I used to be cool. It was long ago and it almost seems like it was in a very different universe, but I have seen the pictures, I used to be cool. Not long after graduating from college in the mid-nineties, I drifted to Boulder, Colorado and found myself working the door at a popular music venue, and I began to hang out with the cool crowd. I once argued about football, with two guys, one wearing only a diaper and the other wearing a nun’s habit, while George Clinton sat on a couch laughing at our banter and the crowd on the other side of the greenroom wall was chanting “we want the funk.” I had Maceo Parker’s (the Maceo you can hear James Brown call to on so many records) home phone number and I used to get invited to Olympic gold medalist Johnny Mosley’s house parties. I may be aging, but I used to be cool.
I say this not with any sense of nostalgia, or so that you think highly of me, but to establish my former cool-kid bona fides. You see I was exactly the kind of person that so many pastors think they can reach if they are “cool.” And then in the name of being cool they jettison preaching, traditional church music, the call to personal holiness and accountability, reverence for God, true Christian fellowship and in too many instances the biblical gospel. The theory seems to be that if they are “cool” enough then worldly people, like me, would be attracted to their church, would make friends in the church, who would then, at some indeterminate time in the future, share the gospel with them.
Even though I was the exact kind of person these churches are designed to attract, I was never even vaguely interested in what any of these “cool” churches had to say. From an earthly perspective, the reason was simple, try as they might, they are just not cool.
There is a vast difference between “church cool” and cool. Let’s face it, no amount of hair product or fashion forward clothing is ever going to make a pastor cooler than the godfather of funk in the world’s eyes. They weren’t cool, they were laughable. (And if you think I am being too harsh click here for an idea of what the world thinks of Christianity’s various attempts to be cool.)
But there is something much more serious to consider when it comes to “cool” churches and philosophies of ministry. The approach of trying to befriend the world, and those that are worldly by being cool, puts these churches at cross purposes with God. I am not saying that the pastors and leaders of churches that take this approach are unsaved, or even that they are ill intended; for the most part I am sure (with some exceptions) that their intentions are good. But I am saying that to take this approach to ministry ignores the plain teaching of Scripture that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). It is folly to think that God is going to bless what He has described as enemy action.
[And we must be careful never to confuse full auditoriums with the blessing of God, after all in commissioning Isaiah God told him no one would listen to him (Isaiah 6:9-12) and I would hope that no one would say that Isaiah’s ministry was a failure. I often wonder if the large crowds of unbelievers that sometimes fill the auditoriums of churches that take this approach to ministry aren’t a judgment from God on the leaders of these churches. After all, these leaders will give an account for the spiritual condition of those in their care (Hebrews 13:7).]
So if being “cool” can’t reach cool people what can? There is only one answer, and it is what reached me, the living and active Word of God which no one is immune to (Hebrews 4:12-13) and which never fails to accomplish all that God purposes (Isaiah 55:11). In my case I simply picked up a bible (for no apparent reason) and started reading and two days later I was under my desk weeping in repentance, broken over my sin and in desperate need for a savior.
While I realize that God choose to save me in an unusual way, what is not unusual is that God used His Word to save me. No one has ever been saved through a movie clip, a guitar solo, a mime performance or interpretive dance (and yes I find it deeply ironic that many of those who think being cool is the key to a successful ministry have been convinced that mime and interpretive dance is cool, but I digress). Paul clearly explains the means that God uses to reach the lost in Romans 10:13-14:
For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?
The key to reaching the lost, whether they are “cool” or profoundly “uncool” is preaching. And preaching is not just standing in front of a crowd and giving out platitudinous tips on how to live a happier/better/fuller/“more abundant” life. The preaching that Paul is speaking of is the preaching of the unvarnished truth of God’s Word.
Our model in evangelism must be Jesus Himself, and when He came into the region of Galilee at the beginning of His public ministry, He came preaching “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15) not follow these five key steps to live a better, more fulfilled life or hey I am just like you and I love you just the way you are. The Church’s message, and your church’s message, to the lost should be the same as Jesus’ message to the lost, repent and believe in the gospel.
Besides what good is it if a lost person visits the church because it is cool, and the pastor is cool, but he doesn’t hear the gospel, isn’t called to repentance and then dies in a car crash on the way home? It simply does not matter if you reach the lost, if you don’t reach them with the gospel. If you are going to reach the lost for Jesus (in the corporate worship service) there is no other way to do it, but through faithful biblical preaching, and that is just un-cool.
Of course some “cool” pastors would say they have to be cool not just to reach the lost, but more importantly so that they can have a greater impact on the lives of the people in their church; after all everyone wants to be like the cool kids don’t they? But if the goal of impacting lives from the pulpit is to spur people on toward sanctification and christlikeness, then the only way to do that is by faithful preaching. Jesus prayed in His high priestly prayer “Sanctify them in truth, Your Word is Truth” (John 17:17) and Paul writing to Timothy encouraged his protégé:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)
Later in the same letter, setting forth the pattern for all pastors to follow, Paul instructed “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim 4:2).
The thing is, in the world’s eyes, preaching is never going to be cool, no matter how you dress it up. But that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective; as Paul wrote, God uses the foolish (and dare I say the uncool) to shame the wise of this world (1 Cor 1:27). You probably shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but if you want to judge a church at a glance look for the size of the pastor’s pulpit, not at the skinniness of his jeans.
So I thankfully confess, I used to be cool, but now I’m hopelessly uncool, I have hung up my leather blazer in favor of a 2-for-1 Men’s Wearhouse suit, and I am privileged to live my life as an uncool fool preaching the living and active Word of God. It’s what saved me, it’s what sanctified me and it is the only hope for those perishing in this world, and I am in awe at the grace the Lord has shown me in allowing me to be His fool.