I nearly fell off my chair when I read about a pastor on the staff of Freedom House Church in North Carolina sending a racist email to a group of church volunteers. Makeda Pennycooke wrote that because first impressions matter, the church wanted to put “the best of the best” at the front doors to serve as greeters. Who are the best of the best? I’ll let Ms. Pennycooke say it in her own words, straight from the email: “So we would like to ask that only white people be on the front doors.”*
Go ahead and take a moment to cringe.
I went to the Freedom House Church website (freedomhouse.cc) and found it to be very slick and professional. You can tell they’ve put a lot of thought into what they want to present to the world. I don’t agree with some of their doctrinal positions, but I applaud them for their obvious attempt to shine brightly in a dark world. They’re clearly not idiots, though you wouldn’t know it from Ms. Pennycooke’s ill-advised email.
I believe this is a classic example of how we sometimes outsmart ourselves. Instead of just taking what God gives us and working with it to the best of our ability, and then being satisfied with the outcome, we get out the smoke and mirrors and try to manufacture a product that may seem cooler, but isn’t real.
I’ve seen preachers do this. They get themselves a headset, untuck their shirts, get rid of the pulpit, and start “performing” their sermons because, as everybody knows, that’s what the really cool preachers do. Never mind that, often, such an approach goes completely against their personality type and comes off incredibly lame.
I’ve also seen churches and preachers try to be edgy or controversial in order to make people think they’re cool. One Christian author I know has a very interesting blog, but I notice that he likes to use salty language. (The word “ass” is apparently one of his favorites.) And then there’s the sermon with the constant pop culture references and the movie clip taken from an R-rated flick that, we can only assume, the preacher has seen and liked. Because he’s so cool, of course.
If I had one wish for the modern church, it would be that we would stop trying to be cool. It’s the effort to be cool that makes us do dumb things. Why can’t we just be ourselves and let the gospel do the work God promises it will do? (Hebrews 4:12) Why do we think we have to help the gospel along by pretending to be something we’re not? Don’t get me wrong…I’m all in favor of creativity. But where does creativity end and merchandising begin?
Sometimes it seems to me that the only people we’re interested in leading to Christ are the cool people.
One time a former ESPN marketing strategist started attending our church and approached me about how he thought we needed to “brand” our church. He said, “Describe the person you want to reach.” I said, “Someone who needs Jesus.” He said, “No, I mean the type of person.” I said, “A person who needs Jesus is a type of person.”
We went round and round. I know he thought I was dense. He was obviously wanting me to describe an age group (21-35), a vocational and family profile (young professionals with 1.5 kids and a dog), and an educational demographic (college degree). In other words, cool people. I knew exactly what he was wanting me to say, but I kept saying we want to reach people who need Jesus…any and all people.
The man quit attending our church, and I know why. I wasn’t cool enough for him, and neither was our church.
I am okay with that. Being cool isn’t on our list of priorities.