“We should be astonished at the goodness of God, stunned that he should bother to call us by name, our mouths wide open at his love, bewildered that at this very moment we are standing on holy ground.” ~Brennan Manning, Ragamuffin Gospel
I have some thoughts that have been nagging me for a few years. I find it so hard to know when to speak what I believe to be truth to brothers and sisters in Christ, and when to stay silent. Many have spoken out about the issue of church in this country. God has placed the state of the American church on my heart as well. My goal is not to simply add to the noise, not just to complain or criticize it, but to fight for it.
I am pained by the direction that I see American churches going. I fear that in such subtle ways, our eyes and focus may be moving away from Christ and His teachings, and toward getting the masses to come in our doors. Are we, as the church, staying true to God’s Word and furthering His Kingdom? Or, as so many megachurches emerge, is it a numbers game?
The church of today is very polished and attractive from the outside. No wonder people are flocking to it. But, we must look at what is going on inside. Is the Word of God preached unapologetically in truth and love?
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. ” Matthew 23:27
Church is more than a building. It is not this church or that church. It is not this address or that website. It is the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is beyond the physical.
“What the church –the disciples gathered –really needs is not more people, more money, better buildings or programs, more education, or more prestige. Christ’s gathered people, the church, has always been at its best when it had little or none of these.” -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission
We must not be married to our ‘church plans’. Christ is the head of church. How can a church be Christ-led if it is bound to a plan that we created? If God tells us to move, and it conflicts with our plan, then what? Can having a long term plan breed arrogance and independence instead of DEPENDENCE on God?
Church has been on my mind lately. Oh, my soul is troubled. I just can’t shake this feeling that something is off. I can’t shake the feeling that maybe we can do church better.
I am troubled that our mission as the body of Christ might be compromised by our culture. I see how much like our society American churches have become. I would say that if we resemble the world too much in our churches or ourselves, we are on dangerous ground.
“Something is wrong when our lives make sense to unbelievers.” Francis Chan, Crazy Love
Where is the tension with the culture that Jesus and the apostles experienced? Where is the upside down teaching of Christ that led crowds of people to cry out for His death? Where is the anguish that caused Jesus to sweat blood that night on the Mount of Olives?
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:41-44
I mostly see comfort in our churches. I don’t see people crying out to God; I don’t see people so broken by the sin of the world that they can’t speak; and I don’t see people groaning in prayer for the lost. Where is our anguish and sorrow for a world that doesn’t know Jesus?
We have to ask ourselves, ‘are we lukewarm?’
Becoming lukewarm needs be always on our minds as ‘the church’, just as pride must always be on our minds because we are human. God knows our tendencies as individuals and as the church. He laid it out in scripture. We must acknowledge our sinful tendencies so that we can fight against them.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15-16
Most sermon topics revolve around being a better Christian, a better spouse, a better parent, a better citizen, a better neighbor or a better employee. These are all topics we need to be challenged on. However, I feel as though we neglect to preach on being a better church. We need to be examining ourselves to be ready as the body of Christ, just as a bride-to-be prepares for her wedding day.
We focus and teach on these things:
- Are we seeking His Kingdom first (Matthew 6:33)?
- Do we take care of the poor and oppressed (Matthew 25:35-40)?
- Do we feed His sheep (John 21:15–16)?
- Are we fishers of men (Matthew 4:19)?
- Are we loving our neighbors (Matthew 22:39–40)?
Many sermons on these topics have been given over the years. And they are vital if we are going to be faithful disciples. However, I believe that there are crucial areas that we neglect to address.
I feel strongly that we must be looking at what is going on within the walls of our churches. The church will never be perfect, but we need to be continually asking God how to make it better; how we can be better prepared for the wedding of the Lamb.
For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and be glad
and give him glory!
For the wedding of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
Fine linen, bright and clean,
was given her to wear.” Revelations 16:6-9
- Do we love each other within the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 13)?
Love is what it’s all about. If people can’t walk into our church and be blown away by the love that we have for each other, than we have work to do. People need to come into our sanctuaries and say, ‘No way! I’ve never seen a group of people love each other like that!’
- Do we deal with relationships within these walls in a way pleasing to Him (Matthew 5:23–25)?
What does a church-goer do when they disagree with something the church is doing or have conflict with someone in leadership? What is the protocol?
What I believe most often happens is that person or couple will be agitated or have an offense with someone within the church, but they say nothing. As time goes on, they get more and more agitated, and their frustration snowballs. Eventually, they are so extremely disgruntled that they leave. They disappear from the church and are seen no more. A few months later, we ask each other, what ever happened to the so and so’s?
This is how it works at every church that I have ever known. If you have a problem with the church, you leave. And, you find another church that temporarily pleases you. Until conflict arises, that is, and the cycle continues.
People leaving their church when they are frustrated poses 4 problems:
- That person loses the opportunity to be refined by God (Zechariah 13:9) by walking through the painful process of facing that difficult relationship or situation
- The church loses the opportunity to be refined by God through that difficult situation
- God calls us, the church, to be unified (John 17:20-23)
- We are all ‘the church’, and if one of us has a problem, the whole body has a problem (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Our growth and maturity as a church is stunted if we settle for this way of handling conflict. It doesn’t matter who is right or wrong.
- Are we in this church dealing with pride among the body AND the leaders (Jeremiah 49:16, 1 Corinthians 8:2)?
I often thought what a challenge pride would be for those in a place of power or popularity. The enemy will gladly use a stage to throw his arrows of temptation. I truly believe that pride is the enemy of ministry. And, I hope and pray that you, as the leaders, have a plan in place to always keep this on your radar.
- Are we making disciples (Matthew 28:19)?
The business of the church is to make disciples, and to make disciple-makers. We must ask ourselves these questions. Are the people in our church disciples? Are we, ourselves, disciples? Are we all making disciples? Are we all repenting? Are we all baptizing?
Let’s not just teach what Jesus commanded, let’s teach people to OBEY what Jesus commanded.
“Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.” -Dallas Willard, The Great Omission
- Are we caring for the weak and lowly within our walls as well as outside them (Ezekiel 34:3-4)?
- Who do we most highly esteem in the church, the poor widows or the rich fools (Mark 12:41-44 & Luke 21:1-4)?
Jesus Christ didn’t look like a king. He was different than any leader of His day. He took nothing for Himself, He was not loud and aggressive. Do we as the church, put leaders in front of the people and on our stages that most resemble Christ? Or, do we put the most impressive, the most learned, the most credentialed, and the most attractive above others? Does the church choose its leaders any differently than secular society?
- Are we speaking truth to each other (Ephesians 4:15)?
- Are we rebuking each other when we fall into sin (galatians 6:1)?
- Are we searching for the lost (Luke 15:1-7)?
- Are we choosing the narrow path (Matthew 7:13–14)?
- Are we guarding against false prophets (Matthew 7:15)?
- Are we denying ourselves (Luke 9:23–25)?
- Are we servants of all, including servants to each other (Matthew 20:26–28)?
- Are we focused on storing up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21)?
- Are we preparing ourselves for Christ’s return (Matthew 24:42–44)?
- Are we unified? Are we one? (John 17:20-23)
God has burdened me for the church. It is so often on my heart and mind. I fight so hard not to do or say the wrong things, that most times I do or say nothing. The tug-of-war within me is between the fear of being prideful or wrong on one side, and the fear of spending my life standing for nothing on the other.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23
Don’t get me wrong, I love the church. It is this love for the body of Christ that fuels my passion. We don’t know the hour our Master will return, therefore, we must always be ready. I desire for the church to always be holy and blameless.
He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. Ephesians 1:9-10
The truth is that each one of us is the church. It is up to all of us to fight to keep the body of Christ alive with the fire of the Holy Spirit. I know that I will always have things to repent of and work on until that glorious day the Lord Jesus takes me home. So it is with the church. We must be vigilant about keeping it pure and beautiful as the bride of Christ.
It’s time for revival in our churches! It’s time for an awakening! As church members, are we fresh with the fire of the living God in our bellies? Or, is it ‘business as usual?” Church is a big deal, brothers and sisters. We have to get this right!