A Leadership Journal interview with Chuck Swindoll
A survey in 2009 asked pastors to identify the most influential living preacher. Chuck Swindoll came in second only to Billy Graham. How does one use that kind of cachet? Apparently to call the church back from its captivity to entertainment.
Dr. Charles R. Swindoll is the pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, the chancellor and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, a prominent radio preacher on Insight for Living, and a prolific author.
His latest book, The Church Awakening: An Urgent Call for Renewal, outlines the dangers when churches seek the world's affirmation and copy the world's methods. Leadership Journal's senior editor Skye Jethani spoke with Swindoll about the use of entertainment values in worship.
Early in your book you say that when the church becomes an entertainment center, biblical literacy is the first casualty. So why do you think the church has become so enamored with entertainment?
We live in a time with a lot of technology and media. We can create things virtually that look real. We have high-tech gadgets that were not available to previous generations. And we learned that we could attract a lot of people to church if we used those things. I began to see that happening about 20 years ago. It troubled me then, and it's enormously troubling to me now because the result is an entertainment mentality that leads to biblical ignorance.
And alongside that is a corporate mentality. We're tempted to think of the church as a business with a cross stuck on top (if it has a cross at all). "We really shouldn't look like a church." I've heard that so much I want to vomit. "Why?" I ask. "Do you want your bank to look like a bank? Do you want your doctor's office to look like a doctor's office, or would you prefer your doctor to dress like a clown? Would you be comfortable if your attorney dressed like a surfer and showed movies in his office? Then why do you want your church's worship center to look like a talk show set?"
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "When the church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first."
Some time ago a group of church leaders decided that they didn't want to be hated. They focused just on attracting more and more people.
But if we're here to offer something the world can't provide, why would I want to copy the world? There is plenty of television. There are plenty of talk shows. There are plenty of comedians. But there is not plenty of worship of the true and living God.
You think it's rooted in a deep insecurity that we have as church leaders?
Yes, I do. I think you've put your finger on it. We want a crowd to make us feel important and liked. But why is getting a crowd our focus? Jesus never suggested that crowds were the goal. He never addresses getting your church to grow. Never. So why is that the emphasis today?
We can look back before modern technology entered the sanctuary and see the same values at work. The crusades of Billy Graham, the revivals of the Great Awakening, even all the way back to the Reformation, you see that Martin Luther used music and forms of worship that were relevant to his German culture. So what's wrong with taking relevant cultural expressions in the 21st century and using them in our worship?
Nothing, if they square with Scripture and if they honor the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with using something new. We are called to sing new songs. I love them. Nobody sings louder in our church than I do—both the old and new songs.