We’ve all seen them – lives destroyed by addiction. Promising young people burnt out like matchsticks. Ensnared loved ones exchanging their families for another fix.
It’s a harsh reality and not something I mention flippantly. It’s grievous, in the full weight of the word.
Yet that’s the image in my mind as I ponder a growing dependency in our ministries: addiction to novelty. Addiction is a monster. Just to be clear, addiction is defined as becoming physically and mentally dependent on something so that you cannot stop without incurring adverse effects. And that is our present condition in many churches: if we don’t keep juicing up, cranking up the experiences, we could lose everything we’ve worked so hard to build. What a shame where true (on many levels).
Chasing the unfamiliar and new – chasing novelty – is a hallmark of American culture and I’m quite certain it has invaded the church.
- What’s the latest social media trend? How can we leverage it?
- What’s the latest video technique? Style? Wow factor?
- What new plug-in can I leverage to find that perfect sound?
As techies we’ve got it bad. On the one hand, it’s admirable to seek anything beneficial to help spread the message—to wear ourselves out at trade shows and read countless magazines to discern the trends and prepare for them.
It can also be deadly.
Like a mad scientist enthralled with the potential of Jurassic Park, we get so busy figuring out how we can do it, we forget to ask if we should.
I’m not a Luddite. I’m not afraid of newness. I’m not afraid of a changing culture that necessitates a retooling of methods in the communication of the Gospel – in many areas, we must change or die – but a dogged pursuit of novelty will kill us. Change for the sake of change (because we are bored and empty) is the path to addiction that will rot our souls.
I am concerned about a misplaced priority that fosters addiction to novelty. I’m concerned about a philosophy of ministry that must feed on the unique and unusual to survive. I’m cautious that I could win the world, and lose my soul.
What we want is something new, but maybe what we are missing is the anointing.
What we want is something fresh, but maybe what we are missing is a fresh filling of the Spirit.
In my experience, I have found it rare for traditions to let me down. After all, they are animate things. (Think of God’s established ritual in the Sabbath or ongoing celebrations like Communion.) If these kinds of things have “lost their value” it is not their fault, but betrays a miscalculation of mine. If I approach the miraculous with familiarity and entitlement, I shouldn’t be surprised to find it void of life.
It’s more accurate to say, where traditions have replaced our passionate pursuit of God instead of being roadmaps to find Him, they have found us lifeless. From communion to Sunday service attendance; people are bored, dissatisfied, and empty. It’s a real problem.
We can find God in the ritual – in the routine – but we must seek Him by passing through it to the other side. Much easier said then done. It requires time and openness and a reconnection with wonder and mystery. A challenge for all of us as we cram our lives with more: more busyness, more techniques, more technology.
Those things aren’t innately evil, but if they have replaced our connection with the Father they will drive us, and enslave us, in the absolutely worst ways imaginable.
I’m not opposed to fresh expressions of our faith. Heaven’s no.
But I am questioning our tendency to pursue fresh techniques and bypass the submission to the Spirit; to try to skirt the process of being fashioned into a new wineskin in the hasty pursuit of new wine. There are no technological or methodological shortcuts to being Spirit-formed.
Can you hear that concern?
I reject the idea that it’s my job to be a novelty dealer – stringing along the church from one high experience to the next.
We were made for more than this.