Kevin DeYoung considers how churches can become cushions, focusing on comfort rather than on challenging their congregations to truly encounter God and be changed by him:
No one enters the ministry to further the status quo. Every evangelical pastor, every enthusiastic young Christian for that matter, wants to see conversions, spiritual growth, and biblical reformation where it is needed. But youthful zeal wanes. Life crashes in. Pastors get tired. Congregations fall back into old patterns.Here’s Richard Lovelace’s explanation:
Pastors gradually settle down and lose interest in being change agents in the church. An unconscious conspiracy arises between their flesh and that of their congregations. It becomes tacitly understood that the laity will give pastors special honor in the exercise of their gifts, if the pastors will agree to leave their congregations’ pre-Christian lifestyles undisturbed and do not call for the mobilization of lay gifts for the work of the kingdom. Pastors are permitted to become ministerial superstars. Their pride is fed and their congregations are permitted to remain herds of sheep in which each has cheerfully turned to his own way (quoted in C. John Miller, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church, p. 19).
The result of this compromise, argued Jack Miller, is “the church as religious cushion.” The body of Christ becomes less a living, breathing, growing, healthy organism and more a coping club, a society of mutual reinforcement, nothing but a cushion against the pains of life. Miller explains:
The religious cushioning may take a number of forms. In its liberal variety, its primary concern is to comfort suburbanites with a vision of a God who is too decent to send nice people like them to hell. In its sacerdotal form, its purpose is to tranquilize the guilt-ridden person with the religious warmth of its liturgy. Among conservatives and evangelicals, its primary mission all too often is to function as a preaching station where Christians gather to hear the gospel preached to the unconverted, to be reassured that liberals are mistaken about God and hell, and renew one’s sense of well-being without have a serious encounter with the living God (p. 26).
How does the church avoid being nothing but a religious cushion? Good preaching. Strong leadership. Earnest repentance. Heartfelt prayer. Biblical integrity. All of these are essential. And in and through them must be an awareness of sin and a delight in the Savior.