Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Psalm 51:12-13
To say it flat out, the problems our churches face are not so much how we do things; it is how we are! The problem is not what we do in our worship services; it is how we treat the people that go to our services. The problem is not how we are dressing for services but how we love and care for one another at our services. The problem is not so much who we are; the problem is how we are. Too often, we confuse the WHO (being a Christian) with the HOW (running our church and our lives our way and not His Way). The problem is not so much in being a Christian, but how we treat others as Christians. It is easy to change the "who," that is, our cultural identity, how outside people look upon us, the way we reach out and present the Gospel. From my research, I found that most people are open to learning the Word. They want something they can put into practice to better their lives. But, if they do not feel welcomed or get connected, they are gone forever from that church and perhaps any other church in the future.
If you have nothing to offer that is relevant or appropriate to your people in their situation and you are not hospitable to them, you are failing as a church. We can change our worship format; we can make our parking lots bigger, and make our programs more relevant. We can try to be a better WHO. But, what about changing the HOW, changing how we are, how we behave, how we treat each other, how we love, and how we care. The big how is that we model Jesus Christ as a reality in our lives. We really and truly can be His ambassadors, allowing His Spirit to sustain and use us, so we can be used to turn others to Christ.
Yes, the Church is a human institution, filled with our fallen sinful nature and in need of Christ, His forgiveness, and grace-just as we do personally. So, we should expect a few flaws of unsatisfactory reactions by people. After all, you cannot please everyone. And, there is no better institution; after all, who is going to marry you and bury you? Who is going to hold your baby up in baptism or in dedication? These important stages of life are centered upon the Church-all the richness of the traditions and all the hope we have to look to. Would you rather go to the courthouse? Well, if we do not reform, people will rather go to the courthouse. And then, where will that leave the church and its relevance in culture?
"If I have seen further it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants." Sir Isaac Newton
The Problem of our Christian Reputation
You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
It has been said that there are two reasons people do not go to church. The first one is that they do not know any Christians; the second is that they do know Christians! This may sound harsh and absurd, but it is too often true.
Christians have a bad reputation in the secular world. I have heard countless complaints by adults, parents, youth, people I meet at school, people I meet at the marketplace, and even my own friends and family concerning Christians. I could literally fill several books with complaints directed toward Christians. And, I am tired of hearing stories of how non-Christians are better at treating people than Christians are! I am tired of experiencing this first hand. But, it does not seem to have an end! Yes, many people have a fear of conviction or they "drum" up excuses to avoid God; other excuses are just made up from spiritual warfare or prejudices. But, many are true. However, the fact is that we can be better!
The Problem of a Lost Focus
Nevertheless, I will bring health and healing to it; I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security. Jeremiah 33:6
I have spent a great deal of time in my ministry experience listening to the grievances, hurts, pains, disillusionments, and frustrations of people. Too often, the focus of these frustrations is the Church, or more specifically the leaders and members of the Church whose actions caused the hurt and damage. The verdict is that the Church is in trouble. Too many churches have lost their way-like Mary's little lamb-with the exception that they are not white as snow. Too many churches no longer have their passions focused on the lost or the poor; the focus is no longer on the call of the Lord, or solid biblical teaching, or equipping the saints. Rather, it is the call of self and selfish desires. When the typical person on the street is asked what they think of Christians or the Church, and all they can come up with is some tacky slogan on a bumper sticker from a car that just "cut them off," then something is very wrong. If all they can conjure up are reckless, indifferent drivers with a "fish" on their car, and all they can say is that Christians are indifferent, callous, arrogant, irrelevant, and hypocritical, then we have a big problem.
What is even more disturbing is that polls and research tell us that young people are honestly searching for spiritual meaning and are drawn to Christ, but will not dare to look for God in the church. They see the Church as a hindrance to their spiritual growth, and certainly do not view it as the place to form it. Another problem, along the same lines, is that the church's back door is as big as its front door. Statistics and my personal research and experience tell us that the average person who accepts the Lord will last only 6 to 8 weeks until they give up on their church. If this does not shock you or cause you grief, first check your pulse and then your mindset.
When I travel to speak or visit people, I get a lot of complaints from Christians who are earnestly seeking a good church, but cannot find one. They want churches where they can worship the Lord, ones that have good children and youth programs, and where they can hear good teaching. On the contrary, what they usually find are some good programs but also uncaring and cold churches, liberal churches too involved in politics and nothing else, churches that spend all their energies on the latest church growth gimmick, and no energy on what a church should be doing. They visit churches that have good children's programs, but terrible teaching and preaching, or they visit a church with good doctrine and teaching but no programs or ministries to families or anything else except the church services. They visit churches that have great worship and nothing else, and churches that have terrible, mundane, lifeless, and dead worship and everything else. Maybe they find a Church with good teaching, but the pastor and leaders are arrogant and unapproachable, even in times of great need. The focus of the church has become disjointed and confused, where human ambition has taken hold over God's sovereign call.
One close friend of mine who just left his church after several years complained that his pastor spends all of his time with bells and whistles in the worship service and little else. He is always being creative and making new changes, but neglects true worship, and spends little time in preparing lessons or teaching as he once did. He is centered on building a mega-church with compromised teaching and emphasis on drama for worship, but with no depth or concern for the people; to him they are just numbers. So, my friend and his wife left in disgust after several years of active membership, and the pastor did not care. This pastor was worshipping gimmicks and not the Lord, and seeking the purpose of the church from seminars and not from God's Word.
I have experienced the same in my travels-churches that are skewed in their focus, purpose, and vision. The focus of what the people and the leadership desire have replaced the call of our Lord through His Word. When I speak at pastor's conferences, I constantly run into, and have long conversations with pastors who desire to follow trends rather than the Lord. Now, as a church growth consultant, I need to defend some of the trends, bells, and whistles of being creative. We have to realize that they are just tools that attract, not the purpose of what a church is to be. Compromising and forgetting essential elements of teaching and worship, and even programs may get a few more "lookyloos" (usually not), but what are we doing with our Lord's call for the
Church and the care of His people?
I have seen on TV such travesties as self-proclaimed prophets and evangelists spewing out mass amounts of heresy and fake healings that make me feel as I did as a kid on my uncle's cattle ranch in the rainy winter, hip deep in cow "presents." I have seen people laughing, barking, and even vomiting in the name of Christ, but no discipleship or anything lasting and effectual coming from it except contempt from mature Christians and the community. I have seen pronouncements of "Send your money to me and not to the poor, because the poor do not deserve your money," and "God will not bless you, unless you send it to me." (An almost direct quote from a TV crusade; I see no need to give the person's name. Call Christian Research Institute in Irvine, CA, Equip.org for info.)
False revivals have replaced the preaching and teaching of the Word. "Feel-good" theology and the worship of "special knowledge" and money have replaced the worship of a Holy God. Can you imagine how our Lord feels when self-proclaimed evangelists are wearing dog collars and barking, rather than teaching or showing His love and Fruit? Or, that so-called Christians are looking for bubbles in the tummy for holy laughter, but no discipleship; so-called Christian leaders are racing for money across a stage to see who gets the most, but offer no discipline of the faith? Oh, and then there is "holy vomiting," instead of fasting. What about all of the false prophecies that never come true? How does this give our Lord glory? How does this further His Kingdom? How do these blasphemous, emotional outbursts disciple people in the Word and bring Christ's love to the community?
Pastors and leaders have neglected their spiritual growth and replaced it with misguided "church growth" trends. Worship has been contrary from the gratitude and praise of God where we are to surrender to His Lordship, and is replaced by entertainment. The sermon has gone from the proclamation of God's Holy Word to the telling of jokes and stories and performances with no word from our Lord or its application to our lives. There is nothing wrong with humor and stories; I use them a lot personally, but never to the concession of the message, only to complement it! The problem is that entertainment has replaced the pronouncement of His Holy Word. And in turn, it has vilified the church to dysfunction and backstabbing because of a lack of mission and spiritual formation.
We are called to turn our churches back to the Bible and so doing back to Christ!
© 1989, 1999, 2008, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org