There Is a Parasite in the American Church

There Is a Parasite in the American Church

[Editor’s Note: Dr. Richard Ross is one of America’s foremost experts on youth ministry. Even if you’re not interested in youth ministry, Dr. Ross’s observations on the American Church inform us not only of where the church is currently, but where it’s headed. ]

Who is God’s Son today and why does it matter? At the moment of his second coming, Christ will appear more majestic and powerful than we can possibly imagine. He will split the heavens. All humanity will see him for who he is. Who Jesus will be on that day is the same Jesus that he is today.

But do we really see Jesus this way? When you pray, when you worship, when you go about your daily routines and activities, do you see Christ on his throne?

In the Old Testament, God spoke through the prophets, but in later years, God chose to reveal himself most clearly in his Son. When the Son had made purification of sins, he was enthroned at the right hand of the Majesty on high. The Father then announced that in this age of the Church, God the Son is to have supremacy.

But in the United States in the 1960s, things began to go wrong.

Parasite in the Pews

Believers generally shifted their primary focus from seeing Jesus as the exalted Lord and King whom they should worship and serve to expecting him to serve them by blessing them with more prosperity, comfort, and happiness. They still liked Jesus and they still wanted him around, but just as their church mascot and a divine addendum to their pursuit of the American dream.

Professor Kenda Dean suggests that a parasite entered the American church. This parasite, later to be named “moralistic therapeutic deism,” quietly began to eat away and suck the life out of the true Christian faith.

In our day believers still speak of Jesus but mostly about the days he walked on earth. They are more likely to picture him sitting on a big rock with giggling children on his lap than reigning from the throne of heaven. Sermons, Bible lessons, and church hallway conversations are almost completely devoid of any focus on the transcendent majesty of who the Son is today.

One of America’s best-known worship leaders recently confided a heartache to David Bryant. He said:

Often it feels to me as if, for many of our people, singing praise songs and hymns on a Sunday morning has turned into an affair with Christ . . .  Too many of us are far more passionate about lesser, temporal concerns . . . But we rarely ever get that excited about Christ Himself, at least on any consistent basis. Except when we enter a sanctuary on a Sunday. Then for a while we end up sort of ‘swooning’ over Christ with feel-good music and heart-stirring prayers—only to return to the daily grind of secular seductions to which, for all practical purposes, we’re thoroughly ‘married.’

Many church members have slipped so far in their view of Christ that they need to be introduced to him all over again.

Little Buddy Jesus

I often hear church teenagers say, “I just love Jesus. He’s always there for me.” It’s as if they have a little buddy who rides in their pocket. This little Jesus stays out of the way until they need to pull him out and “poof” some problem or difficulty away. Then they can put him back in their pocket to be mostly irrelevant to their lives until they need him again. It’s a little Jesus.

Teenagers do not have such a weak faith because they have rejected the faith of the Church. They have a weak faith because they have almost perfectly absorbed the weak faith of the Church. The core problem is not with teenagers; it is with adults—with us.

We have spent decades talking about the centrality of Christ but almost never about the supremacy of Christ.

Centrality Versus Supremacy

Centrality is about keeping Christ at the center of who we are, where we are headed, and all we are doing. Supremacy speaks of so much more. Supremacy proclaims Christ’s right to keep us at the center of who he is, where he is headed, and how he is blessed. Jesus does not exist to come down here and make my life a little easier. I exist to stand before him in awe-filled worship and to join him in bringing his kingdom on the earth. It’s never all about me. It’s always all about him.

We sometimes say, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Perhaps it would be better to use David Bryant’s words: “God loves his Son and has a wonderful plan for him, to sum up everything in heaven and earth under him as Redeemer and Lord; and he loves you and me enough to give us a strategic place in it.”

Praying for a Christ Awakening

But our sovereign God is always achieving his sovereign purposes. Just now there is every indication the Father and the Spirit are initiating a movement—waking the Church to the reigning glory of the Son. A growing number of us are praying for a full Christ Awakening in the American church and throughout the world. A Christ Awakening unfolds whenever God’s Spirit uses God’s Word to reintroduce God’s people to God’s Son for all he is.

The fulfillment of this hope and dream begins when the Spirit awakens believers to the majesty of the Son for the glory of the Father. In your church perhaps that awakening will begin with you. Maybe the Spirit will immerse you in resources and ministries about the current majesty of the Son. (That’s what is all about).

Then perhaps your new vision of the enthroned Christ will splash into the lives of those around you so you are all filled with wonder concerning King Jesus. Then maybe, just maybe, a Christ Awakening will flood us all.


Dr. Richard Ross is a professor to the next generation of youth ministers at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. He has authored many resources, including his latest, Youth Ministry That Lasts a Lifetime. You can connect with Richard on his websiteFacebook, or Twitter.


  1. Salvatore A. Luiso 8 years ago

    I strongly and heartily agree with parts of this article, especially with this sentence:

    “The core problem is not with teenagers; it is with adults—with us.”\

    As we read in I Corinthians 15:33: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals'” (ESV).

    I think that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism may have been a problem long before the 1960s. I think that prophets of the Old Testament, such as Jeremiah, spoke against it, or something very much like it.

    As I read the Scriptures, it seems to me that the centrality of Christ cannot be separated from the supremacy of Christ. He is like the Sun, around which we, like planets, revolve (Psalm 84:11).

    When I think of Christ being central in the Scriptures, I think of John 15:1-7, the vine being both central and superior to the branches, without which the branches can do nothing. I also think of Ephesians 4:15-16 and Colossians 2:19, which teaches a very similar doctrine.

    I also think of:

    Revelation 5:11-13, where Christ is literally in the center of worship.
    Numbers 1:47-54 and 2 (entire chapter), wherein the Israelites were encamped around the Tabernacle.

    Thus I think that Christ cannot truly be central to our lives without Him also being supreme in our lives.

    This notion is similar to the doctrine that we cannot be *in* Christ without Christ being*in* ourselves (John 6:56, 14:20, and 15:4; I John 3:24, 4:15-16).

  2. Judy Moss 6 years ago

    He truly is our King. The King of our heart that we sing about. We must let the King reign. But aside our ideas and plans and just Love Him and let Him reign.

  3. Lauren 6 years ago

    “…if MY people, who are called by MY name, will humble THEMSELVES and pray and seek my face and turn from THEIR wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive THEIR sin and will heal THEIR land.” II Chronicles 7:14.

    Obviously God’s Word lays contempt at the feet of HIS PEOPLE. It’s not the world that’s messing things up…it’s THE CHURCH that’s doing so. My 30-yr-old son said to me recently, “Mom, I think the church has ruined Christianity.” We’ve given our children a religion instead of a relationship…they see too much of the world’s ways inside the doors of the church…when they’ve come looking for JESUS. God forgive me…I’ve seen it for so long…been part of it. BUT NO MORE. The real enemy is satan and where I am, there will be someone doing battle for the church. I’ve sought my Father’s forgiveness for all the times I did not remain faithful. I’ve thanked Him for His faithfulness. Now I get to be part of the solution and not longer part of the problem. I’ve read the end of the book. I know Who is going to win and I am on the winning team. Recognizing there’s an enemy who will do ANYTHING to distract us is the first step in knowing who to fight and how to fight. Knowing God’s Word is the only sword I need. Prayer is now a large part of every day!!! I’m ready, Lord, for you to come back and take us home.

    • David Bryant 6 years ago

      Lauren, I feel the pathos behind your words and have cried out in prayer in many of the same ways as you have. The GREAT news is that there always is HOPE the Scriptures gives us (and history shows us) that when things seem darkest that’s when the Father wakes his people up to MORE of himself and his glory and his purposes (see Isaiah 60 for example). In this age of the reign of Christ, with the Spirit poured out on God’s people, the focus and fervency of that renewal and revival is a fresh exalting of Christ himself–giving his followers new eyes to see him for ALL he is and to (as I often put it) “meet Him again for the first time.” It is THAT hope about which I write in my new book, Christ is NOW! (see and it is THAT hope I teach about for nearly an hour in Video 1 of the 9-part series found at And is to foster and serve that hope–a hope I refer to as a “Christ Awakening” movement–for which exists. May the Father give you the blessing of Romans 15:13 this day, Lauren. Many of us believe such an awakening to the supremacy of Christ, first of all inside our churches, is on the horizon, in answer to a 35-year old concerted prayer movement across our land. David

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