When I was a little boy I used to hear people refer to “dancing chicken” shows all the time. I wasn’t sure what that meant and I certainly didn’t know it was a euphemism for something else. I literally thought people were buying tickets to go see a dancing chicken put on a show. In my mind, I saw some sort of rooster with a sequin jacket, top hat and cane going at it like Fred Astaire.
As I got older, obviously I learned the meaning of the phrase “dancing chicken” or at least as it was being used in my circles. I heard stories of how in the old days traveling showmen would sell tickets to see their dancing chicken show (yes, literally dancing chickens). In order to get the chicken to perform and dance along to music, they would light a small fire under a tin stage, as the stage grew hotter and hotter it would burn the feet of the chicken, thus causing them to dance.
Now you can see why using the euphemism “dancing chicken show” might not be the most flattering indictment.
It is hard to believe, but I have been in ministry for, coming up on, 17 years. I have literally been serving in the local church all of my adult life. As I think back over that time, to be honest, I spent a good deal of those 17 years putting on dancing chicken shows. That sounds bad doesn’t it? My first 10 years in ministry were marked with lots of excitement, huge numbers, fast growth, and creative programs. But the one thing that may have lacked was genuine discipleship and transformational growth. I fell into the trap of evaluating ministry success in terms of numbers. Lots of people = success for Jesus. That was my philosophy. I learned it from watching the churches I attended and served. This is how they functioned, this is what drove their ministry, their philosophy, their actions. So this had to be right……right?
The only problem was as I began to grow in my understanding of the Word, I ran headfirst into a confrontation between my ideas/philosophy of ministry and the clear picture scripture painted with regard to our mission and objective as believers and minsters of the gospel. It was clear in scripture that the goal was not to win people to church, as much as point them to Jesus.
We are called to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” – Hebrews 12:2. I believe that there are a lot of church and a lot of minsters who still struggle with the dancing chicken show every week. In order to keep the crowds large, we have to give them what they want. Follow the trends, stay current with the culture, and make sure we are relevant. I am not saying that these are not ideas to consider, but they should be what drives us. It is hard to play that game. You have to constantly figure out how to out-do the performance from the previous week, how to put on a better show than the church down the street.
The real problem with being motivated to give the people what they want, is that what people want, is not what they need. Paul clearly stated in 2 Timothy 4:3 “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.” I believe that “time” is now. I see a church here in the West that is watered down and lukewarm. It hurts to say and hear, but it is true. This watering down or dumbing down has taken place because churches have given in to catering to the cultures wants. Pastors have been “accumulated” to preach to itching ears.
Churches are so scared that someone might leave or that the crowds won’t come, that have forsaken to speak the truth in love. Pastors, remind yourself that it is not your job to put people in the seats, your job is to rightly divide the Word of God, , preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, speak the truth in love, and basically make a big deal out of Jesus.
We should not be surprised when people leave the church. We shouldn’t let that cause us to panic. As a matter of fact, when we examine the ministry of Jesus, he wasn’t doing the best job of growing mega-churches. Repeatedly we see the disciples turning away and deserting Him. Jesus had a knack for saying just the right thing to make the crowds disappear. Funny thing is, what he was saying was true and what the people needed to hear……..it just wasn’t what they wanted and were looking for. One of these instances came just after Jesus had fed the thousands with walked on water. Large crowds gathered for the free food and magic show. Once Jesus made it clear that He wasn’t a dancing chicken, the crowds dispersed.
Not much has changed. There are still disciples that desert churches when they don’t get what they want. It happens all the time. “The church wasn’t friendly”. “The church didn’t get me excited.” “The church didn’t have music as good as the one across town.” “The pastor preached too long.” “How dare the church exercise church discipline or dare call sin a sin?” “Where does the church get off not telling me what I want to hear?”
Sometimes people leave because the church couldn’t solve their problems, save them or make them happy. Honestly, the blame falls on “dancing chicken churches” for this one. We have spent so much time building the platform of the church organization, that we have minimized Jesus. That is the problem with “dancing chicken church”, it takes the attention away from Jesus. It robs God of glory. Dancing chicken churches get everyone all fired up to come to church without ever mentioning Jesus. That is just ……wrong.
It is wrong to put those sorts of assumptions in the minds of the body and also to put those sorts of expectations on the pastors and pastoral staff. It is exhausting to have to figure out how to crank up the heat under the stage each week to keep the show going and crowds coming.
LET ME GET REAL WITH YOU
The truth is the church is not perfect. It is made up of people who are difficult, unpleasant, riddled with problems, that have bad days, …….. you know…… real people like yourself. This is what you are getting into with any local church you attend. To be a part of the church means that you will encounter these sorts of people.
The church body that you are a part of will change. Music will change, pastors will change, and the congregation will change. Churches change. Some of those changes are good and some are tough.
Pastors need to preach the truth, the whole truth of the Word. What verses like 2 Timothy 4:3 tells me is that we are living in days where to preach the truth of scripture may not be popular. But I do know that it is what will bring about transformation. That is the true measure of success. Ministry success is not about having a million people in the building, it is about leading people who are daily and steadily being transformed into the image of Christ.
We can pack them in by giving them what they want, but are they becoming more like Christ? Now don’t get me wrong, I hope that my church and your church are busting at the seams. I want churches to be packed to full capacity, but not at the expense of the truth. My hope is that we would share the good portion, the hope, forgiveness, freedom, love and purpose that is found in Christ alone and let that be our banner.