Bill Harrell has served as Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, Georgia, for over 30 years. He also is active in the Augusta Baptist Association, Georgia Baptist Convention, and SBC, including having serving as the Vice-President of the Georgia Baptist Convention and as Chairman of the SBC Executive Committee.
For the generation that is getting a little older, it is quite disconcerting and puzzling to observe that it is now more popular to be cool than it is to be godly. Only a few short years ago, pastors were men who stood out from the crowd because of the example they set in an effort to lead people into a godly, committed way of life. They looked different from the crowd because they set an example in their dress and in their good conduct. Men of God honored their position by dressing in a professional manner which was neat and orderly. It helped people understand that here was someone from which they could take an example as to how to conduct themselves as a Christian. These same men were not only identified by their dress, they were respected because of the way in which they conducted themselves in and out of the pulpit. People looking for hope and help looked to the pastor for a heavenly example. These men were more than mere men. They represented God to those around them.
In those days, what one believed was the most important thing. How could a pastor impart proper understanding of the Scripture unless he believed and revered it himself? He was concerned more with being right than he was with being “cool.” In fact, being cool was something that was a million miles from his conception of what a pastor and preacher was suppose to be. It never entered his mind to be “cool.” It simply was not part of the mix. These men from yesteryear, were disciplined and committed to being sure they led the people properly and set the proper example. It never crossed their minds that they needed to identify with the people by being like them even to the lowest common denominator of acceptability. The pastor was suppose to set an example of what we should strive to be like. He never dreamed that he would be expected to downgrade himself in order to win their affection or attention. Where was the example in that?
But, today there are many young preachers who feel that it is a necessity to be “cool” in order to be accepted and build a big church. The idea is that descending to the least common denominator of dress and example will enable people to see that you are a “regular, cool guy” who can identify with them. In other words, being “cool” is the identifying mark of today. People just love it. But, we are supposed to elevate people, not fall to whatever level makes them comfortable.
The pastor or preacher should identify with his people. But, his identity with them should be grounded in the fact that they identify with him because they have been elevated to his godly standard instead of his becoming like the masses in order to find an identity with them.
In previous generations, what a man believed as well as his conduct and example was what was important. He elevated his people with his preaching, teaching, conduct and example. But, today, “cool” can say or do just about anything because it sounds cool and confirms that they are just that – cool. When one says or demonstrates that he wants to be “cool” he is actually saying that he wants to be acceptable. He doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd: “Why, they will leave if they are confronted by anything that says they should be living or believing differently, he will say.” The fact that one is a great Bible scholar and expositor is secondary to whether or not he is acceptable to the populace. Being popular and “with it” (cool) is a necessity for success especially if one wants to be in the “in crowd.” Being “cool” is a human effort to go places and achieve things that might not be on God’s agenda for a person.
But, one will say, “When I get them here because they are not threatened by me, then I can preach the gospel to them.” Sorry. It won’t work. The message is lost in the environment. The crowd that will be drawn won’t really want to hear the message and apply it. They just want to go to heaven; and they think that if they are in church and really feel good about their experience, then that is the ticket. The “punch” of the message is lost because someone who looks and, in many cases talks and acts just like them, is delivering it and his example is no better than theirs.
It’s “cool” to be edgy. Some try to see what they can get away with. Just how far can I go, they will think. Because they are the preacher and have the authority of that position behind them they think the people will not challenge them or be offended by off-color language, remarks, or insinuations. After all, he is the authority. The sad thing is that people will put up with such actions. They have slowly been programmed to feel that there is nothing wrong with the environment or the content. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the preacher. He can say those things and imply those things because he is God’s man and that should not be questioned. Besides he is the coolest of the cool. Everyone is talking about him so that makes him successful, and, by implication, it makes him right in whatever he says and does. “I like him. He makes me feel good about me and that makes him acceptable and cool.”
The great pastors and preachers of years gone by and the ones still existing today are not known as “cool.” They are looked upon and respected because of the godly example they are setting and not because they fit the desirable mold of today’s mindset. What we have today in many cases is a “spiritual entertainer” who relies more on methods to excite and entertain than he does on what he should be telling them. A desire to return and see the next show is greater than the desire to hear a word from God. Human nature always demands more than was done the last time or they will get bored with what is happening. That is why some preachers today are continually trying to find ways to make the next gathering more “electric” than the last. It’s “cool” to be edgy and groovy. It meets the demand of a “video clip” and “sound byte” generation who really wants no more than that.
We are tolerating things in our churches that are embarrassing to godly people who believe the Bible. Things which are said and taught are things that even the world did in a dark corner a few years ago. But, just because the church is allowing such things to take place in its midst does not make it godly or biblical. Our godly preaching forefathers would “turn over in their graves” if they heard some of the language being used in church today. They would be absolutely horrified to hear young preachers telling people it is acceptable to drink alcohol. They would be even more horrified to hear someone talk of sex in the way it is being discussed today. How far we have drifted! And it is all in the name of the “cool” and acceptable.
Each succeeding generation can only learn from the examples set by the previous generation. They will also “fill in the blanks” with their own accepted moral and spiritual mores when proper guidance was either not taught or not learned. It is incumbent upon each generation to make sure that they set the right example so that their offspring will be pointed in the right direction even if they deviate from it. If we continue down the road that many are choosing today, what will the next generation look like? They in turn will pass along to their offspring only so much as they know with the result being that the next generation will “fill in some blanks” with meeting their own perceived needs and desires being a driving force. Therein is the downgrade.
I realize that anyone who is a part of the “cool” generational movement will find much to criticize about this little article but there are many others who will see great value in it. It cannot be denied that in the past twenty years we have flirted with many things that our forefathers would never have imagined. And, in the process we are losing our unique identity as people who set a godly standard for others to follow. We are in the process of becoming just another denomination in a vast sea of denominations. If we keep going in the direction we are now headed, we will, one day, be heaped in with all the other denominations which have compromised away their witness and who have lost their ability to influence the world with great spiritual power and authority.