BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
What do you want for Christmas? If you’re honest, you could probably come up with a long list of things that you would like to have. Some of those things you might even say that you “need”. But what do you really need for Christmas? Probably nothing. Even if you did need something, you probably wouldn’t ask for it for Christmas. I used to hate it when my parents would give me socks and underwear for Christmas – I needed them, but I didn’t want them, at least not wrapped and under the tree, to be opened in front of everyone on Christmas morning!
What people want and what people need are often hard to define. Many years ago the PBS series “Frontline” presented a documentary called “The Persuaders” which delved into the changing philosophies of advertisers. One portion of the show dealt with a recent innovation, which they call “spiritual marketing.” Some marketing executives decided to study religious cults in order to find out how they engendered such deep devotion and loyalty among their followers. Their conclusion was that cults consistently appeal to two of the most basic human needs: the need for community and the need for purpose. First of all, people have a need to belong to a larger group, what they call a “tribal instinct.” Secondly, they have a need for meaning in life, a purpose for existence.
These insights have led to a dramatic change in the way that advertisers try to sell their products. A generation ago, commercials and ads would focus on convincing you that a manufacturer’s product was superior to their competitors’ products – it was “bigger,” “brighter,” “longer lasting,” etc. Now commercials tend not to describe the product at all; instead they try to get you to join a movement, to be a part of a hip culture that revolves around their product (think of sneaker commercials or about any beer or soft drink commercial). One truly disturbing part of the show contained footage of a mass pilgrimage that Saturn vehicle owners make every year to the town in Tennessee where they are made. Some advertisers have successfully fooled us into thinking that our wants are our true needs!
Even though cults and advertisers seek to use the information for nefarious purposes, what they discovered about human nature is absolutely true. Sinners living in a fallen world desperately long to be part of a loving, committed community and they long to have a sense of meaning and purpose in their lives, to feel that who they are and what they do really matters. Whether they acknowledge it or not, Jesus Christ and His Church are what these people need. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). He said, “…you are My disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). Isn’t it great to know that Christians have what everyone needs?!?
Churches keep coming up with new gimmicks and techniques to draw people, and some of them work. But superficial attractions will only draw superficial, lukewarm pew-sitters. “Seeker sensitive” churches appeal to what people want; Christ-centered churches point to what people need, Jesus Christ. When I came to preach the first time at a church many years ago, I was asked to give a sermon on “How to Grow a Church”. Although I was tempted to reply, “Only Christ can preach that sermon”, I did show from John 21 how Jesus taught His disciples that the work of “fishing for men” would involve total reliance upon His power to draw people to Himself. Our role is only to love Him deeply, love each other unconditionally, proclaim His Word, and obey His will. Healthy, Christ-centered churches like that will grow, because the Lord will continually add to their number, and because, as people see Jesus Christ in our community and purpose, those who are being saved will be drawn to Him.
“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)