Tom and guest Pastor Gary Gilley, author of This Little Church Went to Market and This Little Church Stayed Home discuss serious problems within the evangelical church today.
TBC Note: A free pdf of Pastor Gilley's book This Little Church Went to Market is attached below the following transcript.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. We’re glad you could tune in! In today’s program, Tom discusses the general state of the church today with special guest Gary Gilley, author of the books This Little Church Went to Market and This Little Church Stayed Home. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and next week, I’ll be discussing the state of the church in general with Pastor Gary Gilley. And Gary, in edition to being a pastor, is also the author of a number of books, some of which cover issues that are adversely impacting evangelical Christianity. The first book we offered here at The Berean Call by Gary was This Little Church Went to Market, which we no longer sell, the good news being it’s now available for free as a downloadable PDF, and our Gary [Carmichael] will give you some information on how to get that. Gary added in his series This Little Church Stayed Home and This Little Church Had None, the subjects of which are critical, in my opinion, in the life of the church today. Gary, thanks for joining me today on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Gary Gilley: Yeah, thank you, Tom, for having me. I’m looking forward to it.
Tom: Okay. Now, Gary, first of all, it’s my view that being a pastor, a shepherd of God’s flock, no matter what the size, is one of the most difficult callings the Lord has for man, and secondly, writing a book is a rather time-consuming activity. So, how do you manage both?
Gary: Well, as a pastor, I take seriously scriptures such as Titus:1:9 that tells us as leaders of the church we not only have to teach sound doctrine but refute those who contradict that sound doctrine. So, as I studied the Scripture throughout the years, on almost every page of the Bible there’s concerns about false teachings, taking away the people of God from His truth and so forth, and so I’ve taken that serious throughout my ministry and taught on that, preached, and so forth, but I didn’t begin writing till about twenty years ago -- and by the way, one of the catalysts for that is your ministry and Dave’s, the book Seduction of Christianity and some messages I heard Dave preach that really encouraged me to stand up and take notice of these things and also the importance of getting things in print.
Gary: You preach a sermon, it’s heard by a few people, then maybe a few more on the Internet or whatever, but to write something down and put it out there is just so much more valuable. So, I just began to take the time, to make it a priority to read some of these books, see what’s going on, so that my people were not led astray, and began to write some of this stuff down, and it started getting out there. We, as you know, we have a paper called Think On These Things that a lot of people, several thousand people, get, and we’re able to minister in that way to other people. And so I found that [it’s] just really, really important to be a voice out there of discernment, like yours, just to get the word out that things—there are wonderful things in Scripture, but there’s always someone trying to mess it up.
Tom: Right. You know, Gary, along that line, as you said, I have so much respect for those who the Lord has called -- and there’d better be a calling there [laughs], you know that -- to be a shepherd of the sheep. But one of the difficulties that I see among many, and again, I’m looking at it from, you know, I’m not a pastor, and don’t have a flock except I have the opportunity to -- really, to minister to a lot of people. But nevertheless, you know, you have probably a Sunday service, right, and then you have week -- maybe middle week Bible study? Would that be correct?
Tom: So we add up the time there before your flock, you’ve got maybe, I don’t know how long you preach for, maybe an hour, something like that, then you have maybe the Bible study, an hour and a half, yet your flock, the sheep, they have all the time to take in so many things, whether they’re listening to radio, the media, Christian media, and so on. So that’s why it’s so important with regard to what you just said and what you do as a pastor. I see this missing -- I get to travel all over the world, and I’m in lots of churches and have opportunities to interact with lots of pastors, and I see that as sometimes missing, that they are not, certainly, you know, you hope [within] your fellowship that the people [are] into the Word of God, but if they’re not recognizing what’s going on, some of this stuff comes in, you know the adverse, false teachings by osmosis…
Tom: …and you only have maybe two hours, two and half hours, maybe three hours, to address some of these things. So to equip your fellowship, your congregation, the sheep, with regard to the way you’re going about it, I mean, I’m just so blessed by hearing that and it’s something missing in the body today.
Gary: Well, I think a lot of good pastors are content to preach the Word and study the commentaries and stuff, which is wonderful -- not everybody’s been called to do what you and I do in some of these areas -- but I do think we have to stay abreast of what’s going on.
Gary: The reason I think on these things is to give -- put into the hands of Christian leaders, pastors, missionaries, whatever -- at least a synopsis of some of the things that are happening around them and some of the books that are being written that are not biblical so they don’t have to read all the things I read, but they can at least have some understanding of what’s happening. Because their people are reading these things…
Gary: …and especially the young people. I’m very concerned about our college-age young people and so forth. They’re going to Bible colleges and seminaries that many of them are pretty good, but they’re still being caught up in some of this stuff, if not in their classes, from the other students. So somebody has got to kind of warn about some of these issues.
Tom: Yeah, well, the sons of Issachar: they were aware of the times. They understood the times, and knew what Israel should do. We should certainly take that as an indication to where we might be. I also think about Jesus when He was on the Mount of Olives when the disciples asked Him what would be the sign of His coming and so on, and His first words were, “Take heed that no man deceive you.”
Tom: So [laughs]…
Gary: It’s everywhere in Scripture. Right.
Tom: Yeah, exactly! So, okay, Lord, you know, there’s a heads-up for me and for everyone who claims to know the Lord and love the Lord. Well, Gary, I want to start off with, you know, your series of books. It began with This Little Church Went to Market. Now, you’ve given some indication, but very specifically, what prompted you to do it?
Gary: Well, I’ve been in ministry during this age of the seeker-sensitive church—Willow Creek, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren—that group that really has changed the face of Christianity, not only in America, but throughout the world. And they have revolutionized what the church looks like and how it functions.
Tom: Not in a good way though, right? [chuckles]
Gary: No, not in a good way…
Gary: I mean, obviously, there’s a few points they make that are worth looking at, but some of them are just really perverting what the church is supposed to be. So I wanted to make a contribution of some sort on that subject, you know, whatever little piece it might play in helping some see what’s going on. One of the things I still get from that book, and it’s a couple years old now, and like you said, it’s out of print in paper -- you can get it in ebook. But one of the things I wanted to do and one of the things I get back all the time, even this week, emails saying that as they read that book, they recognize what was going on in their church, and they knew something was wrong, they knew something was out of sync with what they understood Scripture to say, but they couldn’t understand or put their finger on it.
Gary: And so I think the Lord is using my book in that area to help people say, “Well, wait a minute, here’s what’s happening.”
Gary: They send their pastors off to a conference somewhere and they come back and they change everything, and often these pastors have not even really thought through what’s going on biblically, but they have seen methods that work if you want growth, these methods work, and they come back and start implementing these methods and they wreck the church, in my opinion, in many ways -- and it’s hard, I’m sure you get this all the time, but I do, too -- I get letters constantly from people saying, “Where can I find a good church in my area?”
Gary: And that didn’t use to be, I don’t think, when I was growing up. I think there were a lot of good churches. They’re harder to find now. There are good churches out there. As I travel about myself, I thank the Lord for those that are remaining faithful to the Word, but it seems like they’re a little bit harder to find today.
Tom: I absolutely agree. I would say much of our mail, if not most, is crying out to…”Can you help us? Where can we go?” and so on. And the sad thing is, Gary, is that, oh man, you want to say -- because we know good churches out there, but you’re putting yourself kind of in a spot, because you don’t know if the church is going to change tomorrow…
Gary: Well, yeah, that’s right.
Tom: …so the best we can do is give them, “Look, if you think this might be a good church, this might be a good church, or whatever, then you sit down with the pastor, you go over some things, you do it in a spirit of meekness and humility…”
Tom: …and we know a lot of people, if they don’t like the music or if they don’t like the way the pastor dresses, or whatever, I mean, that’s enough to send them out. We’re not talking about that.
Tom: We’re talking about churches that are true to the Word of God in its teachings, doctrines, and so on, and it shouldn’t even be a bonus, but what you talked about Gary is the pastor helping them to recognize the issues that may seduce them, that may draw them away. You know, Hebrews, paraphrasing Hebrews 2, but it says, “Take heed, lest ye slip away, lest ye drift away.” You know, that’s what we’re seeing in almost an avalanche kind of situation, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re solidly in a church that preaches and teaches the Word and so forth.
Gary: Well, I think this is one of the biggest problems with these types of churches, probably not wanting to do so, not intentional, but they begin to think that people are not going to come to church if you’re going to give heavy preaching and theology, if you’re going to stay on a biblical text, that kind of thing. So over the last thirty, almost forty years now, we’ve had a generation and a half that have been going to churches that are evangelical in name, maybe still preach the gospel, but the Bible is not being taught…
Gary: …and so discernment is gone. If you don’t know the Bible pretty well, you can’t really have good discernment, and so if we have generations of people now growing up who don’t know the foundational teachings of Scripture, they’re easily deceived by almost anyone that sounds good. So that’s one of the reasons for that book.
Tom: Gary, let’s break down, and you know, I said I’m going to concentrate even though it’s out of print, it is so basic…and look, folks, it’s there -- you can download it for free, so how much better can that be? So, Gary, I want to talk about three elements in that book. Number one, entertainment; number two, marketing; and number three, psychology. Well, let’s start with entertainment. You used the term “seeker-friendly, seeker-sensitive” -- well, we can define that as we go along, those ideas. But basically it is a consumer-oriented kind of approach.
Tom: But let’s start with entertainment. How has that impacted the evangelical church?
Gary: Well, that’s our society. We want to be amused and entertained at all times, and if we’re not amused and entertained, we’ll go somewhere else where we can be. So that has infiltrated into the church. How are you going to get people to come to your church to stay unless they’re having a good time?
Gary: So the church has been transformed into a place of fun, and wherever I’m going to have just a good time, and so entertainment has become a big part of all that. So…and I like a good time…
Tom: Yeah, we all do!
Gary: …we enjoy -- but when I’m going to be entertained, I want to know I’m being entertained, and when I’m worshiping God, I want to know I’m worshiping God. There’s times when we have a really good time in our worship service—fine! That’s no problem. But people are being manipulated today by entertainment, and they have confused worship with fun and having a good time and having the music that they want and the entertainment and so forth. I was at a church a couple years ago that I have had wonderful respect for over the years, and they had a guy there who was leading the music, he was invited in, and the first half of the show was a pure standup comedy act, first twenty minutes was comedy. I kept thinking, because I’d known this church in the past, that this was a setup for something better somehow, but it never came about. It was just fun. The people laughed their heads off.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Gary: But nothing of the Word was there, and once that becomes the norm, once it’s what people are looking for, they’re not going to hang around unless you’re giving them entertainment.
Tom: And [there are] so many problems with that. You used a term “amuse…” I mean, there’s an interesting term. Amuse—“muse” means to think things through, it’s a biblical term, and when you put the “a” in front of it, amuse, it’s anti-thinking! That’s a concern. The other part of it is, entertainment, you have the church trying to keep up with the world, okay?
Tom: That’s never going to happen. Ever. And some of the attempts at entertainment are pathetic, some of the productions that go on…well, I don’t want to just rail on that, but there are some issues. For example, in terms of what it’s done to our young people that you’ve talked about, that’s what they expect. I said that being a pastor may be the toughest calling, I may up the ante on that, and that is being a youth pastor. [laughs]
Gary: Yeah, that’s tough.
Tom: It’s really tough, because the expectation is to keep the kids in, to keep them coming back, and so on. You know, I have a youth pastor friend whose axiom is, “What brings them in keeps them in.”
Tom: So you bring them in with entertainment and so on, you have to keep adding to it. You’ve got to keep it rolling as the world goes, but if you bring them in with the Word of God, and you get them excited about that, that’s a light-year’s difference! It’s incredible.
Gary: Right. Right, and you’re exactly right. And our young people want an experience. That’s the big word out there for them, and so they want to come and have had an experience. That doesn’t always happen when you’re studying the Bible, and they feel sometimes it’s dull. But entertainment and amusement is not going to transform lives.
Gary: It’s the Word of God ultimately that transforms life through the Spirit of God, and so we have to remember what we’re about. I think that’s what’s been lost here. We’ve forgotten what the church is about. It’s about transforming lives with the Word of God, and worshiping the Lord in that way. So it doesn’t matter if my church is big if I’m not transforming lives through His Word. But I think that you mentioned, though, that the church can’t keep up with the world, and that’s largely true, but I believe that’s one of the reasons why we have these giant 10,000, 20,000-people churches is they have been able to kind of mimic the world because they’re now paying for professional musicians to come in…
Gary: …and they are staying up pretty good. But then that means everybody with a church of 500 or less, they can’t do that, so they’re losing people right and left, and that is a great concern for those churches, because, “I’m doing all I can for the Lord, but everybody’s going to the big church downtown. How do I keep up with that?”
Tom: Yeah. And because the church has all the programs which are certainly not focused on the Word of God. You know what, maybe it’s just me, but as I said, I get to visit a lot of churches all over the world, and, Gary, if I don’t leave a service with a sense of some conviction about my own life, I think I’ve just wasted my time! Hopefully that’s not just me…
Gary: That’s negative, Tom.
Tom: …yeah, right, I know. [laughs] But I tell you, it’s a liberating negative, certainly.
Tom: Now, the heart of this, marketing, move on to the next issue: you mentioned Rick Warren, we certainly see it in Bill Hybels’ church—not the only examples out there, but certainly to look at Rick Warren, one of his mentors was Peter Drucker, who was a management genius, there’s no doubt about it. In general, both of us would say, “Hey, we’ve got books, and you have some books, I’ve got a couple here, and you know, we want to get them out to people and so on,” you take a marketing approach…
Tom: …but when marketing becomes the vehicle to grow the church, we’ve just gone off a cliff, don’t you think?
Gary: Well, yes, and one of the things that I -- one of the books I’ve read, or several books I read when I wrote my book on This Little Church Went to Market were just exactly how to bring in the world’s techniques in their marketing and organizing into the church. They made no bones about it. As a matter of fact, a couple of the authors that I read and document will say, “These techniques work in any church.”
Gary: You can get them to work for Mormons, work for the Catholics, they’ll work for everybody. It doesn’t matter, because they’re universal techniques that work in marketing. And probably they’re right! You know, if you learn how to do the techniques, you probably will be successful if your view of success is numbers. And so they brought this into the church, and now we don’t know how to get away from it. But the church doesn’t see -- most churches -- any problem with this. And so instead of going back to the Bible for their model, what the church ought to be, they just keep looking for what works this year, and you know that Bill Hybels’ church a few years ago determined that they were not making disciples…
Gary: And so they…
Tom: …and they did it by a survey which they took. [laughs]
Gary: Yes! [laughs] And then when they got done after confessing -- which I appreciated -- they confessed, not many people would do that…
Tom: Right. Mm-hmm.
Gary: …but after they got said and done, “Now we want all you churches out there in Willow Creek Camp, we want you to write in and tell us what works for you, and we’re going to start over with a clean slate.”
Gary: Well, I don’t see a need for that. The slate’s already been written by the Lord on how He wants the church to function. And they gave lip-service to turning back to that, but that isn’t what they’re really doing.
Tom: Right. It’s just another variation of marketing theme…
Gary: Yeah, and I felt kind of sick after reading that and watching the videos on that, because these churches that have blindly followed them -- and they are in the same quagmire that Willow Creek is, they’re not making true biblical disciples -- and now they’re just going to follow in lockstep once again to the new techniques.
Tom: Well, [to] give our listeners a little illustration -- well, it’s not an illustration, this is what happens when you take a marketing approach, and certainly with regard to the church-growth movement: a pastor and some of his elders, they go out into their local neighborhood and canvas the neighborhood, “Hey, what would you like in a church? Do you go to church? Are you a believer? If you would come to church, what would you like to have the church to do to offer and so on?” And then they go back, circle the wagons, as it were, and they begin to implement these things to draw in the “un-churched,” their term, maybe the lost, and then they set their church up to entertain, to keep them there. It’s a very consumer-oriented approach, and there are huge problems with it.
Gary: Well, if the Christian life isn’t going to be Christ-centered, then we’re off to a bad start immediately, right?
Gary: It’s not about man, it’s about Christ, and obviously there’s wonderful, wonderful benefits when you follow Christ. Nobody doubts that. But the center is Christ, and He’s told us how He wants us to function, and we do know we have to bring the Word of God into our culture today, and we do some things differently, but it has to be with a biblical basis. That’s what’s missing, and again, along with the entertainment, the marketing has just revolutionized the church.
Tom: Yeah. You see, folks, if you take that approach, you’re missing what the church does. The church is not to bring in the lost and then to lower the bar to keep them in, which is a consumer mentality; the church is to either you go out and witness and evangelize and then bring them to church and you disciple them, and then they go out to reach the lost again. Now, look, nobody’s going to be concerned if some lost people end up in your church, but you’re going to minister to them as you would to -- as we talked about earlier, as the shepherd of the sheep -- to the fellowship. But basically, they’ve come up with an erroneous idea. Now, Gary, we only have a few minutes left in this segment of our program, but I do want to mention another issue here, which we won’t have time to get into: psychology. Now, between entertainment, marketing, and psychology, what does that tell you about the sufficiency of God’s Word?
Gary: Well, obviously people don’t think it’s very sufficient…
Gary: …and I believe Scripture’s clear it’s sufficient. Years ago, we started adding on adjectives: the Bible is inspired, so that’s in Scripture. But then the Bible is infallible, and then it’s inerrant, and now we need to add to our doctrinal statements that we believe it’s sufficient, because all sorts of people claim that the Bible is God’s Word, but when it comes down to the real issues of life, it is not sufficient. We’ve got to turn to psychology or something else.
Gary: And I do not believe that is necessary at all, but that has really changed the face of the church today.
Tom: Well, see, to me, a simple-minded guy, if it’s not sufficient, then it’s not our authority, right? Because we’re going out elsewhere. And if it’s not our authority, then inerrancy—well, that’s not nonsense. What would be the point of that? So it has to be sufficient. That’s why God gave it to us.
Gary: Yeah, it’s inconsistent to not say it, but people are very inconsistent. They’ll proclaim forever that it’s God’s Word, and they’ll die for God’s Word, but when it comes down to my problem, you know, it doesn’t [have it there]. But I think that’s, again, we have gutted the church of the understanding of the Word of God, and we’re having more and more people come to our church that simply don’t have the basics, the very basics, that the unsaved had thirty years ago, and so we’re having to retool them a little bit to help them get the foundation. They don’t have one. And they’re coming sometimes from evangelical churches where they’ve been in the churches twenty years and were never taught the fundamentals of the faith.
Tom: Well, this is what Paul wrote to Timothy about in 2 Tim:4:3: “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” Well, sound doctrine -- what’s that? That’s the teachings of the Word of God! And as you’re saying, in many cases, the basic teachings, they’ve lost that because there’s so much confusion brought in by entertainment, marketing, psychology, maybe we’ll pick it up next week. But psychology, for example, has replaced ministering in the church, sending people out to so-called professionals, and you know, as I said, you did a good job spelling that out in This Little Church Went to Market. Well, Gary, we’re out of time for this one, for this session. Lord willing, we’ll pick this up again, and we hope that our listeners will join us.
Gary Carmichael: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of materials to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019, Bend, OR, 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638 or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. We hope you can join us again next week. And don’t forget to Search the Scriptures 24/7.