Is Your Church A Crack Whore? Part II

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Church Under RepairMy earlier post asked the question of whether or not your church was a crack whore for cheap labor. When I wrote it, I knew I had left a number of points under-examined, but I also thought it was a good summary of the larger topic. Now I would like to start to drill down and take this in smaller pieces. What I would like to look at in this piece is how our entertainment culture has changed the nature of work in the church. This is not the only factor in making the church desperate for cheap workers, but it often goes unrecognized.

Before the advent of radio, the church had less competition for its members' attention. Some Christians may have attended the theater, but this would be a special occasion, and few would expect their churches to behave like theaters. Radio, however, posed some new challenges. Two key challenges came from the fact that radio was broadcasting all the time. The first was that people had a constant exposure to a new standard of quality. The second was that where in the past, quality of content was the focus, now, quantity was the undisputed need. You had hours to fill. Silence was deadly. Someone needs to be on saying something or nobody will tune in.

The first of these challenges is one people often discuss. At least a sizable minority will reject church programs on the basis that they are "too slick." The overly professional appears inauthentic for being artificial. Marketing has been made a higher priority than faithfulness to Scripture.

The second challenge is one we have not discussed nearly enough. What does it do to the church when, like the radio programmer, it starts seeing its programmed meeting times as "slots to fill"?

When it has its head on straight, the church wishes to educate its laity. Catechesis has its place. Adult Education then expands its reach in making the laity more Biblically literate. It must assess where people are, and determine what is lacking. Granted, it will probably want to find teachers who are good communicators, but that is so that the content really gets delivered. This is in contrast to an entertainment model where the enjoyment of the crowd is the highest priority. If a sizable number of laity did not wish to be educated, an entertainment model would find some way to schedule the time where that would involve something else.

Now, the trouble here is not just that there is less call for high content in Adult Education. Would that that were the only problem. The problem is, when the church has bought into an entertainment mindset, it can mistake real teachers for entertainers.

Long ago, my wise friend from the first article said to me, "It used to be that people would grab my arm and say, 'We need you,' and I would fly out and speak for them. I'm more careful about that now. I learned that many who say that don't really mean they need me. What they need is some cog to fit their machine. And for them the cogs are interchangeable. What they need is someone to speak, to fill the slot." Those churches are thinking in entertainment terms, whether they know it or not.

In past centuries, churches founded universities. They promoted the intellectual life of the culture. Harvard College was founded at a time when the colonists were barely at the level of subsistence because they wanted educated clergy. A few generations ago, churches became suspicious of secular learning, and so often founded Christian colleges, or downplayed learning altogether. We have moved beyond that, but congregations often don't know what to do with the formally educated. Even when they decide to use them, they aren't thinking in educational terms. They are thinking in entertainment terms. People don't pursue advanced degrees in order to be able to fill air time. The church often gets confused here, though. If someone filled some of their air time for free, it makes sense that everyone else should, too. After all, there are so many slots to fill.

In an overall sense, I am not sure how we combat this. But as with many things, recognition is probably good first step.