Is the good news of the Gospel being shrouded by too much negativity?
That’s what Todd Rhoades, founder and developer of ChurchStaffing.com, suspects is happening in the church today.
After watching Nick Scott’s “School Portrait,” a highly praised short film about a bitter, pessimistic school photographer who tries to get kids to stop smiling in portraits, Rhoades discovered a similar problem existed with preachers.
“As I watched this video, I thought that this is how some church[es] approach preaching the gospel,” he wrote on his website.
The film starts off with a little girl walking into a room set up for school portraits. She sits down on the designated seat and begins to smile for the camera. The photographer, played by Jonathan Rhodes, promptly shouts, “No! Stop smiling!”
He adds, “We’re going to do something different today. It’s called a reality check: University tuition fees.” The information immediately stops the curly haired girl from smiling.
The cynical photographer then continues to share a series of depressing events with every child who comes in to take a portrait, mentioning issues like the banking crisis, climate change, divorce rates and so forth, taking the joy out of most of the children’s expressions.
One red-haired girl who refuses to stop smiling despite all of his depressing stories and statistics eventually wins him over, giving him hope in the world once again.
“I’ve heard quite a few sermons over my lifetime that start out just like this photographer,” Rhoades explained. “It goes something like this: The world is horrible. Sex is on the rise. The family is falling apart. Culture is corrupt. Society is collapsing.”
That was just the introduction, the director of Leadership Network pointed out. Then, what followed the introduction was: “Jesus came to save us from all this crap.”
“The truth is ... Jesus did come to save us from all this,” Rhoades stated. “But by the time you get to the good news, your portrayal of the bad news has lost people.”
Though the “seasoned saints” were all saying “amen, great sermon,” most pastors lost the people who actually needed to hear the good news “way at the beginning of the message.”
“Preaching about sin is primary ... we have to be saved from something. And we are all sinners. But opening with everything that’s wrong with society and individuals is taking the easy way out,” the 47-year-old developer wrote.
“Most of the time, it’s much easier to preach against ‘things’ than to love ‘people.’ People are messy. People sin. But it’s the people who need to hear the good news. Many of them already feel bad about their life,” he stated.
Rhoades expressed concern over the growing divide between how generations of pastors in the church shared the good news, which he believed needed to be delivered in a wiser manner.
Dan Kimball, author of They Like Jesus But Not The Church and pastor at Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, agreed to some extent.
“I believe more than ever we actually do need to preach about sin. But we have to biblically define what sin is and not assume people even know,” Kimball told The Christian Post. “Sin is not just a list of moral problems of today, but a brokenness of humanity whose roots go back to the creation story.”
The California pastor explained that the Bible narrative itself started with the goodness of creation and the goodness of humanity as originally created before telling of the problem of how sin corrupted everything.
“The unfortunate part is that we can jump right to the problem (sin) without explaining where it came from,” Kimball noted. “I don’t think younger people especially need to be told the world and all of us are corrupted with sin ... They aren’t blind, they see it all the time and experience it in their lives.”
“So hearing the news of a Savior, salvation and that they can join in making a difference in this world for Jesus in bringing the good news in word and deed to others.”
“So yes,” he added, “we need to teach about the negative absolutely, the Bible is full of speaking about sin and the need for a Savior. But we have to frame it within the whole biblical narrative or it can simply come across as breaking a religion’s human ethics from a codebook to people.”
Currently, Kimball’s church is in a series about biblical doctrine and theology, teaching on sin, Satan, demons, hell, and things that aren’t “very wonderful to hear about.”
Every single week, he explained, the leaders have drawn out on a board a biblical narrative to show how sin and Satan fit within the grand story.
“Without that, just jumping to the problem or negative issues can be confusing,” the pastor added. “In this series, we have had people put faith in Jesus as they understood the need for a Savior.”
“We must never neglect sharing the good news, but telling the whole story is so important so we don’t incorrectly teach that Christianity is all about morals and ethics but about a God who created human beings in His image to do good on this earth and sent a Savior to redeem us when we did mess up and sin.”
“And now we can continue to be on mission for Jesus and let others know and experience this wonderful news of Jesus,” Kimball concluded.
Kimball is the founding pastor of Vintage Faith Church, a church plant from Santa Cruz Bible Church, where he previously served as a youth and young adult pastor.
His church seeks to emulate the early “vintage” church of the New Testament, striving to reflect the ancient roots and values of early Christianity.
Nick Scott is a film writer and director based in London. His latest film “Big Society” has been nominated for the Grand Prix at Encounters 2011. Watch his short film “School Portrait” here.