Sadly, all you need to know to understand the message emanating from many church pulpits today is arithmetic.
Let’s say you are the senior pastor of a modest, mainstream denomination’s church. This church’s expenses consist of your salary ($80,000/yr + benefits), an associate pastor’s salary ($60,000/yr), a worship leader or Minister of Music’s salary ($50,000/yr), a youth pastor’s salary ($45,000/year), a church secretary’s salary ($40,000/yr), rent or mortgage payments of $75,000/yr, property taxes of $15,000/yr and miscellaneous expenses of $60,000/yr.
Arithmetic tells us that these expenses total to $425,000 per year. Now, say your congregation totals 200 regular attenders, representing 120 family units – an average size church.
This means that in order to break even (forget any donations back to your parent denomination, or any contributions to mission work, or relief to members in extreme need) you need each of those 120 family units to donate $3,542 per year, or about $300 per month.
Now, maybe you can proclaim the real gospel of Christ and have your congregants be thankful enough for your message to choose to give you, on average, $300/month. But you can’t help but feeling that if you proclaimed a somewhat more “culturally relevant” version on the gospel, a bit more “attuned” to the issues coursing through the culture today, that perhaps more people would be motivated to give you $300/month. Maybe you could even get to 200 core, family units. Maybe 250.
Your speculation is based on the presumption that you can attract people out of “the world” to listen to this more “sensitive” message, and then, later convert them to belief in Christ. But how is that going to happen if your public message is corrupted to accommodate the cultural sensitivities of your new attenders? Are you going to take each of these new attenders aside at some point and tell them: “ You know, I’m glad you’ve decided to call us your new church home. But there’s a little something I think you should know about this Christianity thing…” I suppose that is possible. But forgive me for assuming it’s unlikely. If, as a result of hiding the real teachings of Christ you find yourself with an increase in revenue of $280,000 or so a year, you would have to be a person of extraordinary principles to go back.
This is the problem the modern Western church faces today. In Germany and elsewhere in Europe, for example, it’s not really a problem because the church there is supported by tax dollars. In Britain, the Church of England has investments that produce income. But in the US, though denominations support new church starts for some period of time, there typically is no outside source of revenue for the local congregation.
So you, the senior pastor, are on your own. What are you going to do? What are you going to preach?
For too many, the answer follows the arithmetic. But, too, for many of those, it follows their conscience. Their nouvo message genuinely reflects their beliefs; their seminary training. But if it didn’t, would they even care?
In the first century, nobody was paid to proclaim Christ. And, despite intense persecution and hardship, it grew quickly to be the preeminent religion of the world.
No church deserves to represent Christ if it muzzles His teaching. There are many today seeking truth. Leaders of our churches should honor them, not the world, and proclaim it boldly.