What The Church Can Learn From The Food Network

The other day I stumbled upon an article by Farsch Askari lamenting what has happened to the Food Network.  The article is well-worth reading. In the article, Askari describes how the Food Network provided him a soothing release where he could escape from the stresses of daily life.  Watching the food network was a blissful and inspiring experience, driving his imagination and value for healthy eating as he watched real chefs in the kitchen craft their delectable gourmet dishes.

The Rise Of The Rock-N-Roll Food King

But one day this all changed.  The reason: Guy Feiri.  What was once an authentic and stress relieving experience, was now, suddenly, replaced by a so called “rock-n-roll, unhealthy looking, food king.”  Askari goes on to describe how this one figure dramatically changed the entire course of the Food Network.  First, the Food Network became personality-driven.  The billabong wearing, college garage band maniac—circa 1995—had a new method of speaking to audience—he yells and speaks to the people like they’re five-year olds.  Then things got worse. In the wake of Fieri’s appearance, a host of other personalities began to dominate the network, well-known personalities such as Rachel Ray and Bobby Flay. Askari asks, “Did the head of their programming issue a mandate to seek out the most supremely irritating people who may or may not be able to cook decent food…?

Is It Good For You?

The second major shift is the most perplexing: Healthy cooking no longer seemed to matter on the Food Network.  Guy Feiri is offering “concoctions such as beer-battered meatball sandwiches, wrapped in a pizza and deep-fried in lard” and for desert a “sheet cake dipped in pancake batter, dunked in butter frosting and sprinkled with Pop-Tarts”—and he doesn’t even do any of the cooking.  Consequence?  Askari says, “Guy’s trying killing us.”

As I read the article I thought the most tragic consequence of the whole thing is when Askari laments the mass exodus of genuinely talented chefs.  Quality crafted dishes and culinary art no longer seemed to matter anymore, it became about ratings and personalities, a phenomenon that, in Askari’s eyes, has ruined the Food Network. The real fault remains, says Askari, with those who ever allowed this to happen.

The Church Network

Imagine for a minute substituting everything Askari describes in terms of the church today.  Would it be an unfair comparison?

I remember a time when coming to church was valued. Whether it was ever truly valued as it should have been is not what I am engaging, nor am I singing Mellencamp’s “Glory Days” with regard to the church.  I think know better than that.  But I do speak of a general value Christians placed upon going to church. There was a time when people had a general understanding of the value of worship.  At one time, across denominational lines, Christians used to gather twice on the Lord’s Day for worship.  It was accepted that something special was happening on Sunday’s when God’s people assembled together.

I know it’s out of vogue and considered legalistic to mention dressing-up for church, but dress used to convey in the church world something about what we believed we were doing.  Church was considered to be the most reverent and respectful act we did all week, and it earned our best preparation and response.  It was an escape for sinners, to come in the presence of God and receive from his hand real food and drink of eternal life—sacraments they “used” to be called.

It was intended to be refreshing. We sat intently listening to God’s pastors open His Word with sermons well-crafted, meditated upon, and prepared through the course of an entire week. Agreed, these no-name pastors may not have had the “X-Factor”, but they were offering us real food, and it inspired us to want more of that food.  It was satisfying to the soul. We understood the gospel, grace, forgiveness, new life–the core doctrines of the Christian faith—and were inspired to keep our eyes fixed on God’s savior.

But then one day it all changed.  The reason?  Well, I could answer that with naming about a dozen dominant Hollywood-esque personalities that began to fill the church.  The America Chapter 11 hall of faith (oops I mean “fame”) would certainly see figures such as ______, _______, _______, etc. And what more shall I say, for the time would fail me to tell you of, ______, _______, _______, _______, and_______.  I would fill in the blanks but we’ve come into a time when Christians don’t take well to mentioning of any names and I’m afraid that if I begin to do this many will disregard the entire post.

But if I could mention a name, it would be Joel Osteen.  Like Askari’s circa 1995 Feiri, Osteen reminds me a lot of Brandon on 90210, less so Dillon, but nonetheless he still takes me to circa 1995—preppy style.  It really doesn’t matter who the figure is at the moment, we’ve become accustomed in Christianity to have one, and I’m sure the next one is already on deck. Shelf-life for these guys seems to be getting shorter and shorter even though a plethora of churches have now adopted the outdated model of yesterday’s “Guy.” What’s tragic is that in the wake of each dominant figure that arises, we see greater departure from the historic Christian faith.  And the farther we get, the more unrecognizable any Christian orthodoxy becomes for the new generation.

Rock-N-Roll Pastors?

Askari’s major concern is that Food Network has morphed into something other than a “food network.” Think about the consequences of this in terms of the church.  First, the church today is personality-driven.  We’re all about finding somebody relevant to the next generation. You know this. I am saying nothing new here. But we seem ignorant or at least unwilling to see the consequences of our rock-star Christianity.  We have a host of so-called pastors who are speaking to us like we’re idiots. Is a good sermon now only measured by how funny the pastor was in telling me about his personal home-life? And Christians today seem to love this. Sound familiar? Maybe this: “The prophets prophesy falsely and my people love to have it so (Jer. 5:31).” Askari says the Food Network speaks to people now as if they are in fifth-grade.  What grade-level, theologically speaking, does today’s preaching deserve?  You can answer.

We have a host of so-called pastors who are not trained.  Consequence?  Just as Guy Feiri never does the cooking himself because he is not a trained chef, and forces upon the audience food that slowly kills, the church today is fueled with so-called pastors who no longer preach. Is that a choice or it is because they do not know how? Whatever the answer, I do know this: training for the ministry doesn’t seem to matter at all anymore. And this has created a vacuum in which people no longer know what true preaching even sounds like.  Thus, the craft of preparing a sermon has little to do anymore with the actual Word of God and explaining its meaning.  It’s now about how witty the pastor can be in ticking the ears of the people by determining how best he can give them only what they want to hear.  It’s for this reason that the church often amounts to nothing more than being obnoxious and silly, and that seems to win the favor of the people.

Second, healthy food no longer seems to matter in church today.  We are spiritually getting “sheet cake dipped in pancake batter, dunked in butter frosting and sprinkled with Pop-Tarts.”  What ever happened to the meat and potatoes?  Yes, sometimes as a child my mom made me eat the brussel sprouts, even though it wasn’t always a pleasant experience, I needed them. Why can’t we have meaty expositions of God’s Word that show the whole plan of salvation in Jesus Christ throughout redemptive history?  Do we even know what that tastes like anymore and the spiritual nourishment it provides?  If I may use Askari’s concern: don’t we realize the food we are receiving today is killing us and our children?

But then comes the most tragic of consequences.  There is now becoming an “exodus” (shortage) of genuinely called pastors.  If you find them, generally speaking, they will be on the fringes, their churches small, full of struggle, undervalued, and under a great amount of pressure due to the “Guy Feiri’s” next door offering the “deep fried lard.”  And I come back to Askari’s concern that the real blame has to do with those who ever let things get like this.  Will the “Food Network” ever again be what it was designed to be?

Chris Gordon

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