The biggest problem I have with the American church is that it’s just so…well, American.
What I mean by that is that it seems to be incredibly preoccupied with bigger, brighter, flashier, smoother, more relevant, more hip, more entertaining.
It is purpose driven with the heart of a champion, living its best life now.
American Christianity has become all about winning.
Some time ago, I had coffee with a friend who used to work at a very successful mega-church. He told me how they always scouted the ranks of young adults for the talented and charismatic; the “natural leaders” to be in charge of small groups or be on the worship team. And indeed, when you look up on a stage on Sunday mornings you see a lot of very talented—and usually very attractive—people. The best singer leads the band. The best speaker gives the word.
Which is fine, I suppose. I really only have two problems with that model:
1. It is conforming to our modern culture instead of transforming it. The church values the same people that “the world” does and for the same reasons. Because they are good looking, talented, and charismatic.
2. Such behavior seems to be the opposite of what Jesus taught.
Throughout the gospels Jesus stressed time and time again that it is the lowest that is to be exalted. It is the last that will be first. It is the meek that will inherit the earth. As Reese Roper once sang, at the core of Christianity is “a song sung for the underdog, a flag flying high for losers.”
The story of David is often preached, but not always so well absorbed. Remember that he was chosen to be king precisely because he was the most unlikely candidate.
Remember that Moses was a stutterer.
That Gideon was a coward.
Abraham was super old.
Noah was a drunk.
Jonah was a bigot.
Joseph was a spoiled brat.
Even Jesus was just seen as a backwoods hick.
The church tells these stories and emphasizes how God uses sinners. But it is more than that.
These people weren’t just sinners. They were losers. None of those people would even have a shot of getting on staff at a successful American church.
Isn’t that troubling?
I have to wonder if the American church’s fixation on production quality and entertainment value has hindered them from doing what the church was created to do in the first place. To elevate the weak. To be a haven for the outcast. To recognize that Jesus didn’t come to make you a winner, he came to make being a loser okay.
I always get a certain amount of flak for writing about subjects like this. After all, I am no longer a Christian. I really have no right to tell the church to live up to the standards I have set for it. As an agnostic theologian and church historian, my job is to simply observe and report the cultural shifts of religion, not give commentary on how I think it should be.
That said, this issue has remained one of the bigger reasons why I left the church. It is not by any means the only reason—this blog is a testament to the many philosophical and emotional problems I have with Christianity—but it is still a big one. The church is great at loving the lovable, but the outcasts, the losers, the socially awkward, the rejected and undesirable are too often shunted off to the side just like they are everywhere else they go.
Saul keeps getting anointed king, while David keeps getting sent off to tend the sheep.
Maybe it is something to think about. Even if it comes from the blog of an outcast sinner.