P1030504In the last two posts, this author has attempted to posit that, according to Scripture, wealth has a negative, even dangerous, influence on the Church. The first article ended with this statement: “The pervasive influence of wealth in the Church has resulted in a systematized tendency toward spiritual poverty.” However, we should ask, “Why is there a systematized tendency toward spiritual poverty in the Church?” Here are a couple of things to consider.

First, the wealth of the Evangelical/Charismatic/Pentecostal church (the only church movement with which I am familiar) has made it possible to present at church services increasingly sophisticated and talented productions to believers and non-believers alike. While this seemed like a sensible strategy at first in order to attract spiritual seekers, it has transformed many church services into performances of naturally gifted individuals. This, understandably, has moved Christians to be conformed to the secular world’s need for entertainment as well as its adulation of personalities. Entertainment is not evil in and of itself. However, when church services become primarily demonstrations of talent, church-goers undergo the same experience they do in their living rooms: They become passive observers with an increasing need for the most gifted, exciting individuals and updated media available. Another effect of this strategy is that such presentations have unfortunately generated an enormous economic appetite. The requirement for the church to care for the poor is not ignored, but it is marginalized. If the church denied its requirement for sophisticated performances, care for the poor would move to the forefront, rather than take a back seat to an organization’s entertainment and comfort-driven needs. In addition, although people currently involved in such churches might disagree, this reduction of funding for state-of-the-art performances would be an advantage to the average person sitting in the pew. Their motivation to attend Christian gatherings would hopefully change from being entertained to interacting with the challenging truths of Scripture. However, this adjustment would also be an advantage to the church as a whole. It would no longer have to strive to compete with or conform to a worldly culture, which, on the contrary, it is called to challenge, call to repentance, evangelize, and disciple. I have little doubt that the day will come when churches in Western cultures find they are simply no longer be able to use contemporary cultural methods in their productions, as they do now in order to attract unbelievers, without participating in severe and sinful compromises. Rejection of such compromises would result, in my opinion, in an enormous exodus of individuals from what we call church services today. Church-goers have been conditioned to be comfortable and entertained and would therefore seek out other places that would require less of them and provide activities more satisfying. This is where the “felt needs” meme has led us.

Second, wealth in the church has created an expensive professional staff which works and exists in a religiously separate culture, with its own norms and perks. However, the separation between paid staff and pew-sitter is more than a professional one. In the evangelical church, personalities are looked up to, not necessarily because they are elders, but because they are stellar speakers and entertainers. Thus, lay people are attracted to leaders and “pastors” for the wrong reasons. Think with me for a moment. Do you recall the spiritual and ministry gifts catalogued in Scripture? Which of these are operative in our church services today? The absence of the wonderful, God-provided galaxy of spiritual gifts and ministries is a tragic, spiritual poverty. It is spiritual poverty because the Church needs all of the gifts operative for the strengthening of the Church, as Paul points out more than once—not just teaching, leading, administrating, and serving, as we see today. However, because of our need for staffing and the concomitant requirement for funding, the gifts that are highlighted in churches today are those that attract people who have become accustomed to entertainment. Thus, many believers are biblically inattentive and weak. The church is stuck in a system of its own making, albeit well-meant in the beginning.

The situation in which we find ourselves is not the result of church leaders who have intentionally created a system to produce weak, ineffective believers. Leaders and churchgoers alike have been raised and taught in this environment. This is simply the way the church functions. It’s just the systematized nature of the thing. An attempt to offer an alternative, where there are no “high production values,” entertainment, great speakers, and stunning talent, is simply not popular. The evangelical/Charismatic/Pentecostal church has taken the wrong road, and its wealth has made this wayward path possible. As tragic as this is, it is even more tragic when poor churches in developing nations feel compelled to imitate it. Many times, our Western teaching about and demonstrated examples of leadership, giftedness, and evangelism to foreign nationals is ineffective at best and toxic at worst. Indigenous pastors and leaders are unable to reproduce it. They are unable to care for the poor, as they are biblically instructed to do, while at the same time fund high-tech productions, which include relatively expensive instruments, and sound, lighting, and video systems. Faced with Western “success” and resources, pastors wonder why God has not similarly “blessed them” because they remain poor and are thus “failures.”

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.