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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Medium or Message?

Several years ago Marshall McCluen wrote that “The medium is the message.” While this has become increasingly true in today’s world, (witness the influential role of the media in swaying public opinion), his statement is far from true in the spiritual realm. In God’s eyes, the medium is a channel used solely to proclaim the message – the good news that Jesus came to save sinners and reconcile them to God.

But because of the constant bombardment of the primacy of the medium in today’s culture, we often find the medium too attractive. Thus we are always seeking the latest fad or program, constantly changing direction and focus. The Holiness Manifesto, produced by the Wesleyan Holiness Study Project points out two of the dangers associated with this approach.

The first danger is that we become ineffective in our ministry. The Holiness Manifesto” states “The power and zeal of churches has been drained by the incessant search for a better method, a more effective fad, a newer and bigger program to yield growth. In the process of trying to find the magic method for growing healthy vibrant churches, our people have become largely ineffective and fallen prey to a generic Christianity that results in congregations that are indistinguishable from the culture around them.” We can easily lose excitement about the latest fad knowing that we will soon be moving on to another one.

The second danger is that we can confuse the medium with the message. When this happens, we can easily corrupt the message. The Holiness Manifesto states concerning church leaders that “They have become so concerned about ‘how’ they do church that they have neglected the weightier matter of ‘what’ the church declares.” We can focus so much on the program that we lose sight of the fact of God’s holy love being declared through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. We can lose sight of God’s desire that we live holy lives ourselves.

There are also additional dangers to be aware of. The third danger is that we can focus upon the form and lose the function. It is easy to emulate such programs as Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Church”, or Willow Creek. What we often forget is that the form they are using was designed to serve a particular function in their particular church. Merely duplicating the form, without replicating the underlying function, will lead to frustration, and ultimately failure.

The fourth danger is that this approach can lead us into spiritual adultery. The book of Hosea points out how Israel, though very religious, was constantly chasing after foreign cultures and their gods. They sought to emulate the “successful” societies around them. Hosea refers to this as adultery. If we seek to follow all the church growth fads more than God himself, we are in the same danger of spiritual adultery.

If we are to reach out to those around us we must avoid the dangers listed above and focus on our own personal and corporate holiness. This must begin with repentance and humility. We must become a holy community with a strong message of the love of Jesus who died for our sins. We must be a community which demonstrates love for each other and the world around us. By focusing on living holy, transformed lives, we will become a magnet, drawing people to Jesus. By living this way, a program, while helpful, won’t even be necessary to see people coming into the kingdom. Which do you find more attractive, the medium or the message?

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