The problem with the Christian hype machine

I recently participated in a service of worship where a video flashed upon the screen that assured me I was made for an extraordinary life. Brilliant graphics, bold typography, and dramatic music grabbed my attention and stirred my emotions. It was like an NCAA Tournament hype video, but for Jesus.

On the one hand, God did design us for an extraordinary life. The story of Scripture, from the garden to the city, is one of love. God’s good design for the creation is for shalom, or a peace defined by holiness and wholeness, to be the established reality. Humanity, as God’s divine image-bearers, are to be stewards of the creation, living in harmonious fellowship with God and with one another.

But on the other hand, life is often ordinary. For most of us, there is not much hype around doing the dishes, changing diapers, or creating effective spreadsheets. Sometimes compassionate actions are simple, everyday expressions of faithfulness, in and of themselves, but not necessarily leading to earth-shaking, monumental change.

Christianity encompasses both the extraordinary and the ordinary. That is a message requiring nuance. But my recent experience left me reflecting on how often I have been subject to the Christian hype machine. I walked away wondering, “If God promises my life will be incredible and extraordinary, what about the commonplace occurrences of my daily life?”

Is your discourse rich and diverse enough to encourage thanksgiving in triumph and perseverance in suffering? Do you help your congregation see how those in the fellowship are living out their faith day to day, giving witness to the Spirit’s work among you?

While I believe that following Christ includes radically surprising, extraordinary moments, I also know I will need faith to sustain me during the normal rhythms and routines of life.

In an article focusing on the purchasing patterns and habits of generation z, Deep Patel of Forbes Magazine recently reported a preference for “brands that present marketing campaigns grounded in reality, as opposed to depicting a perfected and unachievable image or lifestyle.” Offering a direct bit of advice to business leaders, Patel writes, “If you want to reach the younger generations, it's not about shock value anymore. It's about standing for something meaningful, and then proving that you and your company walk that walk.”

Churches differ from business and corporations (and so they should), but are at times guilty of using similar messaging approaches which present Christianity like a consumer product. The result is a distortion which could lead to disillusionment, and disillusionment could eventually yield disbelief.

Millennials and generation z are looking for authenticity, not hype. Consider your theology, and how your congregation speaks about a life following Christ. Is your discourse rich and diverse enough to encourage thanksgiving in triumph and perseverance in suffering? Do you help your congregation see how those in the fellowship are living out their faith day to day, giving witness to the Spirit’s work among you? Does your congregation help one another to see where your fellowship is extending mercy and doing justice rather than only talking about it?

It is not enough to promote Jesus. Rather, as Paul writes in Romans 13:14, “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” as you proclaim him, inviting everyone to see how he joins us in every circumstance of our lives, both in the grand moments and in the daily grind.