Church by the Glades in Florida is giving away $15 iTunes gift cards, and raffling off a new iPhone, as a way to promote their current sermon series “i: living in a self absorbed world.”
I heard this news story on my local Christian radio station. They were actually promoting it as good news. Because clearly, bribing people to come to church is just “creative evangelism.” And they’re definitely gonna be open to the idea of denying yourself, taking up your cross and following Jesus when they’re only there for the schwag…
You know, I said this last week to Chris, and I feel the need to say it again, here. All the church has to offer is Jesus. That’s it. Bottom line. Jesus, and the Gospel. If that’s not enough for people, if they need to be enticed into attendance and some sort of “membership” in the body by programs, or a nicer facility, or for the love of all that’s holy, an iPhone, then do you think maybe, just maybe, they may lack the conviction to really live out the life of Christ out in the world where the rubber meets the road? What kind of message is that sending? Be honest–except when trying to get people into a church building. Be self-sacrificing–here, have your iTunes card. Jesus is the best thing the church has to offer–but the last thing we mention when convincing folks to come.
Divorce rates are identical among Christians and non-Christians. As are the rates of many other signs of a broken and fallen world. Here’s a thought: maybe it has to do with the rampant false advertising that the church has been doing for the last couple of decades. The Christian life is not one paved with shiny gadgets and gift cards. It’s a great life, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade it for a million iPhones. But it’s not primarily about getting your needs met.
It’s not about what the Church can do for you. It’s about what Christ has already done for you, and what your natural response to that will be. It’s a slow process of transformation. It’s about the peace and contentment Paul speaks of in Phillipians 4. I remember the words of Dr. Henry Cloud at the Women of Faith conference. He said men are “always one gadget away from contentment.” It’s not just men, and it’s not just gadgets.
I spent much of last night reading The Contented Soul. It’s an excellent book, and much of it speaks directly to how our consumer culture kills our ability to find true contentment and peace.
The radio news story said that under this particular pastor, the Church by the Glades has grown from ~500 members to ~2200. That’s great, but I worry that it’s not the best measure of the growth of the local body there. How many are learning greater patience, and applying it to their kids and spouses? How many are learning to persevere through trials? How many are devoting more time to serving the poor? How many are learning to love the unlovable as Jesus did? How many men are turning from potential affairs because their hearts are changing? How many women are refusing to listen to and spread gossip because theirs are changing?
And what happens when the iTunes cards run out, and all they have left to offer those who are hurting and needing Jesus, is Jesus?