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The Modern Church Needs to Get Out of the Sandbox

Feel-good worship services keep Christians in a reprehensible state of childishness.

It’s no wonder the Western Church is going woke. Everything about the feel-good modern church service caters to the lowest common denominator of intelligence and keeps Christians in a reprehensible (not the Matthew 18 kind) state of childishness.

As a new resident of the DMV, I’ve visited a handful of churches of all different stripes in the last month. While I knew the urban church scene would be bigger and more modern, I had no idea the world I would be stepping into.

You’ve heard it all before, through the mega-church grapevine. Twenty-somethings in too-tight jeans performing the same three-line song every week (if you somehow forgot the lyrics, they’re displayed on three different screens throughout a greige building they call, amazingly, a sanctuary). A worship leader reads the holy word of God, while dramatic music accompanies his voice like it’s Memorial Day on the U.S. Capitol lawn. Advertisements on the screens tell visitors to text “JESUS” to 4444 for moral support and to download the church app for Updates on Happenings. Yet in cushy, movie-theatre-style seats to the left and right of you, congregants respond to texts and scroll through Instagram throughout the service, only looking up to pass the offering plate or stand for a song. All the showmanship and drum sets still aren’t enough to hold their attention.

What is most striking about these churches isn’t just their modernity, but the way they treat adult Christians as children, only capable of understanding the simplest truths.

The fact that these churches’ biggest success stories are often from summer camp, or that the pastor speaks like a youth group leader, may be the plainest giveaway of the Benjamin Button syndrome overtaking the modern church.

Historically, the church required something of Christians—show up, yes, but also grow up, by increasing in wisdom and knowledge of holy scriptures, by being discipled. Jonathan Edwards, one of the most popular preachers in the American Revivalist period, was known to weave philosophy and rich textual knowledge into his sermons, while the modern pastor rarely goes beyond basic application of the most inoffensive texts (read: 1 Corinthians 13 ad nauseum). What used to be an exercise in education is the furthest thing from exercise now, requiring nothing but an attendance grade (if that, since several churches post-Covid-19 are livestreamed, meaning you don’t even have to put on pants).

It bears all things (except thorny passages), believes all things (except those that can be explained away with “historical, cultural context”), hopes all things (especially that you’ll join the youth ministry), endures all things (except wooden pews and kneelers).

The modern church talks a lot about being loving, but by treating its congregation like kids, it is failing to raise the church to godly adulthood. A truly loving worship service would involve music that challenges short attention spans and teaches more than just “God is love,” sermons that exegete full passages of the word of God, and even seating that is less comfortable, forcing members to engage as full, embodied spirits in the act of worship.

The writer of Hebrews had words for the “dull of hearing” Christian, who remains in such a childish state.

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb. 5:12-14).

While the church remains in a state of adolescence, it will produce ever more childish Christians, increasingly incapable of the discernment needed to face their cultural moment. And for all their talk about being happy to return to in-person church, who’s to say they wouldn’t fold again in another round of Covid-19 lockdowns?