I grew up in an “uncool church.” The sermons were not slick. The music was not modern. And the church’s position on societal issues certainly was not politically correct. But back then, churches like this were totally OK.
The church I grew up in was not ashamed of being counter-cultural. In fact, they celebrated their moral distinctions in contrast to the world’s ideas week in and week out.
By and large, the aim of the church I grew up in was not to please pop culture; but the aim was to please God. Did my childhood church have issues? Absolutely! But conforming for the sake of “cool” was not one of them.
In recent years many “cool Christians” have publicly fallen. Sadly, these evangelical influencers disappeared from the world of Christian celebrity for any number of scandalous reasons. Some publicly deconstructed their Christian faith on social media and ultimately renounced their faith altogether, while others tragically left their spouses and families via extramarital relations.
Some were fired for prolonged verbal abuse and lying, while others were heartbreakingly discovered to have maintained a double life marked by criminal sexual deviance. Whatever the reason for their departure from the limelight of the evangelical stage, these former “Christian celebrities” all had one thing in common — they were once very popular.
Some were New York Times bestselling authors. Some filled arenas with their popular Christian music. Some were pastors whose sermons were broadcast across the globe. Some even served in Christian higher education! Today, their names are no longer mentioned among Christians except when expressed as a historical cautionary tale.
I receive no pleasure in recounting some of the ways prominent Christian leaders have fallen in recent years. Researching this topic has been gut-wrenching. Nevertheless, I was pleased to discover that Christ Himself speaks directly to the issue of “pop Christianity” in Luke 6:26. Jesus said, “What sorrow awaits you who are praised by the crowds, for their ancestors also praised false prophets.” Jesus Christ, the founder of the Christian church, specifically warns his followers about being “praised by the crowds.” Let that sink in.
In a world where some Christian organizational heads utilize “crowdsourcing platforms” and “crowd management systems,” Jesus warned his followers of “what sorrow awaits” those who are praised by the crowds. Maybe, in view of Christ’s teaching, the crowds aren’t to be “sourced” or “managed.” Maybe they are to be “cautioned.”
In my mind, I can hear the critic saying, “who does this writer think he is? Is he not trying to build a following, an audience, a crowd, in the publishing of this article? How dare he broad-brush Jesus’ teaching on popularity in this way.” I fully realize that the critics of this article might be right. I may be overstating my case.
However, I believe that today’s “pop Christianity,” with some of its trendy teachings and worldly practices, ought to be further examined in view of Jesus’ life and teaching as these “famous” Christians’ ministerial contributions might be more in line with the “false prophets” of old, just as Jesus warned.
The fact of the matter is, the American church is changing. While at a conference just a few days ago, I watched a speaker look squarely at a group of young music ministers and say, “the most dangerous aspect of being a worship leader in today’s day and age is that so many Christians think it’s cool.” A humbled group of church planters on a podcast I listened to recently candidly admitted to falling prey to the Christian hipster hype of the early 2000s.
A Christian Camp director I spoke to last month privately told me that they were now less impressed by the big and flashy conference speakers these days and that they were now less likely to bring them in than they once were pre-pandemic. These are just three examples of how the evangelical world is shifting.
So what if “pop Christianity” is on life support? What if trendy theology was no longer trending? What if “uncool Christianity” became cool again? I guess we will find out. And I’m somewhat excited by the prospect.
Joshua Gilmore serves as the director of Community Connection and Ministry Mobilization at North Greenville University. Gilmore earned both his BA and MA at NGU (Christian Studies - 2005 & Christian Ministry - 2007). Gilmore continued his study at Columbia International University and earned his Educational Specialist degree (Ed.S) in Christian Higher Education in 2016. Prior to serving at NGU, Gilmore was a youth pastor in the Chicago area, professor/administrator at a small college of missions, and a music minister in New Jersey. Gilmore loves to be with his wife and three daughters, go on outdoor adventures, and passionately serve Christ through teaching, leading, and creating.