In recent years, there has been an increasing individual-focused aspect of what is called Christianity or being a Christ Follower. Consistent with the focus of society, people of faith are falling into or following the allure of gratification and reward of self.
This is evident in the choice of which church we attend, the praise and worship music we listen to, worship and sermons we are drawn to, and in how people talk about what matters to them. Like a self-portrait or “selfie” taken with a mobile phone, faith now has the person front-and-center with others, even God, relegated to the side or background.
The Church We Choose
In the past, the church a person chose to attend was frequently based on proximity to their home, on the effectiveness of the preaching/teaching, and on what the church did in the local and wider communities. The focus was on the God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirt, and the Word of God.
Today, this choice is often framed on how well we are “fed”, what programs the church has that minister to us, how inspiring the worship team is, and how uplifted and good we feel at the end of the service. It is no wonder that you can see churches more focused on the people inside the church as opposed to those on the outside who may not know the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Music We Listen To
According to https://www.praisecharts.com/, Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art, Holy, Holy, Holy, It is Well, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Praise to the Lord the Almighty, Be Thou My Vision, All Creatures of our God and King, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name, Blessed Assurance top the list of all-time favorite Christian songs. These songs focus on the character and praiseworthiness of God the Father and of His son, Jesus Christ.
The top worship songs in 2020 were Together, The Father’s House, Alive & Breathing, Keep Me In The Moment, Love, There Was Jesus, Holy Water, Still Rolling Stones, and Almost Home. When you listen to these songs you will note a shift to a more “God in me” and “what God will do for me” focus.
Whereas music heard in a Sunday morning church service often came in the form of a choir accompanied by piano or organ, worship today frequently looks more like the concert of the latest popular band or music group complete with lighting, amplification, and production. Popular worship bands such as Elevation Worship, Hillsong United, and Bethel Music are all worship teams from the corresponding megachurches of the same name. And all have a predominately self-focus to their music.
Worship and Sermons We Listen To
When we talk of the success of a church today, we talk of how much the size of the congregation has grown, which building projects are underway, and the size of the budget. Pastors are chosen based on the degree to which they preach an inspirational sermon that draws people to attend, not on their ability to lead people into spiritual growth and relationship with the Lord. Success is rarely measured on the spiritual growth and maturity of the congregation, but rather the number of noses in the pews and the number of nickels in the offering plate.
Sermons are often based on the pastor’s personal experience citing quotes from the latest top-rated Christian authors’ books, rather than relying on the Scriptures for the content. At other times, there is a verse-by-verse examination of a passage in such minute, academic detail that the heart of God’s desire for us and for others is lost in the alliterated alignment of the selected sermon segments. One of the unexpected consequences of this approach is that as the pastor seeks to explain the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages and their nuances, the congregation is often left in awe of the pastor’s knowledge and realizing they do not have the education or time to study in that way, so they leave the teaching to the pastor, rather than searching the scriptures daily to see if what he said was right.
There is also a tendency to shy away from subject matter that is controversial or would tend to divide people. Gender fluidity, sex outside of marriage, abortion are all subjects which the bible addresses quite clearly, yet most pastors do not want to delve into for fear of bringing division. Paul specifically addressed this with Timothy.
2 Timothy 4:2–4 (NKJV)
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
Another interesting point of avoidance is not preaching the gospel of salvation through repentance. You may hear “Say a prayer like this”, “With every head bowed and every eye closed, raise your hand if you want to accept Jesus” but rarely is the gospel of repentance mentioned. When I asked a pastor why repentance was not mentioned in sermons about salvation, he said that it was because it would drive people away. The challenge is that when John the Baptist, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and even God spoke of salvation, the first word on the matter was always “Repent”. There are many references, but the following passages are quite illustrative of this point: Matt 3:2, Matt 4:17, Luke 13:3-5, Acts 2:38, Acts 26:30, and Acts 17:30.
What Jesus Taught
The simple truth of what Jesus called us to do gets lost in all this self-focus. When asked by a lawyer, what is the greatest commandment, Jesus’ reply is recorded in Matthew 22.
Matthew 22:37–40 (NKJV)
37 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Simply paraphrased, He told us to:
1. Love the Lord your God with all that you are, above everything else, and
2. Love your neighbor as you would want to be loved if you were in his place.
The final words He said to those gathered around Him as he was ascending to Heaven are recorded in Acts 1:8.
Acts 1:8 (NKJV)
8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
3. Be a witness of Jesus in your community and to the ends of the earth.
How simple and effective would our faith be if we simply strived to do these three things. And if you notice, not one of them tells us to focus on ourselves. Our focus is to be on God, loving others, and telling others about Jesus. None of it is about us or me.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells the that it is about unity and valuing others better than us.
Philippians 2:1–4 (NKJV)
1 Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, 2 fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
My hope in addressing this is that each of us would pay attention to what the Word of God actually says, and read it daily for ourselves so that we know it, and that God’s will for us as expressed in the Bible becomes our compass, not just what we hear in church for ninety minutes one day a week.
I pray that the Lord God Almighty reveals Himself to you in new ways, that you grow to love and depend on Him more each day, and that your love and compassion for those around you would increase and show in how we live our lives.
Grace Bible Fellowship is a group of followers of the Lord Jesus Christ seeking to know Him and to show His love through how we lead our lives. He calls us to:
Love the Lord extravagantly with all that we are
Show love to others as we would want to be loved
Tell others about Jesus and what He wants for us
We hope that you will join us.
Grace Bible Fellowship
12802 E 27th Ave
Spokane Valley, WA 99216-2414