When the Garden stands in the mature beauty, and yields the prolific fruitage of autumn; when the Building is completed and stands in symmetrical glory amidst the wrecks of time, then those who have co-operated will stand aside, and “God will be All in all.” –F. B. Meyer
I’ve heard people remark that “God is at work! Look at how that ministry is growing!” It’s very tempting to see God’s hand at work in a popular movement, assuming that He’s behind the quick success of one church or another.
Similarly, it’s common for people to say that a writer has “arrived” when he or she gets a contract from one of the Big 5, or when their book hits the bestseller list.
But, is God really behind the massive growth of churches in the United States? Does a book contract or excellent sales equal good writing? As a Christian, I want to know I’m cooperating with God in the use of my talents. But how do we know? I’ll share my thoughts on this in the next few paragraphs.
Church membership is actually at an all-time low. More and more people drop out of going to church. Similarly, in the writing field, more authors are heading for the Indy life than waiting for the Big 5 (Traditional Pubs) to recognize their talent.
What does all this mean? Does it mean that people are giving up their faith, on the church side, or that authors are inept and unable to meet the demands of the Big 5 on the other?
No. I don’t think that’s the answer. In fact, it points to something more serious.
Churches have always been hit or miss. If you think the “contemporary” movement, with its entertaining stage plays (skits), more popular music, or entertaining preaching is new and fresh, think again. Paul warned Timothy that there would come a time when people would look for flattering preachers:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,2 Timothy 4:3
F.B. Meyer, who lived in the late 1800s and died in 1920, noted that churches were employing skits and other entertainment to draw in crowds.
Contemporary worship and the desire to appeal to the masses is nothing new. And its spread is evidence of the cold-hearted, carnal condition of the church in America. The falling away of church-goers is evidence that true Christians are either disgusted by the hypocrisy or hurt by the wolves that are gathering in the “church.”
As for the publishing world, the fires of industry have burned bright there, too. The corporate need for more money has created a machine that monitors trends and then feeds the baby-food of commercial formula to the public (who, unfortunately, eats it up).
Let me take a parenthesis here: People eat it up because our culture is slipping it into our mouths with airplane noises. We hardly stand a chance!
But there is a new arena for writers (and true Christians). Writers can take their gifts to the people who might be leaving the thrall of the Big 5 in favor of great stories with compelling themes. True Christians are leaving traditional churches and finding fellowship in homes and gardens (like the anabaptists of old!).
To me, it is this underground work that is the true work of God. It’s not the huge publishing contract and recognition on the NYT Bestseller list or the massive popularity of the pastor (being live-streamed to several campuses). It is the secret growth, tended carefully by the Master Husbandman, the inconspicuous building that is established in the shadow of towering skyscrapers … And in the end, the vibrant growth and the enduring city will emerge from across the ages while the stuff of contemporary praise lies moldering in the waste heap of time.