Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Fighting the Temptation of Productivity

Our culture is so very attracted to spectacle and celebrity. I'm not sure we are even aware of it most of the time. We don't stop and think about it, we just live it. Surrounded by tabloids, business, political bumper stickers, television screens, and advertisements, we just wall through life like fish in water--all the while being taught and trained to measure the world in terms of productivity and effectiveness as well as sheer charisma.

Well, the church is not free from this. We try to send a message that God loves you exactly as you are, that you can't earn salvation, that productivity does not gain any extra status with God, but the medium of this message says the opposite. We send it through charismatic leaders, through articulate sermons, through expensive books, through flashy blogs, through massive churches with big screens, and through advertising. All of these mediums cry out, "be productive," "be flashy," "be effective" and "don't get too close." Our message is never heard. Our congregations fall victim to the cultural quest for bigger, better, more. Our leaders and pastors are powerless against the temptation to be popular and spectacular.

The common denominator of all our failing mediums is that they're done from a distance. They, the mediums, are extensions of us, but if the only thing people get is the extensions and never the "us", then the true message can never be heard. Big churches and flashy sermons aren't bad in and of themselves. Indeed they can be quite helpful if the church will only recognize that these mediums are not the true embodiment of the message. We, body and all, are the embodiment of the message.

The remedy for this cultural hazard of popularity and effectiveness. spectacle and productivity, is for the church to offer itself as a sacrifice, for us to offer ourselves to the people around us; not from a distance where we'll feel more spectacular and more effective, but from right up close where things are all but glamorous. Perhaps this is why God chose the medium of Jesus--a poor homeless man from Nazareth--to meet people right where they are, in the muck and grime of life, to offer himself to them even on a cross... the antithesis of effectiveness and productivity. That's the Jesus who has called us to be his hands and feet. That's the God who invites us to live in the fullness of his habitation and in the freedom of his unexpected grace.

"What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life." -Henri Nouwen


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2 comments:

Caleb Zwanzig said...

Wes, I really appreciate these words. It's definitely a good reminder for me... especially as Lauren and I find a church here in Denver. Good things to consider. Thanks.

WES ELLIS said...

Good luck finding a church. I'll be praying for you two. I know that whatever church you end up worshiping and serving with will be blessed to have you in their midst!