4 Problems, and One Hope
I believe the church in America is in trouble. For me, the scariest part is that it doesn’t realize it. I don’t need to bring up the divorce rate in the church or the infidelity rate among pastors to prove that the church is in trouble. None of that is relevant. In Revelation 2-3 Jesus is dictating letters to 7 churches; He has some good stuff to say about some of them. From an exterior standpoint, everything looked like it was okay, but He still had things to hold against them.
Pragmatism is an emphasis on whatever works. “If something works, then obviously it’s good” – that’s what pragmatism says. The church has been pragmatic for way too long. “Look at our event! Tons of people came and we had 100 salvations! Obviously God was in it”. What if God saved those people IN SPITE of your event, not because of it? We shouldn’t use pragmatism as a gauge to see if the church is successful. We use the scripture as a guide. If the bible says a church should act and function a certain way, then there is a problem if the church is not doing that.
When I asked myself the question “what is the biggest need in the American church”, 4 things came to mind.
1) Biblical ignorance is rampant: there is a need for sound biblical teaching
– It’s amazing that the basic essentials of the gospel are way past the average American churchgoers’ heads. It’s scary that a large majority of professing Christians couldn’t explain salvation. I would say that “basic soteriology is neglected”; and the fact that hardly anyone would know what soteriology is proves my point.
– Even among those who get the gospel and salvation right, there is still a lack of understanding of several basic Christian doctrines. Things that 2ndgraders were taught in Catechism 100 years ago seem like “deep theology” to Christians who’ve been saved for 20+ years.
– There’s an emphasis on contextualization and application rather than teaching the word and letting the application follow. In other words, instead of asking “what does the bible say, and what does the bible mean by what it says”, people are asking “can you give me good advice for how to live my life and throw some random bible verses in there?” To be clear, the gospel is relevant for life, and you can apply the truth of God’s word to every aspect of your life, but the application follows sound doctrine.
2) Church structure is ignored: there is a need for biblical ekklesiology
– We emphasize ministries and other things that are not found in the bible. For example: think about if you were going to start a brand new church, what are some of the things you would need? For most American Christians, the first things that come up are things like: a building, a musician, a pastor, and someone to watch the kids. After those basics are covered, we could expand to having a youth group, college group, men’s ministry leader, etc. However, the early church never mentioned ANY of those things. Rather than looking at what the bible says about the church’s structure, we look at what churches in our culture do, and try to make a different version of the same model.
– There is an emphasis on ONE of the FIVE ascension gifts (Pastor) and the other four are largely neglected. Church structure was never built around one leader and a bunch of followers. In the book of Acts, and several of the epistles we see a plurality of leadership in the local church. Leadership consisted of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These were considered elders, or sometimes bishops of the church. There were also deacons to help carry out the decisions of the elders. It is very rare to find a church that accepts this format of leadership, but it’s the only format that the bible gives. There was never a board, or committees, facilitators, or “church staff”.
3) Qualifications for leadership is subjective
– No one knows who qualifies for what ministry. Rather than using the bible as a guide, many leaders are selected based on secular values (Is he charismatic? is he organized? Does he make good business decisions?). We put giftedness above character, “anointing” above biblical qualification. There is a lack of accountability holding the leaders to the biblical standard of what a church leader should be.
4) Mission is neglected
– Make disciples/all nations/ baptizing/ teaching… The churches mission is spelled out pretty clearly in the bible, but it’s replaced with new innovative ideas consisting of events, procedures and intrinsic activities. The American church can often times look more like an exclusive country club rather than an inclusive movement. Take a second an think of all that you would need for a typical church “outreach”. What came to mind? Usually four things come to mind for a full blown “church outreach”: bounce-house, band, hot dogs and a raffle. All that boils down to is a lame substitute for preaching the gospel. It’s easy to get a group of volunteers to be posted at a bounce-house; however let’s see if those same volunteers would want to go on a prayer walk or personally share the gospel with strangers in the area.
– Biblical discipleship is neglected. For those in the church who want to “advance in ministry”, the way it’s perceived is to have the church facilitate a room and tell people to come so I can teach you a bible study. In other words, the church leadership is supposed to give me the resources, invite the people, and have everything setup to where all I have to do is show up and “disciple” them when they get there once a week. The biblical model was to go; not to have people come. It’s easy to have a group of people from the church show up for a bible study. It’s not so easy to have people from your neighborhood or work who you’ve personally built a relationship with come.
It would be pretty lame if all I did was point out what’s wrong without offering some type of solution. The good news is that there is hope. However, it’s important to point out what’s wrong because if we don’t realize there’s a disease, we won’t think it necessary to seek the cure. So what is the hope?
“no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him” Isaiah 64:4. God is willing to act on our behalf if we wait for him. If there’s one person you should want to have involved in a seemingly hopeless situation, it’s someone who knows all of the facts knows all of the solutions, has all of the power, and all of the willingness to make a change. Prayer is no small thing. It’s always the first step, and often the only step. However, most times through prayer, God will show you other things that you can do to be a part of the solution.
The other piece of hope is that if you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. Don’t take that lightly. That means that within yourself, you have access to all that God has for anything you need. Don’t wait for church leadership to put practices and procedures in place to fix the problem. To be clear, we do need leaders to step up; but every Christian is accountable FIRST to truth, not church leadership. It starts with us. When average everyday spirit filled Christians make radical decisions to live in submission to the truth and refuse to compromise the word, leaders will be challenged and the Word of God will be restored back to its rightful place of being our guide.