I used to think that one of the purposes in my vocation was to be on bullshit alert. Not for myself necessarily (although I do have a innate ability to sniff it out) but more so on behalf of others. Let me tell you how this plays out.
See. I’ve been around that whole “religious non-profit” world for a while and I have a keen sense of when a leadership team or pastor is blowing smoke up someone’s ass. This is usually manifested when there are “too-emotional” pleas for financial contributions or service, or when “God spoke to me about…” nonsense. It has also come out in, “I have developed a great new ministry idea! (Read: I just was trolling on the Group Publishing website, or Saddleback church, or IVPress and they are promoting this).” Bullshit and gimmicks.
I was part of a gimmicky church for many years. I’ve lead in a gimmicky church for years and thankfully I’m currently in a place that doesn’t try to pull from the gimmick well all that often – and when it does there are strong enough creative leaders to call a spade a spade and drop that bucket.
In my city there are a number of churches that I would consider gimmicky. They are excellent at self-promotion and tend to create self-congratulatory reports of what they are doing or speaking about…but really, the message is the same hetronormative, soft-fundamentalist, big “E”vangelicalism that pushes all my buttons. My bullshit indicator goes off double time when I think about them or hear about them.
I want to mention that I do think of “thems”… not individuals. I generally believe that each person in these churches are generally good people who are not flesh and blood versions of their corporate identity. I believe that their leaders typically have the best of intentions and wouldn’t normally do anything despicable like club babies or pillage villages of heathens and secularists. However, when the corporate ethos kicks in and articles of faith, vision, policy, mission, dogma and theology come into play a little vortex of bullshit is created. Those who know that the dogma of their community doesn’t fully represent them become overwhelmed by what change could look like & what the cost of change would be (professionally, financially, numerically, etc) that they willfully choose to ignore their questionable community ethos.
Anyway – that caveat aside – gimmicks tend to rule these organizations. There is a fear of original content (what if it fails? can i do it? what about high quality productions?) and so gimmicks are employed to drum up interest, finances and to PRIMARILY (I’d posit there is no longer debate that any statistic church growth is through transfer now transformation) lure other customers/Christians from other churches into theirs. These gimmicks can involve: music, communication style, multimedia, teaching topics, programming (especially in regards to children), and self-helpism.
My bullshit light goes on to alert me to avoid them but also to critique. I sometimes think, “What if one of my friends falls into the trap of this gimmick?” or, “I should’ve warned them about __________”. I try my best not to tear the church a new hole but I do want to be honest with those I care about.
Something happened this week that gave me great joy. A local gimmick-driven church has a new gimmick stirring this month that has received some local media exposure. While digging through social media responses to this I was OVERJOYED to read many, many responses that went something like, “Man…I hate those guys. They’re such a gimmicky group. They keep trying to capitalize on current events or what they think is hip in order to trick people to come to their church.” Adding to this there were many others who said, “I took the time to read about them, to skimmed through their online content and its the same old crap with a new cover. Nothing different than what I wasn’t interested in yesterday…these guys are just trying way too hard.”
This is awesome! I have renewed faith that people see through this garbage. I feel like I no longer have to be a bullshit patrol. Now…let me clean some junk in my backyard.