A few years ago I was invited to speak at a large trade show where suppliers of theatrical equipment (stage lighting, sound systems, fog machines) showcased their products to church leaders. I was asked to speak about “The Future of Ministry.” The event organizers specifically asked me to discuss trends and research related to young adults and how churches could better engage them.
Part of my presentation included a survey that asked young people, “What has most helped you grow in your faith?” The top response from millennials was “prayer.” When I revealed that answer, there was an audible gasp in the room I hadn’t anticipated. Sensing the surprise from the audience, I decided to take things a step further. “Do you know what’s great about prayer?” I asked the ministry leaders. “It’s very affordable.” That got a laugh from the crowd, but not from the conference director.
“Prayer is accessible to anyone, anywhere.”
When I came off the main stage he was livid. He explained that the goal of the event was to sell theater equipment to churches so they can create “bigger and better” experiences. My presentation, he said, was not appreciated by the vendors. I explained that I was invited to speak to the pastors not the vendors, and to present data about young adults, not to sell smoke machines. I have not been invited back.
The incident illustrates one of the core dilemmas facing consumer Christianity. It always wants to produce, package, and sell communion with God, but this agenda relies upon people believing communion with God requires some special knowledge or skill they do not possess. If experiencing God’s presence requires millions of dollars in theatrical equipment, then I need a massive church building and its army of employees to grow in my faith.
But a new generation is discovering a dangerous truth—all the pyrotechnics and hologram projections in the world are no substitute for the simple practice of prayer. And prayer is accessible to anyone, anywhere. As Madame Guyon wrote in her book Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ, “This way of prayer, this simple relationship to your Lord, is so suited for everyone; it is just as suited for the dull and the ignorant as it is for the well-educated. This prayer, this experience which begins so simply, has as its end a totally abandoned love to the Lord. Only one thing is required—Love.”
(Read more in Matthew 11:25-30; James 4:8)
by Skye Jethani
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