Every church movement in America, and around the world for that matter, has its share of critics. Friday morning, I read a Wall Street Journal article by Brett McCracken on the perils of what he entitles “Hipster Christianity.” In this summary of his recently released book, which I have not yet read, Mr. McCracken condemns Christian leaders for trying too hard “to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant.” He even names a few churches as examples of what he calls “cool churches,” saying at the close of his article that “as a twenty-something, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.” I’m glad Mr. McCracken knows what he and his generation want, but whose job is it to define what a “real” church looks like? Mr. McCracken and his generation of anti-hipsters? The Baby Boomers and their love of big churches? Program-driven denominational leaders?
In my work as a church consultant over many years, I have visited hundreds of churches services, from high-church, liturgical to barking-in-the-aisles Pentecostal and everything in between. I even experienced a few liturgical/Pentecostal services. Yes, such a thing does exist. Interestingly, I’ve heard arguments from church leaders and critics about “methodology vs. theology,” “seeker vs. sacred,” about “conservative vs. liberal” and on and on until I’m really not interested in such discussions any longer. They lead nowhere productive.
I’m sure most of us agree with Mr. McCracken that we all want our church to be “real.” The problem is that unless we have a Biblical perspective of what God wants from us, then “real” is defined by the most persuasive critic, by popular vote, or even by young thinkers challenging the status quo; none of them necessarily biblical options. When considering the role of the church, I often think about the last words of Jesus before ascending into heaven:
Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matt, 28:19-20
It’s clear that Jesus wants his followers to pursue those outside the faith with intentionality, to go wherever they are, even in foreign lands, and not only to understand their new-found faith, but also to become something more than Christian thinkers: to be identified with the Christ they claim to follow by their actions and lifestyle.
The ultimate test of an effective church cannot be measured by its style, size, hipster quotient, or even biblical knowledge of its members, as important as that might be. The mark of a “real” church, regardless whether its preacher wears skinny jeans or a polyester suit, is that of a transforming agent for God.
“Are we creating true followers of Christ and not merely fans of Jesus?
Is life transformation part of the DNA of this church?
How can we be salt and light to this community and to the world?”
These are the important questions to me.
If you want to leave your current church because the music is too loud or your pastor has begun shopping at the Buckle, then that’s your prerogative. But before you exchange it for a choir and pipe organ or for the ultra smart double PhD preacher down the road, make sure the byproduct of membership in your new church is not just a better experience tailor-suited to your tastes, but by a transformed life–one that’s characterized by a radical devotion to a man named Jesus.