After Christmas the next “big” event on the Christian Calendar is Holy Week, concluding with the resurrection of Jesus. After Easter, what is the next “big celebration” on the Christian Calendar? Well, it does not gain much fanfare and there are no holidays or celebrations associated with it. There are no gifts or special meals, no parades or television specials. But it is perhaps the most important day in the history of the church. In fact, it is indisputably the beginning of the age of the church. It is the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was given freely to inhabit the lives of all who believe. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowered the disciples of Jesus to not simply believe but be transformed and infused with the power of God’s Spirit. There is no other day like it and it deserves high recognition and reverence. This year we celebrate this event on June 4th. It happens to also to be the day that six of our young children will be making their “First Communion.” It will be the first time we have ever had cake on Pentecost Sunday!
In the early 1990’s as the “mega church” phenomenon was beginning, there was a movement in the church to learn from the secular business world what they did to grow their businesses and apply the same principles to the church. So there was a big emphasis on marketing and finding and addressing your “target audience”. Churches focused on who they were most likely to reach with the Gospel. Willow Creek led by Bill Hybels exploded in growth by focusing on “the unchurched.” They made their worship services “Seeker Sensitive” so that any non-believer or unchurched person would not feel like they were attending a typical or traditional church service. Instead, what they experienced each week was an “event.” Saddleback Church, led by Rick Warren, developed “Saddleback Sam”, the typical person they were most equipped to reach. Warren, in his best selling book The Purpose Driven Church, writes:
Saddleback Sam is the typical unchurched man who lives in our area. His age is late thirties or early forties. He has a college degree and may have an advanced degree. (The Saddleback Valley has one of the highest household education levels in America.) He is married to Saddleback Samantha, and they have two kids, Steve and Sally.
Surveys show that Sam likes his job, he likes where he lives, and he thinks he’s enjoying life now more than he was five years ago. He’s self-satisfied, even smug, about his station in life. He’s either a professional, a manager, or a successful entrepreneur. Sam is among the most affluent Americans, but he carries a lot of debt, especially due to the price of his home.
This was all based on intensive research using the most current statistics and business analysis. To a great extent these approaches were “successful” because the churches exploded in growth…20,000 – 30,000 people in attendance each weekend…At one church!! There is no denying that these men along with many other gifted pastors and leaders have found a way to grow their churches and make tremendous impact in the lives of their congregation and the neighborhoods in which they ministered. Who wouldn’t want to see that kind of growth?
But a funny thing happened on the way to winning the world for Christ. The evangelical church started to lose its soul. Pastors and church leaders were burning out, churches split, corruption and scandal rocked big name ministries, marriages deteriorated and the behavior of Christians did not look any different than those who had no faith. There were conversions but not transformation. Willow Creek, in the “Reveal” study, found that the church created a a culture of consumerism and were developing consumers rather than disciples. Twenty five percent of those surveyed felt “stalled” in their spiritual growth.
I am cautious about using secular marketing techniques to bring people to Christ. I am also cautious about the separation of “evangelism” and “discipleship” as if they were separate entities. The church is too often segmented and out of balance, as if we are called to one or the other. But Jesus never talked about this kind of separation. In fact, He clearly states that evangelism and discipleship are one and the same, that making disciples, or followers, is simply the expansion of repentance.
“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20).
The next forty or so days we wait and anticipate the coming of the Holy Spirit. These days are what Advent is to Christmas and Lent is to Easter. Days of anticipation and preparation. Days of hungering after, desiring and seeking the Holy Spirit. As we enter the next season of the Church calendar may we focus on the third person of the Trinity and know that without Him we are, in the words of Jesus, left as “orphans.” Conversion without transformation is no conversion at all. When Pentecost came, lives were changed. And changed lives change the world. That is why the mission of our church, to whomever we encounter, weather it is Saddleback Sam” or “Paterson Patty” or “North Haledon Hal” is to “Transform Lives Through The Love Of Christ.” Churches do not transform anyone. Transformation is the work of the Holy Spirit. We simply make space for Him to do so.
Pentecost may be as important as any on the Christian calendar. Let these next 40 days be days of hope for the coming of the Holy Spirit.
What do you think? How does it make you feel?