The Paradox of Choice and Why We Need Authority

The world today is filled with choices. In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz gives a perfect illustration of just how complicated life has become. He tells the story of going to the Gap to get a pair of jeans. It had been a long time since he had been jean shopping and he thought it would be a quick in-and-out venture. When he asked a saleswoman for assistance she asked him what kind of jeans he was looking for. Unaware of the choices, Schwartz asked her what they were. The lady proceeded to tell him about all the different selections. Schwartz goes on to say that he spent hours in the store trying on pants. While he had ended up with a descent pair of jeans, at what loss did he achieve his reward.

“Buying jeans is a trivial matter, but it suggests a much larger theme… When people have no choice, life is almost unbearable… But as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear. As the number of choices grows further, the negatives escalate until we become overloaded. At this point, choice no longer liberates, but debilitates.” – Barry Schwartz, The Paradox of Choice

I had a similar story recently. I needed a new pare of jeans so I went to every store in the mall, compared designs, and checked the prices. I ended up buying the cheapest pair and when I got to the register the price was reduced even further to less than $9.

I’m not complaining about the selections. At times it can be daunting, but if you know what you want and you have a few hours to bargain shop, you’ll probably walk away happy.

There is another factor that, due to the information age, is affecting the church today for better or worse. As a result of the plethora of audio sermons, Christian blogs, and celebrity pastors the average believer does not need to go to church anymore to receive spiritual teaching. Many young adults find it is easier and more rewarding to go to the internet to meet their spiritual quota over waking up early on a Sunday morning to hear a sermon they can’t screen by the title. 

Young adults today are at a critical place in society. There are no personal mentors anymore, just celebrity pastors (which has been a popular topic on many blogs in recent days). Sunday school teachers are a thing of the past, replaced by bloggers. And church services are quickly becoming obsolete, being replaced by online webcasts, podcasts, and internet communities. We are at the forefront of a catastrophic change in how we do church for the future.

Next week we will address the question of why the church is needed, but today I would like to point out why the pastor is essential to the life of a believer.

A pastor has been given a God ordained role in shepherding local gatherings of believers. This cannot be replaced by someone on the other side of the nation. In many ways the pastor has it harder today than any time in history. Instead of doing our part to research whether the sermon is true to God’s Word, a member has simply to google the point and find one person who disagrees to bring the whole argument crashing down.

One thing the internet does not do is police the content on the world wide web. There are plenty of preachers, teachers, and writers online who have a huge following that are not biblically sound. Westboro Baptist Church, Terry Jones, and Steven L. Anderson are perfect examples of wack-jobs who are widely followed on the internet. Jesus didn’t give Peter the keys to the world wide web and name the internet as the institution to continue His earthy ministry. He gave that authority to the church and he entrusted the role of leadership to the pastors.

Don’t get me wrong. I think the information we have readily available today is a good thing. It’s just that Christians need to be aware of how easy it is to be manipulated, deceived, and led away by itching ears.

Even the best celebrity pastors can cause an individual to become unbalanced. One of my favorite preachers, D.A. Carson, says “If you listen to only one preacher, you become a clone. If you listen to two, you become confused. If you listen to fifty, you’re on the edge of wisdom and beginning to become yourself.” What an online ministry cannot do is offer discipleship and speak directly into an individual to offer much needed edification and direction. When you are only getting one perspective, it can be very easy to start developing a well crafted preconception that is resistant to any critique (this applies to local pastors as well). This is not a healthy environment for a young believer. If anything, the paradox of choice should motivate us to become more critical thinkers, but unfortunately the ease in finding answers doesn’t cultivate discernment and the need to struggle through a complex idea.

In a day where information is so readily available, pastors are quickly becoming obsolete. If their only usefulness is preaching on Sunday, then there will be no need for them in the coming days. Pastors need to step up and be more active in discipleship. Members need to be more respectful for the pastors that they are under.

Final thoughts

The last thing I want to do is just add to the noise. My writing here is more of a daily discipline that I am trying to cultivate in a public arena. As a preacher (not pastoring a church) I am constantly chomping at the bit to exercise my gifts. Lord willing, I will have a local opportunity to use these gifts, but in everything I do, I want to make sure I magnify Christ, promote the church, and direct people to their pastors.

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One Response to The Paradox of Choice and Why We Need Authority

  1. Pingback: Raised Right by Alisa Harris – Book Review and Giveaway | Worthy of the Gospel

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