Bread and Fires
My friend Doug posted this John Piippo blog post, and I immediately agreed with him. It reflects my opinion of many years about church advertising. When I was in radio, church folks always thought that our little bit of promotion would make the difference in the success of their often less than inspiring projects. That would be like the idea in business that any lousy product can be sold with enough advertising, since as Piippo points out much advertising is dishonest hype.
As I later lay waiting for sleep to come, I thought, “’You don’t need to advertise a fire.” Yeah, it’s like hungry folks will come to eat if you’ve got bread.” Jesus is the bread of life. His spirit sets us afire. We have the bread of life; we just need to make that good food available, and spiritually hungry people will come, right?
But wait! Good food? People eat junk food; they eat nutritiously poor food—too much fat, too many calories, too many preservatives, Paul warns of those wanting to keep milk, baby food, when adults need the meaty substance of truth. People today may be hungry, but they often fall for spiritual “junk food,” it tastes great and fills the emptiness but leaves one starving. Is it enough to serve the good stuff, real hearty, organic, whole grain truth? (I could also go off here on the separate question of how you get spoiled children to eat wisely. Spiritual junk food sells, and far too many buy it!)
Have you noticed how people who are into organic tend to be abrasive and intolerant? They treat those who don’t accept their convictions as ignorant and foolish. Do they convince you to accept their beliefs and change your choices? Some of them come across as nut jobs; others are simply annoying, and I’d rather avoid them and their obsession. I’m sorry to say this, but many aggressive Christians come across in exactly the same way!
Many of us need to reflect on what, or rather, who we are trying to sell. Remember WWJD? We need to do one better; we need to ask, “WWJBL? What would Jesus be like?” He who is love, full of grace and truth, compassionate, “anointed with the oil of gladness beyond his companions” is our model, our example. We must run our spiritual “soup kitchen” like that—no judgment, no harshness, no anger, no condescension, and no silly hype!
For years I taught that, if the people in our churches truly loved as Jesus loved (and commanded), we would have no empty seats. If we were the “little Christs” that the word Christ-ian implies, then the word would get around. People are indeed hungry for love: authentic, fully accepting, not condemning, compassionate and joyful love. Many never experience it, don’t even know what it is, but they do want it. They want to be loved like Jesus loved, and it’s our job to love them like Jesus.
I agree with Piippo. Fires don’t need advertising. Period. However, if one takes it just a tiny step further, one might think he’s talking about being “on fire” for God. That is just the slight remove that hype is from hyper. I’m 65 years old, and I’m not looking for energy or excitement. Churches often feel they need to have that to attract young people. In fact, many congregations neglect their older members just to make it a place for young folks. That’s institutional think; that’s planning for the future by investing in the present. Sounds great! Except for one thing…where is that idea found in the Bible or in Jesus’ teaching? The Church is an organism, and organisms grow…if they’re healthy. The Church is a family, and the same rule applies. In both metaphors, love leads to reproduction, and reproduction to growth. It will occur almost naturally (assuming we undo some of the bad thinking and bad teaching already in the way). Like Piippo says, “The original church was an underground movement of secretly growing seeds. Get subversive. Armies don’t advertise their existence and appearing. Revolutionary movements, I suggest, don’t need to.” As long as the people don’t hide behind the walls of a fortress or withdraw like hermits, the love of Jesus—I don’t mean some weak euphemism but the real deal—will do its work.
Let me be honest here, however; we have some work to do. We are surrounded by a narcissistic culture that has plainly infected many of God’s children; such selfish self-centeredness is the opposite of the love of Christ. Based on feeling, love defined in this culture is far removed from the love of the One whose love led Him to give his life on a cross for the sins of those He loved. This is the authentic spirit of Christ’s ministry given to us; the love that is the real deal makes us compassionate servants to our neighbors whom we are to love as ourselves. Such servants will take pleasure in nourishing the hungry souls we meet.
Serve ’em good healthy spiritual food in the soup kitchen of God, served with a overflowing measure of the love of Jesus, and you won’t be able to keep people away!