There has been a growing trend among Evangelicals over the past fifty years to make the Church Service more relevant to unbelievers. As part of that the messages/sermons are designed to help people feel comfortable and show them how to solve their problems often through self-driven/self-motivated therapeutic techniques. This swing is built on the Modern philosophy of the power of human beings to create, improve and reshape their world without any external authoritative intervention.
‘Therapeutic preaching starts with the assumption that God exists primarily as a free therapist who wants to help people face their challenges, overcome their hang-ups and/or deal with life more successfully. Taken to an extreme, this kind of preaching focuses narrowly on helping consumers find their best life (now). In more subtle forms, this kind of preaching presents a personal problem (depression, financial woes, anxiety, spousal relationships, etc.), turns up the heat in order that the listener is clear what the problem is and how it’s a problem they have, then brings in some Bible verses to show how God solves the problem (or how you can solve the problem if you obey God). Sometimes this kind of preaching is nothing more than a glorified self-help group advice-giving session’. (Chad Hall – Western Seminary)
This approach can lead pastors to spending more time studying behavioural modification and sociology, leading to messages with or without Scripture as an appendage. This swing to Modern philosophy means their theology usually starts at the cross and not the garden. Even though Satan’s influence has been dealt a death blow through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, the final blow to Satan will not occur until the second coming of Jesus. We still have to contend with Satan and sin. The Apostle Peter said, ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour’. 1 Peter 5:8.
Self-driven/self-motivated therapeutic messages can sub-consciously infer that there is no Satan and no sin and we can fix ourselves, our families, our financial woes (or snap our fingers for the odd bit of help from Jesus) and experience the fulfilment of our desires which is the central aim of human existence. In reality, Christianity is not about the fulfilment of our desires but about knowing and glorifying God and being obedient to His voice. From this flows something much deeper which endures beyond circumstances, producing true joy and contentment.
One pastor outlined the Therapeutic approach this way:
- First, it does not call me to love my neighbour, but instead to love myself
- Second, it does not call me to God’s mission but rather calls God to my mission
- Third, it does not call me to be a part of the Church to serve God’s mission, but instead uses the Church to make me a better person
- Fourth, it does not call me to use my spiritual gifts to build the church but rather to actualise my full potential
- Fifth, it takes pride, which Augustine called the mother of all sins, and re-packages it as self-esteem.
Even though this approach is popular, inevitably it only produces spectators/consumers.
Instead, leaders need to be obedient to the Commission of Jesus and be willing to take their congregations to new levels of commitment to achieve it. They must be willing to get out of the way when people enlist for the battle. They must not be the cork in the bottle. The Bible clearly states that leaders are to prepare the saints for the work of ministry, not merely try to satisfy them.
So instead of using this current approach why not put more effort into making disciples who are imprinted on Jesus and making our services a place where we encourage believers to continue with their Kingdom focus and remain actively involved in a Kingdom vision.
‘If you make disciples, you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples’. Mike Breen