The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a sideshow as “a minor show offered in addition to a main exhibition (as of a circus) or an incidental diversion or spectacle.” It’s not the main event, does not have the influence, interest, or even money generated to support itself but is like “clickbait” to get people’s attention for a short period of time. Sideshows can tend to have those “freaks” that draw attention to themselves for a moment of fascination but will soon be forgotten after the walk or drive by has occurred. However, those involved in a sideshow are self-consumed, thinking they are the center of attention, but that attention is short-lived until the next admission fee is paid.
Here’s an honest question I’d really like to ask and attempt to answer: Has the church in America become a sideshow revival, thinking we are making a difference when in fact we are only consumed with what we are doing -while the rest of the culture ignores us except for a periodic, casual glance?
Consider this: Church attendance in the US before COVID 19 was at 17%. The average churchgoer attends church 1.7x each month. Less than 3% of Christians tithe and even though we hear about all the people coming to Christ, it has not affected average attendance one bit across the country. But someone will say, “You should have been at our church last Sunday- people were saved, there were prophetic words and the gifts of the Spirit were in operation.” Great! Have we stopped to consider that while we were basking in the so-called presence of God, thousands drove by and gave our sideshow a casual glance? Sometimes we are so into the hype of our worship and activities and the need to have an appearance of success over the next church down the street, we just aren’t honest about reality. And I do wonder if we really know the difference between excitement and a genuine touch of God. I once heard the late B.H. Clendennon say, " If there was as much power in those meetings as they are saying, it would be stopping traffic on the street. Food for thought...
I know that sounds harsh so let’s ask another question; how much of what we are doing on a weekly basis is having any real effect in the city where our churches are located? I’m not speaking of the periodic, anecdotal story of someone who may like our place of worship or who may have been helped (because social media likes, views or comments must certainly be a measure of success, right?) But I am sincerely asking if comparing ourselves with ourselves is wise? I do realize many churches are presently involved in helping and feeding people during this time and would not fall into the sideshow category and may God graciously bless them. But what about after all this is over?
I do know many want to get back to normal so we can have church again. (As I write this, some states are not on the strict lockdown of 10 or fewer people like we are in North Carolina). But do we really want to get back to corporate worship so we can once again show off our gifts, display our spirituality, and get back to business while our cities still remain unchanged?
Consider the prophetic words of Amos 5;
“I can’t stand your religious meetings. I’m fed up with your conferences and conventions. I want nothing to do with your religion projects, your pretentious slogans, and goals.
I’m sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations, and image-making. I’ve had all I can take of your noisy ego-music. When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want.
The Prophet Malachi said,
“Why doesn’t one of you just shut the Temple doors and lock them? Then none of you can get in and play at religion with this silly, empty-headed worship. I am not pleased. The GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies is not pleased. And I don’t want any more of this so-called worship! (Malachi 1:10)
Because we are afraid of not always being positive, we have a difficult time with direct, prophetic words from the scripture. Just so you know, I’m not a depressed pastor who has been quarantined for too long. Smile… I am someone who desperately realizes the Lord is desiring more than church; he wants to bring an awakening to the world that ushers in a global harvest like we have never seen before since creation. I am not in mourning that we cannot corporately meet. However, I will be grieving if the passion for prayer, His word, repentance, holiness, generosity, and relationship with each other does not return to the forefront of American religion.
Our influence is to be more than Sunday; we are to affect business, government, media, and the whole spectrum of culture including a generation that needs to experience the power of God beyond sermons and songs. As I believe we are on the cusp of something unprecedented, let’s use this time to prepare our hearts for whatever change the Lord wants to make in us, and however he would allow our influence to go beyond the four walls of a building.
"For this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In just a little while I will again shake the heavens and the earth, the oceans and the dry land. I will shake all the nations, and the treasures of all the nations will be brought to this Temple. I will fill this place with glory, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. The future glory of this Temple will be greater than its past glory, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. And in this place, I will bring peace. I, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, have spoken!” Haggai 2:6