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For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. -- 1Corinthians 1: 17 (ESV)
I understand the lure must be hard to resist for pastors in this country. When once you only had to worry about the individual spiritual growth of your sheep, now you have to worry about the competition. You are forced to consider how fast other churches are growing around you. What to do about the typical "summer slump." How your next sermon series can leverage the new Captain America Civil War movie. What videos to use. What graphics to buy. The best illustrations you can find on the Internet. When to cue the smoke machine and sappy piano music. When you have been trained to marginalize the Gospel, it will never be enough in your eyes to draw people. That is when you have to turn to marketing Jesus.
How do you sell Jesus to a world that hates Him? How do you package the Son of God in a way that does not offend when the Bible makes clear the Gospel is meant to offend? I suppose you could make the individual the hero of every Bible story. Instead of David staring down Goliath in the Valley of Elah it can be you! Suddenly Goliath, who was a real person, becomes a caricature to help someone deal with their life problems. Goliath becomes your boss, your mother in law, or even your mistakes (sins). If you just have the faith of David then you can slay the giants in your life just like he did! That'll sell. Instead of Joshua rallying Israel around the walls of Jericho it can be you tearing down those walls that have divided your family. Except that is not what those stories are about. They are about Jesus and His Gospel. The problem is that His Gospel offends. It says you are a sinner who needs to repent to a holy God and that is a just not seeker friendly.
So you have to go back to your marketing plan. Instead of reverent and scriptural worship music that focuses on praising God we can have music that mentions God but mostly in relation to us on some level. Where decades ago we sang How Great Thou Art, now we sing about how much God loves us. The difference may seem subtle but it is there. We cut sermon time down to 20-30 minutes to "respect" the congregant's time. That is filled with relevant pop psychology and self help tips with a smattering of pious Christianese so the person can feel religious without actually changing. A five minute altar call consists of a vacuous ten word prayer and then we assure the goat they are now saved when they most assuredly are not. Grab a coffee in the lobby cafe on your way out and that's a wrap.
Now how to sell it though. How to market Jesus. One would think that eternal life would be enough. One would think that the peace that surpasses all understanding would be enough. One would think that the true forgiveness of our sins would be enough. You know what beloved? It actually still is. That is the truly sad thing. Jesus and His Gospel are always sufficient.
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. -- Colossians 2: 8-10 (NKJV)
Do we truly understand this today? In Jesus all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. He is the head of all principality and power. We are complete in Him! The Gospel is enough beloved. Perhaps it is not enough to keep thousands upon thousands of goats coming back each week who refuse to give up their rebellion to God. They do not seek God. They seek to be cheated through philosophy and empty deceit. They only follow the traditions of men. They live according to the basic principles of this world and not of Christ. Sadly, they find far too many pastors willing to not only enable this but to condone it. Because this is the new normal, we now start seeing businesses arise to help the carnal pastor continue to market Jesus:
This is just one such resource I have come across recently. Let me just say up front that I make no personal assumptions about Mr. Trapp, who is at least brave enough to attach his real name to what he sells. I am sure this is how he was raised within the purpose driven paradigm and believes what he is doing is somehow correct but the problem is he is wrong. He is part of the great apostasy that is seeing churches lead the charge of falling away from Jesus Christ and the Gospel. One needs to go no further than the front page of his website, which today contains an article about whether pastors should preach on Pop Culture, with a picture of the movie promo for the aforementioned Captain America Civil War. Because 74% of carnal pastors on his mailing list said it was OK to preach from movies he equates this to it being righteous. If I polled pastors in this country if they thought tithing was correct you would get similar results and it would still be wrong. How do we know this? Because we have the Bible beloved. We do not need to poll people when God has already instructed us. This is how the purpose driven mindset operates though. Pastors such as Bill Hybels and Rick Warren actually canvassed the surrounding neighborhoods where their churches were due to open to find out what the unsaved masses wanted from their fledgling church. Warren found out that they did not want to hear about sin and wanted more rock and rolling style worship so he gave it to them. Hybels goats said they found the cross image offensive so he removed all crosses from his church. The Bible? Who cares what that old book says when the people have spoken.
Then Mr. Trapp gives three reasons to support his belief about preaching today's blockbuster movies. These reasons are filled with philosophy and empty deceit. Founded on the traditions of men and basic principles of this world. The first one is he tries to claim that Jesus did the same thing! To prove his point, he compares His use of seeds, sheep and vineyards to Iron Man, Captain America, and Star Wars. Here is a peek into the mindset of someone who does not believe in the sufficiency of Scripture:
"We should leverage our contemporary culture's interest in film, television and art to communicate the message of the Bible."- Justin Trapp
Translation? The Gospel is not enough. Preaching Christ and Him crucified is not enough unless you throw in a little Hulk. At least he is incredible right? The second point is that preaching culture will generate interest from those inside and outside of your church. Beloved THIS is the heart of purpose driven theology. The interest that is generated is in the church building not the Savior and therein lies the problem. Trapp admits here, as will most pastors today, that these little marketing schemes are designed to drum up interest in their church. We now see billboards on highways encouraging people to come to a particular church. Here is the thing though. What you draw them with is what will keep them. The thinking is so flawed that you can draw someone to the cross with Thor when it is God who is mighty. The Gospel is not about drawing our interest. It is about convicting our sins. The third point is perhaps the most ludicrous and it starts with a quote from the heretical pastor who wrote the Circle Maker:
"So often in the church, we're talking about things that no one else is talking about." People want to know how the Christian faith relates to their world. -- Mark Batterson
They just do not get it. Our faith does NOT relate to this world. It is not of this world. We are sojourners and aliens in this world. But the purpose driven mindset is to try and make the church relevant to the very same world that is already sending everyone to an eternity in hell. Trapp then leads into the real purpose behind this article, to sell his new "God on Film" sermon series. In the promo video for it he shows churches that have used this in the past with great big Minion characters and Jurassic World logos right up on the altar of God. This is the point the Justin Trapp's of the world keep missing. Anything that distracts from Jesus is not gathering unto Him. It is scattering away. When you have your pastor dressed like Han Solo for a Star Wars sermon, what will people remember? Why isn't the Gospel enough? For this particular sermon series, Trapp is marketing it as something to prevent the summer slumps that churches apparently go through. You know, people go on vacation and kids are off from school, so attendance must dip. Well, not anymore!
But all it is beloved, is slick marketing. Heck you can get the church kit for God in Movies for free if you are one of the first 500 to order! Hurry up to those phones! Behind the magnanimity however is nothing more than professional marketing schemes. Not everything is for free. When you click on the article for "best sermon illustrations" for example the first one listed is the sermon illustrations from Ministry Pass, which Trapp happens to own. Hey for forty bucks per month any church can have unlimited access to his resources in how to deemphasize the sufficiency of Christ.