What if the Gospel was Enough?
A response to the movie, Church People (and generally, a response to the Church) — SPOILER ALERT
Disclaimer — not all mega churches are the same, not all have leaders as portrayed in this movie, and these remarks are not directed at any specific church, rather at the big-C Church as a whole and the discoveries of mega-church shortcomings.
It starts off with a Book Tour of “America’s Youth Pastor” who wrote the ironically titled book, “Don’t Follow Me” and dives into the idea a large church has to get people to come to Easter services — a real, live crucifixion.
Yup, so crazy that it couldn’t actually be something any church would do, right?
If you’re a Christian, church-goer, researcher, or fascinated by human nature, you should watch the movie — not because it’s a great film, but because it tells a deeper layer of reality, a step inside the mentality of the evangelical mega church in general.
Let me put it simply — this movie lays out 5 people that are apart of the church (of any size) and how they are influenced by the role the church has taken on in society.
Meet Blaze — every church has a “Blaze”. They’re the overly enthusiastic new believer, swept up in the moment of excitement and thrill that they have found new life. They are gung-ho about anything and willing to do absolutely anything for Christ — ANYTHING. Even at the cost of their own health because they don’t really know any better since they’re so new to the faith. They trust the Pastor more than anything else because this Pastor just changed their life (of course we know God changed their life, but I digress).
Meet Carla — most “Carlas” are leaving the church nowadays, and understandably. They are the people who have felt abandoned by people who dedicated their lives to the church; they feel forgotten or stepped on by the church itself and therefore that’s how they see God treating them. So they run away — they don’t know what else to do because of their church hurt, so they find an escape and build up major walls, but those walls can oftentimes become the very thing that allows them to see the unfiltered harsh truth of the church.
Meet Guy — every mega-church certainly does have a Guy. They have the purest intentions and really do desire to just serve the church, youth, wherever they are called to. They dedicate their life to it and before they know it, they’re wrapped up in the hype of being “the guy” — there’s a book, a tour, a thing, and they’ve continually been TOLD what their calling is or how it should morph into this cool, spotlight filled thing that they lose sight of where God has actually asked them to live.
Meet Chad — well, if you watch the movie, I think it’s safe to say this one is maybe not fully human, but let’s play it out like he is. Every “Chad” in the church is the one who is so full of positivity that it makes some people sick. They serve so faithfully and willingly; they know everyone’s name, are always willing to be present, make every situation more fun or joyful even if it’s dreadful, and they are constantly looking up. They may not be blind to what’s really going on, but they keep their focus on God and encourage others to do the same.
Meet Skip — it’s easy to paint these people out to be the bad guys, unredeemable, unlovable, and untrustworthy always. The truth is, they have great motive but they have lost sight of the best means of getting there. These are the leaders of the church, making the biggest and hardest decisions. They care so deeply about spreading the gospel that they begin to be willing to do whatever it takes, but sometimes “whatever it takes” can go a bit too far (like a crucifixion for example).
What if the Gospel was Enough?
These are the words spoken by Guy (Youth Pastor) as he responds to the drastic idea by Skip to crucify someone for real on stage at their Good Friday service. When explaining his reasoning, Skip (Lead Pastor) shares that they need to do something big to entice people to come so they can ultimately hear the gospel! To which Guy responds with this powerful question.
Have we grown so confident in our own ideas of what humans need or want in order to come to know Jesus that we’ve lost sight of the power of the resurrection itself?
A Nibble of Truth
Again while defending his decision, Skip says “You bring them in for the show and give them a little nibble of the truth.” Just a nibble of truth, that’s all we need. This statement was appalling to me, but not surprising if that makes sense. It’s appalling to hear it come out of someone’s mouth (albeit an actor in a fictional story), but it’s not surprising because I have lived and breathed this culture. There is truth, but just enough to ensure the Good News was given a platform — but not enough to offend anyone or scare them away.
Didn’t Jesus declare He is the “way, TRUTH, and life”? What is the purpose of a church without full dedication to the truth, no matter the cost?
Important for the Whole Staff to be on the Same Page — Your Page
These words, spoken first by Skip, then completed by Guy, speak volumes to just how far out of hand church leadership can go. There was no hesitation or rejection of this truth from Skip — Guy was right, everyone did need to be on his page. Who’s challenging his ego?
The greatest fault of large churches nowadays isn’t merely sex scandals, the size of the congregation, or even the flashiness of the services — the greatest slipping slope for churches these days is the lack of accountability in ALL areas for the church leaders and senior pastors.
The Irony of the Crucifixion
This example of doing something flashy to get people to come to church is extreme, but it is more than just a crazy idea — it’s an example of how the church is putting itself on the cross to be get the glory, to take center stage, to be the thing everyone is talking about and praising, instead of Jesus.
Don’t even get me started about the abuse of Blaze (a new believer)’s excitement and willingness to do whatever it takes for the good news by being willing to be crucified because he trusted anything his Pastor told him.
While the crucifixion idea in this movie sounds like just a radical thought meant to mock the church — it’s really a symbol for the layers of truth underneath a lot of churches today.
Have we lost sight of the true glory and who is on the throne while trying to make ourselves the hero of the story?
Sex is a Bigger Scandal than Crucifixion
This actually hit on a theory I have about church leadership and culture that I’ll get to at a later date, but at a point in the movie, you learn that Guy had previously had a child out of wedlock a long time ago in college, but they gave the baby up for adoption. She comes to meet him, and he explains how he has been praying for her since the moment he knew she existed, and he was thrilled to get to meet her.
It’s revealed to Skip that this could be a big problem for the church and his reputation because “what will people think?!” So Skip forces Guy to resign — to which he says “this is a big deal but crucifying someone isn’t?!”
We’ve made abstaining from pre-marital sex such a large idol in the church that our reputation matters more than caring for people, and other harmful and sinful acts are minimized in the process.
I Made the Church a Novelty Instead of Christ
Redemption is possible, and I want to be very, very clear in that belief. Believing in God and the redeeming hope of Jesus Christ means believing that redemption is possible for every human being, even the Skips of the church.
As goofy as this movie seemed, it ultimately is about redemption and the fight for truth that some churchgoers have to embark on in order to shed light on redemption needed for others — even the Lead Pastor.
He closes with this statement after taking off his shirt on stage (yes, weird), recognizing it had become an emblem of his identity, his brand, and the very thing that caused him to lose sight of God.
I think there are a lot of Pastors and Church Leaders that need to shed their brand, the glory they’ve absorbed for themselves while attempting to give the gospel a platform.
You will be known by your love
Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35)
This is the verse that continued to ring truth for me throughout this movie — because if I’m honest, this movie felt a little too real with some of these hidden layers of reality in the church.
Jesus didn’t say people will know Him by being entertained, overwhelmed with experience, or blown away by incredible things we (humans) can do, create, or say.
He said, we will be known as His disciples, meaning His gospel will spread through our relationship with Him, by our LOVE for others.
Maybe the next time you (or your Pastor) get a larger-than-life idea about spending all the money, time, resources, and people’s lives on some big flashy experience that will “draw people in for a ‘nibble of truth’”, consider an alternative where you get outside the church walls, be the hands and feet of Jesus and go love people the way He did.
Jesus didn’t stay in the Temple— He taught TRUTH there, then left to go be WITH people, bringing joy, life, and healing to them in their time of need. He went out, met the people where they were, and LOVED them as they were. That’s what drew in the crowds. That’s what influenced His disciples to continue the spread of the Gospel.
It wasn’t even the miracles at the end of the day — it was His love in how He carried out the miracles, and it was His love that compelled Him to shed His life in place of ours. The miracles were just the cherry on top. His love is what is revolutionary. His love is what will grow the church. His love is what makes disciples.
There’s nothing we can do (not even flashy lights, ferris wheels, or free ice cream) that will draw people to Christ other than just loving them like He does (which means speaking truth and caring for their needs).