Interesting essay and honest explanation of how the Christian church in America is dwindling. While the author has several excellent points, and his overall message is a good one, he misses some very blatant truths that we must understand in order to apply the great admonition he gives the church in America at his conclusion. My comments are not intended to criticize, but add some weight and gravitas to the issues that are driving many out and away from the Church. My comments are from viewing the problems he cites from a pastoral/missionary perspective. I would definitely read the entire essay, my comments follow the quote boxes.
Being on the other side of the Exodus sucks, don’t it?
I see the panic on your face, Church. I know the internal terror as you see the statistics and hear the stories and scan the exit polls.
I see you desperately scrambling to do damage control for the fence-sitters, and manufacture passion from the shrinking faithful, and I want to help you.
You may think you know why people are leaving you, but I’m not sure you do.
You think it’s because “the culture” is so lost, so perverse, so beyond help that they are all walking away.
You believe that they’ve turned a deaf ear to the voice of God; chasing money, and sex, and material things.
To diminish the Churchs’ view that this culture’s glittering temptation and focus on money, sex and material things is a major factor in the shrinking church in America is a gross misunderstanding of a key device Satan has used to blind the church in America. We do believe many are not interested in God because the pursuit of the flesh is indeed a major focus of the American/Western mindset. If chasing money, sex and material things was NOT a major focus for many Christians , why is it the Joel Osteen Health/wealth Prosperity Gospel is the largest growing ‘church’ for so many?? Look, I’ve listened to Osteen’s Zig Zigglar self-help positive thinking path to wealth and riches gospel. It attracts many like moths to a flame and at the same time runs off many more in disgust and shame. Osteen himself preaches chasing money and material things (Name It and Claim It physical blessings) as the sign of a ‘mature Christian’ and that those who suffer without such things ‘lack faith’. Under that false gospel, when money, sex and material things do not visit those who pay homage to that doctrine, many do lose heart and faith in the church as a whole and decide to pursue those goals outside of a Christian framework.
You think that the gays and the Muslims and the Atheists and the pop stars have so screwed up the morality of the world that everyone is abandoning faith in droves.
To subtly suggest that those agendas have not assisted in the abandonment of the faith is also a major oversight. In fact those agendas have watered-down the church because the very people this author is citing for leaving the church are the same people who see nothing wrong with homosexuality, affirm there are many paths to heaven and that pop stars are the definition of their generation. The church itself has been influenced greatly by those things, which is why praise and worship has become a hip-hop concert for many and churches who speak out against the homosexual and secular agendas are targeted for blame in this exodus he addresses.
But those aren’t the reasons people are leaving you.
They aren’t the problem, Church.
You are the problem.
Let me elaborate in five ways …
1. Your (Church) productions have worn thin.
This point while excellent and true, contradicts the earlier statement of Church opinion that gays and pop stars have screwed up morality. The church itself is mimicking much of the cultural rot that is popular in order to attract ‘believers’. But his point about much of what passes for ‘praise and worship’ being white noise with little sustaining substance during the rest of the week is spot-on.
2. You speak in a foreign tongue.
…You’re holding onto dusty words that have no resonance in people’s ears, not realizing that just saying those words louder isn’t the answer. All the religious buzzwords that used to work 20 years ago no longer do.
Very true, and also you can add varying church traditions that are defined as doctrines to that mix of ‘foreign tongues’. Making scripture and the faith relevant in this evil world is imperative. Sadly what often happens is that the church either makes doctrine of utmost importance to the exclusion of all else, or it compromises the faith and the scriptures to make the culture relevant in the church, rather than the church being a relevant force in the culture.
3. Your vision can’t see past your building.
The coffee bar, the cushy couches, the high-tech lights, the funky Children’s wing and the uber-cool Teen Center are all top-notch … and costly. In fact, most of your time, money and energy seems to be about luring people to where you are instead of reaching people where they already are.
Perhaps the greatest indictment in this essay that I wholeheartedly agree with. Missions seem to the be the very first thing churches cut from their budget as the greater Church in America turns inward to satisfy the ‘needs’ of the congregation that wants all the accoutrements of comfort and provision for their ‘experience’. Instead of a place that people come in to sharpen iron so they can GO OUT into the world to do Matthew 28:19-20, the Church sets as it’s marketing goals a place for people to come in….and stay in.
4. You choose lousy battles.
We know you like to fight, Church. That’s obvious. When you want to, you can go to war with the best of them. The problem is, your battles are too darn small.
I would modify this one and say that churches love to fight one another over doctrine and easy cultural skirmishes, but when it comes to the real heavy issues where Satan has the high ground; abortion, homosexual marriage, sexual addictions, promiscuity, adultery and divorce – the church not only runs away from confronting those sins and agendas, but has surrendered to them completely.
5. Your love doesn’t look like love.
Love seems to be a pretty big deal to you, but we’re not getting that when the rubber meets the road. In fact, more and more, your brand of love seems incredibly selective and decidedly narrow; filtering out all the spiritual riff-raff, which sadly includes far too many of us.
It feels like a big bait-and-switch sucker-deal; advertising a “Come as You Are” party, but letting us know once we’re in the door that we can’t really come as we are. We see a Jesus in the Bible who hung out with lowlifes and prostitutes and outcasts, and loved them right there, but that doesn’t seem to be your cup of tea.
To the world, our love does not ‘look’ like love because this wicked world has redefined what ‘love’ means.
This culture under Satan has redefined ‘love’, and the church has swallowed that baited trap hook, line and sinker. “Love” in this culture has been redefined to mean “accept” and “tolerate” which graduates to ‘compromise’. Because if we tell a sinner to overcome his sin (i.e.; homosexuality) the church is automatically declared to have no love or ‘tolerance’.
Yet the scriptures explicitly tell us that God has no tolerance for sin, and as a direct result of it, sent His only Son to DIE, so that we could have our sins covered UNDER HIM, and live in a new life away and outside of the wickedness of the world.
‘Come as you are’ does not mean ‘remain as you are’ – which many complainers of Christianity make as their justification of hostility and indifference to the faith.
In Revelation 2 & 3, Jesus repeats the same thing to all the Churches: OVERCOME. To him who OVERCOMES will He grant to sit on His Throne. Overcome what? Obviously – sin. That gives bearing one another’s burdens a whole new meaning does it not? If we have no love, we would leave the world to rot in the consequences of it’s sins. If we LOVE, we will point to the path of redemption, reconciliation and OVERCOMING the sin, so the consequences of that behavior are not visited upon men, or their children.
These words may get you really, really angry, and you may want to jump in a knee-jerk move to defend yourself or attack these positions line-by-line, but we hope that you won’t.
We hope that you’ll just sit in stillness with these words for a while, because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.
What is real to us, is not always what is important to God. Often, with this flesh, what is important to us is the values of this world we live in and the perspectives Satan wants us to see faith in. Scripture says there is a way that seems right (or real) to a man, but therein lies the path to death (Proverbs 16:25). What this essay brings forth should cause us to reflect on the truths cited, but there is much meat that is missing that would lend the warnings and complaints so much more weight.
Maybe I am the problem.
Maybe it is me, but me is all I’m capable of being right now, and that’s where I was really hoping you would meet me.
The failures of the church in dealing with someone struggling with sin, or lost in sin is indeed a major problem that the author rightly addresses. He makes the case for ‘hearing’ his complaint, and he touches on the idea of ‘coming alongside’ those suffering in sin and pain. However, in this current culture that is often easily twisted into the demand to capitulate with sin and ‘not judging sin’. We need to come along side someone seeking, to help them OVERCOME sin, and say ‘this is the Way, walk in it’. Too often that is being defined as ‘intolerance’ and imposition, and the church has not done a good job of defending the need to rescue people out of their sins, because this culture and the church have bought the lie that defining the sin and pointing sin out, is the only sin there really is.
But so too has the Church failed in the manner the author addresses. Rather than helping others come out of sin, there is often ostracization, dismissal and disfellowship, which is what this author addresses as a major contributor to the exodus from the Church.
Bearing one another’s burdens is something the church tends to limit to only helping fellow church members cope after a disaster or trial. Helping someone come out of an addictive behavior or sin is just as necessary. Shame and brokenness can be a weapon Satan uses to keep us from the church and keep the church away from us. Yet, we do not teach brethren Apologetics to be able to say when accused of a sin, that yes – I sin, which is WHY I NEED A SAVIOR. Equipping saints to help others come out of their struggles with sins is a course that has yet to be taught in many mainline and secondary denominations.
So yes, Church, even if you’re right, even if we’re totally wrong—even if we’re all petty, and self-centered, and hypocritical, and critical, and (I’ll say it), “sinful”—we’re still the ones searching for a place where we can be known and belong; a place where it feels like God lives, and you’re the ones who can show it to us.
Depends on what such people are seeking. If they are seeking a place to come be known and belong without any emphasis on overcoming themselves and their sins, by the renewing of their minds, then what they seek is not what the church is for. Jesus said “Be perfect as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), and while we acknowledge that we may never be so in this life, it does not negate the fact Jesus intended that to be what we strive for as Christians. If people want to find a place where “God lives”, it is going to be in a body that not only loves and praises God, but acknowledges our sins, bears one another’s burdens and helps one another OVERCOME our sins and shortcomings, so we can all learn to put on the mind of Christ, to build Our Father’s character in our minds and hearts.
True love is when you are not afraid to tell someone struggling with sin, ‘Go and sin no more, I will help as best I can to bear that burden with you’. What I hear many say in reply in this culture, is that such a position is intolerance and not acceptance, because our culture demands the Church accept the sinner as they are WITHOUT pushing them towards repentance.
If we are going to truly love someone, we are not going to leave them in their sin, which will result in death, literal and eternal. What we hear many say who are leaving the church is what we read in Isaiah 30:10, Romans 16:18 and II Timothy 4:3. A people influenced by a culture that tells them to give them only smooth and easy things, acceptance, tolerance and a promise of eternal life without transformation.
I see a church unwilling to change staunch unwavering positions of tradition and doctrine to serve the individual. At the same time, I see a church unwilling confront the challenge from the culture, and falling to the demands that they bend and accept every demand the people infected by the culture demand. A lukewarm church is not attractive, because many can see it stands for little or nothing but itself.
And that kind of hypocrisy and weakness is not a place they see or feel a powerful God exists to transform their lives.