Marketing or Maturity?

Do you ever notice that lots of people seem to be talking about something all at the same time?  I have always taken that as a sign that perhaps the Spirit of God is moving in the world in some important way.  A friend shared the cover story of this month’s Christianity Today, an article titled When Are We Going to Grow Up? The Juvenilization of American Christianity” by Thomas E. Bergler. 

The article is interesting from a historical perspective about how we have gotten to the place we are in American Christianity.  A place in which much of the mainline church is diminishing, giving way to the mega-church, nondenominational model.  (In point of fact, it’s not an even transfer since many that are leaving the mainline denominations are not showing up anyplace in Christendom, and overall Christianity in North America is declining in numbers.)  Bergler argues that much of what is popular in the church today comes out of the youth and young adult models of the past, and very little of it is “mature faith.”

I don’t want to write too much here, as I would rather have you spend time with the article and then comment about what you think.  However, just two points.

The first is that I would agree whole-heartedly that the only way to reverse this juvenilization trend in favor of mature faith would be unified, intergenerational models of church.  One quote from Bergler, “I believe one key is to renew our commitment to the church as an intergenerational family, in which each person has a unique role in helping the others toward our shared goal of maturity in Christ (Titus 2:1-15; Eph. 5:21-6:4; Col. 3:18-4:1; 1 John 2:12-14).”  This is not going to happen with our current “live and let live” mentality when it comes to worship and church programming.  Offering different genres of musical styles and experiences at different times for different audiences is contrary to the kind of unity the church needs for mature faith.  It’s marketing and not maturity.

Second, the church is in dire need of more theological reflection about the world around us, God with us, and our participation with God in that world.  It seems that too much emphasis on self and meeting spiritual needs of our participants has led us to a church without critical theological engagement.  We are so busy talking about ourselves that we fail to have time to discuss God and the world around us.  To take it one step further, if we only worship and talk with people that are just like us, are we worshipping God in the diversity of creation, or are we worshipping our own image as in a mirror?  It would seem more boldness about critical thinking and theological examination is necessary.  The church has to stop being held hostage by those in our midst that claim “authority” simply because they can read, over against those that can read and think.  Mature faith demands theological reflection.

I would encourage us all to read and think about Thomas Bergler’s article, and let’s continue to reflect upon what the Spirit of God might be up to in our midst...


  1. From Terry Poff:

    I found the article interesting and thought-provoking. However, it is also quite academic and in my experience, those academicians who are not also practitioners tend to hypothesize and offer little in the way of solutions. This author doesn't disappoint. I am more interested, though, in your assertion that "Offering different genres of musical styles and experiences at different times for different audiences is contrary to the kind of unity the church needs for mature faith." What, exactly, IS the kind of unity the church needs? Who gets to decide? How does a body discern the will of God in this case?

    "...too much emphasis on self and meeting spiritual needs of our participants has led us to a church without critical theological engagement." How does one build a unified, thriving, and active body without adequate attention to its spiritual needs? I know you're discussing the Church, and not HPC, (at least I hope so) and I do agree that we as a nation have taken the individuality thing WAY too far - but I would never agree that HPC and/or the Church at large is lacking in critical theological engagement. I am interested in following this discussion - perhaps I am missing some key element.

  2. Thanks Terry for the response. I appreciate your taking the time to read the article and to comment.

    I guess I would hope that the community as a whole gets to decide what kind of unity we have. One of the things I love about the Presbyterian system, is that we are neither top down nor congregational in our polity. We are both. To me, that means that every voice in a congregation is crucial. Every person has a role to play and must participate if we are to arrive at the kind of loyalty the church needs.

    My bias is that the Church (overall) has been too top down and leader/"vision of one" driven in the last few decades. This, in fact, is part of the juvenilization of the church in that many members seem to see themselves as consumers rather than participants. Or, the spiritually immature are led by the spiritually mature (i.e.. pastors, leaders). You're right, HPC has an advantage here in the number of folks that participate and in the desire for deep theological engagement. We have a real witness to the larger Church here.

    Practically, I am hoping to continue and feed a community ethic in which each person has an equal voice in the conversation. Each person is discerning the Spirit and seeking the direction for HPC. Together we arrive at a conclusion and then work together not because a leader suggests we do so, but as a natural move of the Spirit among us. It's a hope and a prayer!

    See you soon. Thanks again for being part of this.


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