June 27, 2008
Tuning Out Christian Radio
Christians on the air aren't the only ones guilty of sappy sentimentality.
It's official: I'm tuning out of Christian radio.
When some of the Christian radio stations in my area shifted their play lists from Southern gospel, country Christian and syndicated preaching, I took notice. I was thrilled to have airwave access to what I considered great Christian music. And I found myself tuning in more often.
But even my favorite stations have started losing me in recent months. What led me to reprogram my car radio and cancel my monthly $10 pledges? Three things.
First, I've noticed a growing level of - how shall I say this? - sappiness. Yeah, that's the word. It's not so much the music that's sappy (some of it is); it's the commentary, news stories, and contests that combine to present Christianity as synonymous with sentimentality. I live in a real world that's not always positive and encouraging, so Christian radio's steady diet of sugary spirituality doesn't promote sustaining faith.
What's more, I've noticed Christian radio becoming, for me, a sort of faith vending machine. Need some encouragement? Just push a button! I suspect that too frequent exposure to otherwise fine music hackneys that music and causes spiritual satisfaction to become one more commodity in my life. This makes real corporate worship feel like an imitation of the canned radio versions of the songs. Plus, it keeps me from developing truly nourishing habits. After all, who needs real corporate worship and challenging formative disciplines when I can just tune my radio dial and get a quick God fix?
Most importantly, I detect Christian radio has succumbed to consumerism. An on-air promo for one station's Friends and Family Music Cruise pushed me over the edge. Here's an excerpt from their website:
This year, besides reserving the entire cruise for [our] listener family, everything's bigger and better - the ship, the exclusive music concerts, the comedy shows, the speakers, and the endless opportunities for having fun! Did someone say swim and spa? That's right, you'll have it all!Is it just me, or are "bigger," "better," and "having it all" actually not congruent with the One who made Himself nothing and was obedient unto death? Plus, the station boasts that you can finance the cruise on your credit card. I'm a fun loving guy, but encouraging indebtedness for an experience that appeals to and promotes selfishness - under the guise of being a godly experience - is nothing to laugh at.
Buried beneath my growing dissatisfaction for Christian radio, I find four nuggets of caution for those of us responsible for ministry leadership.
First, Christianity is interesting, but it's not amusing. After all, "to amuse" basically means to divert and cause someone to not think. Church does not exist to take our minds off the real world, but to focus our attention on God, His plan for the world, and our place in His plan. It's an interesting plan requiring focus and attention. As a pastor, I often tried too hard to avoid being boring and (gasp!) irrelevant. But in avoiding those dangers, I sometimes fell into the ditch of mere amusement. Christian leaders need to take caution against spinning the gospel as a spectacle that holds our attention but does not hold us accountable.
Second, we must resist presenting immediate fixes for felt needs. After all, salvation and spiritual growth are not commodities that can be produced, marketed, promoted, and perfected for mass satisfaction. Jesus is not a hamburger, a snappy set of sandals, or an iPhone. Discipleship is a committed relationship with Jesus that gradually forms us into the likeness of our Creator. We must take care in how we present the gospel, lest Christ come off as a product we consume instead of the Lord we obey. While more people may buy into a Jesus who makes us happy, we are called to preach a Jesus who makes us holy.
Third, lowest common denominators tend to push us off course. Just because lots of church members (and would-be church members) believe God is for this or that political party, we cannot taint the gospel message with partisan political appeal in order to gain the masses. Likewise, just because obsessive parents demand a children's program that's on par with Disney doesn't mean allocation of tithes and offerings toward such a ministry is wise or warranted. "Give people what they want" makes a poor church motto.
Finally, it's all too easy to generate and get caught up in hype. We Christian leaders can get stoked about the "big" things we're doing and lose focus on our core purpose. Hype is not hope, and it is not a route to Christian hope. So when we build a bigger building, plan a super outreach event, orchestrate an awesome Easter service, or pull together a marvelous missionary experience, let's not get high on the hype that can take on a life of its own.
I'm humbled to realize that for all my critique of Christian radio, I've made many of the same mistakes in my own ministry. So while I may be tuning out of Christian radio for a while, I'm thankful that my departure reminds me how we can inadvertently do bad while aiming for good.