering are the issues that would endure the collapse of a church or the collapse of a civilization—as they’ve already.

Within the aftermath of a decade of ethical collapse from Christian leaders, what may it appear to be if the church renewed its dedication to one thing like this imaginative and prescient of mere church? If as a substitute of the manufactured experiences of high-production-value Sunday gatherings, we gathered round Phrase and Spirit, confession and assurance, bread and wine.

It could really feel like a desert season, however the church has overcome this earlier than. I hope—and I imagine—that we will do it as soon as once more.

Mike Cosper is CT’s director of podcasts.

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