Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, recently criticized the amusement-driven church and encouraged Christians to participate in the Body of Christ for the purposes of discipleship and community — not entertainment.
In a sermon delivered May 12, Chandler shared how, shortly after he began his ministry at The Village Church, his congregation grew from several hundred to several thousand.
“My passion has not changed. I do not want to be a conference speaker. That is not what we’re doing,” he said.
“You and I are so overstimulated, you and I are so overwhelmed with fast-paced, energized entertainment that we have developed a real idealized sense of life with a real low pain tolerance. The Church herself no longer is about discipleship, no longer is about being shaped, no longer is it about being formed. It’s about being entertained in the gathering.”
While The Village Church continues to expand, the pastor emphasized that his plan is “not to ever develop an arena culture.”
An “arena culture” expects everything to be “put together when we arrive,” Chandler explained, adding: “This is family. This isn’t showing up with a swag bag under our chair and everything done for us. This is us serving one another that shows that our personal preferences are secondary to the manifold wisdom of God being made visible among us.”
“I’m not interested in it (arena culture),” he said. “I want to grow together and that doesn’t happen by preaching sermons. That happens when we’re on the ground together.”
“I want to reorient your mind around what it means to belong to a church,” he continued, gesturing to his congregation. “It’s not this. This is breathing in, being nourished, so that we can get back out and do the work of ministry.”
Citing Ephesians 3:7-10, Chandler declared, “You have been uniquely wired by God and gifted by the Holy Spirit.”
“My job, and the job of vocational ministers, is not to do the work of ministry, but rather help you see, spot, be trained in your giftedness and then unleash that giftedness on the world around us so that you have been called to ministry,” he said.
“We’ve got it all backwards. Y’all think we have been called to ministry and that’s why the manifold wisdom of God isn’t seen globally, because it’s not that The Village Church has 50 ministers, it’s that The Village Church has 6,000 ministers. That’s how the manifold wisdom of God is seen.”
Christians are called to image the Creator God wherever they are, Chandler said, and that begins with the home and workplace.
“It’s not that you’ve got a job and you’ve got a ministry,” he said. “No, your ministry is your job. You can’t separate those out ... God’s call on your life is to faithfully work where you are doing, doing the work of reconciliation and being an ambassador of Christ ... the eternal weight behind everything you’re doing is crazy significant.”
Chandler pointed out that in Acts, Paul warns the Ephesians, “After I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.”
“How do you fight that? You walk with one another in community, you encourage one another in your giftedness, and you embrace that you’ve been called a minister of reconciliation and an ambassador of Christ for the building up of the body,” he said.
Far too many people, Chandler warned, are interested in the more external elements of ministry — such as impressive light shows and worship bands — instead of actually growing the Kingdom of God.
“If you just like what we do, all of it’s online for free,” he emphasized. “Listen to it on Tuesday and go where there are fireworks. Because I don’t want to turn away people who don’t know Jesus so that you can come and listen to the music you like, or because you think occasionally I’m funny.”
“I don’t want to not have seats for those who say, ‘I want to grow in my gift, I want to know what it’s like to live for Jesus 24/7.’ There is more in you than you think there is. That’s one of my favorite things as a pastor, is watching that come alive.”
A Fuller Youth Institute study of 250 congregations found that youth and young adults want substance rather than style, hip pastors, or big budgets.
Pastors and church leaders have long warned of the dangers of the entertainment and amusement-driven church.
During a sermon delivered at the National Religious Broadcasters’ International Christian Media Convention, H.B. Charles Jr., pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, said that the biblical instruction to “rejoice with trembling” in Psalm 2 is “one of the most succinct definitions of worship in Scripture.”
“When we worship God together, it shouldn’t be like a funeral or sitting in the doctor’s office or being stuck in traffic. We should rejoice,” he said.
“As we rejoice, our worship should not be an emotional response to man-centered entertainment masquerading as worship. As we rejoice, we should recognize the holiness and the sovereignty and the majesty of Almighty God.”