The genuine concern today is that the modern church feels the need to dilute the word of God in order to facilitate a more seeker-friendly conception of Christianity. It is a fine line between cultural relevance and staying true to God's word. In my view many have made this transition from 'biblical authenticity' to a 'more humanistic philosophy' where artificial doctrines promote self-achievement and self-fulfilment rather than "obeying all that Jesus commanded".
For me, seeker-Christianity has become less about biblical substance and commitment and more about a culture of 'self'. Consequently, in my view, many young people growing up within the church today are developing a heavy reliance on the social aspects of church rather than the core teachings of Jesus.
I realise the American culture and their church context is somewhat different to Australia, nonetheless there are important principles that are conveyed by American Christian writers on this subject.
In his book titled, This Little Church Went to Market, Gary Gilley explores this 'new paradigm church' and its profound fixation on church growth and expansion. According to Gilley, a pastor at Southern View Chapel in Springfield Illinois, the church growth movement heavily relies on cultural influences such as market-driven philosophies, psychology and entertainment to produce seemingly successful churches and Christians. Whilst there is nothing particularly wrong with church growth or large youth ministries, Gary Gilley does question the churches current preoccupation with amusing messages and superficial praise over what he considers as true worship and biblical instruction.
Whilst seeker-driven philosophies have mostly been associated with American churches, its influence within Australia is well established. As globalisation continues to break down cultural differences, one wonders whether the Australian church culture is vastly different to this American church culture as described by Gilly? In my view the answer is no.
Recently, I spoke to several young leaders involved with youth based ministries in the Newcastle area. According to these youth leaders, biblical material and content has been and continues to be frequently dismissed by church administrators and leaders on the basis that 'kids today would not respond to or relate to the bible'.
As an alternative, youth group leaders have been encouraged to befriend youth kids through social activities such as game and movie nights in the hopes that a friendship may lead them to God. Whilst I cannot debate that some people can and in many cases have come to know God through developing a Christian friendship(s), in my view this philosophy actually fuels the disconnection that many churched and un-churched kids have towards the bible and Christian commitment.
To another American writer - through his book Reckless Faith, John F. MacArthur explores this very issue stating that "Many Christians have the misconception that to win the world to Christ, we must first win the world's favour. If we can get the world to like us, they will embrace our Saviour". This, according to MacArthur, "is the philosophy behind the user-friendly church movement". Herein lies the challenge in determining the fine line between holding the truth of the Gospel and reaching out to others on their territory with this message.
While these terms 'user-friendly' and 'seeker-sensitive' seem relatively harmless and somewhat aspiring objectives for many churches seeking congregants, the philosophy behind these concepts is having a profoundly negative affect upon many churches and youth groups in the twenty-first century. In other words vast numbers of American Christians are simply not getting the foundation of Christian teaching that past generations considered imperative. In an Australian context, these concerns are also being expressed by many mature Christians, who also recognise the considerable influence of American churches and teachings on modern churches throughout the world today.
Another American: Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide concurs stating that "pastors who think they'll win over the cool kids by forming the church in the cool kids' pop-culture image are liable to find themselves even less relevant than when they started". Through bending over backward to impress and attract teenage congregants through various shock tactics, branding techniques, flashy technological gadgetry and pop cultural references, the church has created an atmosphere so much like the secular world that even the bible has a hard time maintaining its place in the modern church without the use of modern gimmicks and clichÃ©s.
This is the fine line being blurred between church and secular worlds in both America and Australia. In my own scene in Newcastle, many young Christians are having considerable trouble distinguishing the difference between Christ-like behaviour and that of the world. It is this fine line between being in the world and not of the world that young Christians genuinely struggle with given the constant barrage of worldly standards and expectations pushed upon them through the internet and other multimedia formats. This confusion has produced behaviour such as excessive drinking, casual sex and drug taking, which has become popular fixtures at Christian parties and post-youth group social nights.
In some situations I'm aware of, evening services at church serve as a preliminary stopover for some youth kids before a night of partying together. Unfortunately many youth group leaders are also embracing these lifestyle trends, which further demonstrates the danger of relying so much on friendships as the sole means of revealing Christ to many un-churched kids that attend youth group nights and initiatives.
Recently I attended a backyard birthday party for one of our youth group leaders. At this particular party, both youth group leaders and several Christian teenagers began to drink "excessive amounts" of alcohol. After several hours at the party it was pretty clear to me, that most people were there to just "get drunk" rather than exercise self control consistent with their Christian beliefs. The issue is not having about whether or not we as Christians should drink alcohol, rather the issue is about Christian behaviour consistent with sound biblical teaching.
After experiencing a similar party with churched kids in Los Angeles, McCracken wondered whether "a non-Christian who came to the party have any clue that these revellers were people devoted to following Christ?"
It's a good question. In fact it's the very question that prompted me to write this article. So it's not being negative, rather it's searching for a "positive" outcome as to how young Christians within Australia can live out their commitment to Jesus Christ in an authentic and joyful way. The basis of this article is to express the confusion that countless young Christians face in understanding true Christlike behaviour and lifestyle through sound teaching rather than the current compromised teachings of the growth driven, user-friendly church. Following Jesus is all encompassing and vitally challenging and this is precisely what young people are searching for. The question is will they find it in the twenty-first century church?
John 4: 23-24, says: "But the time is coming and is already here when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for anyone who will worship him in that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship must worship in Spirit and Truth".
In John I think the answer is pretty clear. We don't need to sugar coat the word. We don't need to use various shock tactics and savvy strategies within our services to attract more congregants. We just need to worship as the Father asks of us, in Spirit and Truth. After all the real power to change people's lives is God's alone.