I have waited more than a year to post this. I wrote it in July of 2015 and did not post it because I was afraid it would offend somebody. The truth is that I have been (and still am) wrestling deeply with these ideas. The debate to post wavered back and forth…
A couple thoughts float around in my head. I hear phrases like:
More seeker friendly, less seekers coming in
Increasing focus on being culturally relevant, decreasing influence in culture… ergo less relevant?
And I am saddened. I am hurt. I am confused. I get frustrated. I feel as though I have no voice in this culture even though it is very much my culture.
If the point of the church is to influence the local community, what are we to do when the local community communicates with resounding solidarity that they don’t care about what we have to say? We are no longer being ignored with polite passive aggressive behavior, we are being told quite clearly that we are not wanted, what we have to say is offensive and we are to keep it to ourselves. There is not just a practice of ignoring us, there is a confidence in pushing back and silencing us. I would say this pretty clearly communicates that we, the Church, have in fact, FAILED to accomplish our mission.
I said it. We have failed as a Church.
Barna group reports increasing growth in church attendance. Filling pews is not the mission of the church. If the idea is that, the more people in the pews, the more people get to hear the Gospel, then it is not Church. That would be called Sunday Morning Evangelism. Other research from the Southern Baptist Convention and Barna group state that a major trend is growing in which people are receiving discipleship, community, and other Christian involvement in small groups of less than 20 people and rarely or never attend a “church.”.
This tells me that there are still people who want what the Church is supposed to be giving. So why would they stop going to Sunday Morning Worship and start doing things not in the “church”? Because the Church is failing to feed. Where do sheep go when the flock is on dry, grassless ground? They wonder off looking for grass… or die. I have heard church leadership lash out against people who are Christians, who are involved in the local church community, who are active in reading and studying their Bibles and having daily time with Jesus, but who say they are tired of church. The response to these weary, active Believers by some church leaders is to chastise and rebuke them. In turn, these folks turn and say they are done.
If the church’s mission is to encourage the members of the church, equip and train the members of the church, and send those members out into the local culture with the purpose of influencing that culture… What’s happening? A quick look at the division of our nation will clearly indicate that the ministers of reconciliation are not making much headway in reconciling. Instead of seeing healing and community springing forth in our streets, we are seeing division, and not just in our communities, but in our churches too.
What are we to do when we see that our current model is not working? What is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
We have to separate emotions and tradition from what is going on around us. We can feel uncomfortable in the discussion of reforming the current, modern practices of church, and then get to fixing ourselves, or we can silence that conversation because of what we “know”, think, and feel and then, in time, have nobody left in the church to have that conversation with.
I think, as a shepherd, as a church, as a community, step one is to spend some time prayerfully evaluating. It is the only thing that makes sense. I would suggest listing out on a big board everything that the church is doing. Meeting on Sunday, midweek meeting on Wednesday, youth group, singing before sermon, communion once a month, communion each Sunday, offering plates passed, offering boxes in the back, small groups… EVERYTHING. Then write next to each of these topics the simple question… Why?
Search your Bibles and list scripture next to each of these things. If you find there are no scriptures, or very few, to support the “What”, then we need to evaluate the priority that is placed on it by the church. For instance, what scripture can you point to that models or sets a precedent for singing songs before receiving some sort of message? I don’t know of any. So why are we doing this? What would happen if the elders of a church were to join each other on stage and say to the congregation, “Starting next Sunday, we will have the sermon first, followed by singing”. Who wants to staff that church office during the following week to answer the phones that will surely be ringing off the hook.
What about the meeting on Sunday mornings and being done by a strict time prior to lunch? I can find scripture that talks about folks worshiping all day and through lunch. Again, what would happen if the Elders stood together and said, “No more strict time schedule like a TV production. We will start with singing, we will move into a sermon, then we will move into a time for the congregation to give testimonies of their interaction with God during the previous week and a time of adults reciting passages of scripture which they have memorized. This may take awhile, plan on bringing a lunch. We will not be pausing”.
I know of only a few mandates placed upon the Church by Jesus. One is “Go into all the World and make Disciples”. Are we doing this? And don’t say “yes” because your church has a discipleship ministry, or because you have small groups, or because y’all have done studies on discipleship. I have a good friend who told me one time that they were excited to be involved in a discipleship ministry so that they could communicate to the folks involved that discipleship can be a long distance thing, done every other week or once a month. After a little bit of questioning, it became clear that this person’s idea was that they could remain distant, answer questions, give suggestions, and watch the growth occur. Discipleship? Absolutely not!! Will the other person grow? Possibly, maybe, if they are actually in scripture and prayer, more than likely. But this is not discipleship… not life on life… not intimate… not like Jesus and His DISCIPLES… not like Paul telling Timothy to “take the things which you have seen in me (actions/behaviors/attitude/character/skills) and pass them on (not teach, pass… model and train) to faithful men…”.
And this is the crux of the failure. Not the stuff I listed above, though that stuff needs to be sorted out. We have become a culture of Christians who are lazy, takers of a social organization which seeks to teach while being entertaining enough to hold the attention of the attendees. I have seen this model before… I used to see it all the time right around breakfast in my house.
We called it Dora the Explorer. My kids would stop what they were doing in their normal, active lives, spend a given period of time being both entertained and taught, and when the program was over, they returned to their lives. Interestingly enough, I can ask me kids about Spanish words and they know the answers. They can hold their own in discussions about Swipe and Boots, but they NEVER mix Spanish into their daily vernacular. They NEVER come ask me if we will have a Fuego after supper. They have received knowledge which has not led to any transformation of their daily lives.
The church has effectively taken this model, and it is producing the intended effect. Educating and bringing familiarity with the subject to the learners. Christians should feel good knowing that, should they ever encounter a moment when the HAVE to speak about Christianly things, they can have the right answers. Interestingly enough, as this has occurred, the world around us has said, “We don’t care about your answers any longer”. Christians have responded by setting aside their answers because they are not a natural part of their lives and have instead moved to being culturally accepted… which is what is normally occurring in their daily, natural lives.
Here I sit, each Sunday, watching us do the same thing we did last Sunday, the same thing the Sunday before, and before that. Each Sunday I watch the smiles, and hear the conversations, and each week I watch as we become more and more marginalized. I am afraid I don’t think I can do this much longer. I don’t set aside a couple hours a week to sit in a stationary car. I know there are benefits to sitting in a stationary car, it would keep me dry if it rains, it gives me a place to sit and relax away from standard distractions where I can meditate, or sing without the worry of being judged by those around me. But I don’t do it. Because that is not what the car is for. So why am I filling a pew during Sunday morning social club and calling it Church?
It’s not. Pop culture and Christian culture may both call it Church, it might be on the sign, it might be labeled this by history and tradition. But this is not what I see defined in Scripture as church.
I understand that there are some of these communities on Sunday mornings that are, in fact, still a Church. I applaud them and pray for them.
But I think I am done with the standard Sunday morning system. Good people, looking for something more… Good people on stage doing what they know to do with noble, honest hearts… Good people on all accounts performing in a culture which has been influenced by the world in which we live… backwards if you ask me.
I wept in anger a couple weeks ago as I saw Christians on Facebook attacking other Christians on Facebook because of their responses to a shift in our culture regarding more than one issue.
“My people perish for a lack of knowledge.”
I just don’t know if I can keep participating in a cultural organization with a clearly defined purpose when they have effectively and clearly failed to accomplish that purpose… and then refuse to reevaluate what they are doing and instead, like ostriches with their heads in the sand, continue to do what they have always done and expecting things to change.
I am not hear to be entertained.
This is not merely a hospital for the sick.
I am here to be equipped and encouraged. I am here to equip and to encourage.
This is the meeting place of warriors. To train. To learn. To rest. To heal. To be built back up for the brutal fight known as influencing a culture.
I guess it is time for me to look for those warriors who, like me, are wanting more and are being equipped for the battle. I’m looking for the people who are longing to engage the cutlure in whcih they live and I believe I will find them, whether it is in a pew on a Sunday Morning, or on a couch on Friday Night. And we will engage.