At the end of Deuteronomy 18 God tells Moses what to do with someone who claims to be speaking on behalf of God and says something like, “God told me that thus and such are going to happen,” and it doesn’t come to pass; you stone them to death. It’s clear that God doesn’t like it when someone puts words into His mouth. While I can’t cite chapter and verse at this moment, I think it would be right to say that God also doesn’t like it when people put actions into His hands that he did not do. I am genuinely concerned about this because more and more I am reading people on social media attribute things to God that it is very possible, even likely, that He did not do. In particular, I’m seeing the phrase, “God moved powerfully at (put gathering name here).” Really? I hope that He did. I also hope that we can tell the difference.

A Common Thread

(At the end of this post is a Connect The Thoughts video of me talking about this so you can see that I’m not as “crusty” about this as I might come across in writing.)

Now, I know what they mean, usually. Many of these instances I’ve been at the same exact event. In those cases I think I have a valid opinion. From there I am extrapolating. But it usually goes like this.

  • There is a gathering of Christians in a place or setting where there is an atmosphere. It is usually created by lights and music. It might be a church service or a Hillsong-esque concert. Sometimes a campfire at the beach with music, s’mores, etc. By the way, I don’t think that there is anything inherently wrong with any of those things. I’ve hosted things like that.
  • People who are there get caught up in the experience. The lighting creates an intimate atmosphere. Singing songs with people you know to the God you love creates a spirit of bonding and shared experience. Again, nothing inherently wrong with that. I’ve experience this myself on many occasions.
  • There is usually either a bible teaching, or a time of testimony, or public sharing of scripture or prayer. I’ve been there done these.

Was It?

When I am at these and, afterward, people post online that, “God moved powerfully,” I often ask myself, really? I was there and I didn’t see or experience anything that would make me highlight that God moved particularly powerfully at that event as compared to others. Did some individuals feel a sense of communion with their God? Probably. Did God’s Holy Spirit speak to someone’s heart a word of encouragement or correction? I hope so. But does the fact that these things happened to some degree, coupled with the emotional experience created by lights, music, and a dynamic speaker, really equate to God moving powerfully?

In fact, this video from 2010 rings more true today than it did then, in my opinion. It’s funny, but makes the point pretty darn well.

“God moved” means something, or it means nothing.

One could argue that if/when God moves at all, even in the slightest way, that He is moving powerfully. In that case, God is always moving powerfully. So what was extra special or powerful about that event that you were moved to post it? On the other hand, does someone use “God moved powerfully” based on the relativistic size of the crowd they are in at the moment, compared to other crows that they have been in before? I point that out because I’ve read people use that expression for a medium to large church gathering, but then they say something like, “God moved radically at the (blank) concert tonight!” or, “God presence was all over that place” or something, you know, bigger than, “Meh, God moved powerfully, but not like at the touring worship concert thingy.”

The Concert

I recently went to a concert at a theater in Portland to hear a band my wife particularly enjoys. Not a Christian thing, just a really good band.

  • We walked into the lobby where there were beverages available.
  • We mingled and chatted with others who like this band, and who like going to shows in general.
  • The auditorium was lit pleasantly. The stage had all the instruments ready, or mostly ready as stage crew made last minute adjustments.
  • The band came out. Some people stood, some sat, most sang along, some with hands in the air.

Does this sound at all familiar?

People had a shared experience. They felt something powerful was happening. Outside on the way out you could hear people say, “That was amazing.” Why? Because that is what happens when people come together under those circumstances. I’ve seen my Christian friends post nearly the same exact thing after going to church as after going to a non-Christian concert. So what is the difference? Why is God moving powerfully at one, and not the other, when we describe it the same way?

I’m not saying that God never moves powerfully at these gathering’s of believers. I’m not saying He can’t or won’t. I am saying that if we can’t tell the difference between how we feel after going to church and how we feel after going to hear Taylor Swift, something is wrong with us or our ability to perceive God moving.

Experience Based Christianity – from being called to being a consumer

Lest you think I’m bing a curmudgeon (an old grump), I’m speaking from personal experience and interaction with pastors and other church leaders. Some medium to larger church pastors describe the Sunday gathering as an “experience.” Some boast that they think they have the best Sunday experience in the area. They are describing an event to be consumed, like going to a concert or a play. It’s something you go to, watch, perhaps participate in to a degree. As long as you keep coming back and ask long as you feel like you’ve had an experience, they are content and won’t do much more to help you actually grow as a disciple, a follower of Jesus.

Christian, you are being marketed to. You are being wooed on social media to come have an experience that, if put on successfully, makes you feel like you’ve experienced God in some way.

It’s no different than Apple trying to sell you an iPhone (again) with ads showing all the hipsters hanging out, or Coke trying to sell you soda with all the 20somethings being active and having fun. But then, social media ads of Christians being locked in jail or having family abandon them because of Jesus, doesn’t draw many people.

If anything in this post is intended to sound at all judgmental, it’s this bit right here, and it’s aimed a Americanized consumer based church leaders, not Christians exactly.

This is not what the church is supposed to be.

What does it look like, really?

So, Mr. Corby, Mr. Know-it-all, Mr. Curmudgeon, what does it look like, really, when God moves powerfully? I’m going to save that for another post. For now, you know, read your Bible and see. What I hope you, dear reader, do with this right now, even if I’ve made you mad, is think about it. Really chew on it. Seriously consider if you’ve been calling a really good show, a move of God’s power. If you feel the same after seeing a show at the Crystal Ballroom as you do coming out of a church service, something is very wrong because you are missing out on something way better. Pray for the Holy Spirit to show you the difference. Pray for your own outpouring of God’s love upon you, and see God move through you as a result.

Take a moment and watch this video which is also one of my favorites. Expect to see it fairly regularly as I share thoughts about church life and ministry. I should say that I don’t think that the point of this video is one over the other, discipleship over doing a good job at a church service. I think it’s pointing out that we’ve sacrificed discipleship, which is one of the main points of the church, for putting on a good show. I think we can do both well. As Mike Breen and 3DMinistries say, “When you build the church you don’t always get disciples. When you build disciples, you always get the church.” Let’s build disciples, the called, not consumers.

[reminder]When was the last time you experienced a powerful move of God that wasn’t a part of a church experience?[/reminder]

Here is my Connect The Thought video for this post.