Are You a Slave to What’s Popular? Or to What Used to Be Popular?

KJV 1611 - First edition“People don’t want good teaching anymore, they just want what’s popular!”

That statement was made on a Facebook page for ministers recently. The conversation was about using the King James bible in church. Looking for a fight? That’ll get you one.

The pastor was insisting that the decline in the use of the KJV was a sign that the church has grown weak and shallow.

As soon as I read that line, my gut reaction (which I did not write in the comments) was “But the KJV was the most popular bible on earth for centuries! What does its popularity have to do with its value?”

Things become popular because people like them. Things used to be popular because people used to like them.

Sometimes when we complain about the way church is done today, we’re just longing for things that were popular when we were young. But, instead of admitting that, we try to convince ourselves and others that we’re sticking with the old ways because they’re better. And if the old ways were better, the new ways must be wrong.

So we blame “the church these days” for following the latest trends and putting popularity ahead of truth.

Certainly there are churches that bend their theology to suit the latest fad. But more often than not, churches are just adapting their methods to speak the Gospel in today’s language.

So what’s worse? Being a slave to what’s popular? Or being a slave to what used to be popular?

I say we stop doing both. And do what works.

 

What Used to Be Popular

King James Version Bible – There have been few greater gifts to the English-speaking world than the KJV. I was raised on it. Most of the bible verses in my head are from it. The photo at the top of this article is a framed page from a First Edition 1611 KJV bible that hangs prominently on my church office wall.

I honor the King James Version’s unprecedented importance in our history and our faith. But I don’t use it any more. Because its language, which used to help people understand the message, now blocks them from understanding it.

The only reason to keep using it today is familiarity. And it’s only familiar because it used to be popular. Besides, the stated reason for the KJV to begin with was to put the bible in language that common people could understand. It doesn’t do that any more.

(As an aside, I once asked an avid fan of the KJV if he’d be willing to used the Authorized Version instead of the KJV and he went ballistic. “Authorized?! By who?! I’m going to use the version that was authorized by God!” Of course, I was goading him. Look at the title page of any King James Version bible. Its official name has always been The Authorized Version.)

For an idea of how important the KJV has been historically, check out Wide As the Waters, by Benson Bobrick.

Pews – The most popular church seating for centuries. Now they’re uncomfortable, creaky and, because they’re bolted to the floor, they limit room usage to just a few hours each week.

Pulpits – This is probably the most popular piece of church furniture ever. Preachers used to be called Pulpiteers. But in many churches, the size, style and placement of the pulpit became more important than what’s preached from it.

Stained Glass Windows – The most popular style of church artwork for centuries. Their purpose was to be a visual story-telling medium. Today we have video projectors for that.

Yes, the beauty of stained glass far exceeds today’s PowerPoint presentations and videos. But stained glass was not without fault. I’ve been in European cathedrals where a line-up of the apostles had a thirteenth addition – the figure of the king or knight who commissioned the piece. They did this to give them a biblical place of authority among the peasants.

Church Bells – For centuries, this was the most popular way to summon people to church. Now, there’s an app for that.

Hymnbooks – The most popular way to sing hymns of praise for generations. And yes, they contained great songs of the faith. But for those who complain that people stare at a screen during worship today, was it any better when we all sang with our noses in a book?

 

Do What Works

None of these used-to-be-popular tools are right or wrong in themselves. If they still work, use them. If not, toss them. The same goes for current tools.

Don’t put what’s popular ahead of what’s true. But don’t put what used to be popular ahead of what works.

Speak the truth in a way that gets through to people. And realize that a method that works for you, may not work for others. And a method that used to work for you, may not work any more.

What’s popular comes and goes. Let it go.

 

So what do you think? What else have churches hung on to past their date of usefulness?

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13 thoughts on “Are You a Slave to What’s Popular? Or to What Used to Be Popular?”

  1. Every time I hear someone talk about secularized modern worship music, I tell them that “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” was written to the tune of a popular beer drinking song from Martin Luther’s time. Likewise, a friend of mine that used to own a Christian bookstore used to keep a 1611 KJV Bible under the counter for those times when someone demanded the “original” King James. When they opened it, they would often say they couldn’t even read it in its original form, to which he would say, “exactly”.

    I like what Ed Stetzer says when he says that all churches are culturally relevant- they may just be relevant to a culture that no longer exists.

  2. How about pulpits. I am talking about those large imposing wooden pieces of antiquity that would hold the equally sanctified authorized pulpit bible

  3. Print bibles. Thanks to bible apps for the smartphone, we can have a bible on us at all times, in multiple translations. (Including the KJV, for its fans and worshipers.) We can look up verses faster. We can look up the Strong numbers and the original text. We can more quickly catch preachers quoting it out of context—which they’re gonna hate, but that’s their problem.

    True, when the battery dies, that backup print bible’s gonna come in handy. Till then, thank God for the apps.

    I will say there are preachers who are irritated to see people on their phones all through service—they fear people are texting one another, or getting football scores, when they should be listening to the sermon. And some of them are. I’m not sure it’s any worse than daydreaming, which is what we used to do in the old days.

    1. K. W. – Good points! I encourage the congregation to keep their cell phones handy during the service. If anything makes them think of someone, send them a text,”I am at church and just thought about you. You are in my prayers!”

    2. So true, KW. I’ve written a couple posts on the value of online access during services.

      This week, I heard a story I’m going to write a post about. A pastor got irritated when he saw a young girl fiddling with her phone during the sermon. Later, he found out that she’d been texting a friend about the message. She was trying to convince her friend that he needed to hear this sermon. He said “OK”, so she held the phone up so he could watch it live. Her friend gave his heart to Jesus at the end of the message.

      Phones in church? Yes, please.

  4. Just for the heck of it I thought that I would point out a few disadvantages of multimedia projectors and wall screens.and our general over-dependence on technology in worship. Have you ever tried to have a worship service during a power outage. I have. If building’s acoustics are lousy and the sound system is dead, the worship leadership team cannot be heard from the platform nor can the preacher. Fortunately one of the members of the worship leadership team played an acoustic guitar. He and the preacher moved off the platform into the congregation. He played some old songs like Amazing Grace, which everyone knew by heart. The preacher gave his message from the midst of the congregation. If we had had a hymn book, we might have sung more songs. People can be easily taught how to hold a hymnal–level with your mouth, not your stomach–sing out, not down. Breathe from your diaphragm, not your upper lungs. When you use projectors and screens and a steady diet of pop Christian music, there is a tendency to use new songs quite frequently. The congregation never develops a repertoire of familiar songs and eventually stops singing. So when the lights go out and the sound system goes off, silence is likely to fill the room. Scientists say that we can anticipate a major solar flare in the very near future that is going to fry the grid, the Internet, and our hand-held electronic devices. What are we going to do then? At least those poor backward folks who wouldn’t give up their hymnals and pianos will be able to keep worshiping God!

    1. No question, we’ve become over-dependent on technology. But I don’t think we should cater our worship service based on the occasional power outage. Just do what your church did. Be ready to go acoustic if necessary. And have a back-up generator ready if you live in an area where the power goes out a lot.

      I don’t have a problem with hymnbooks or chorus sheets when they’re needed. In fact, I regularly speak for a ministry that hands out a sheet of songs at every service because they don’t have the funds or the infrastructure for a projector. But I think it’s an unnecessary impediment to worship if we have to teach people how to hold a hymnbook and breathe in order to worship together – especially if we can use a projector, but refuse to.

      I say, use what works.

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