Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Why the Church is Failing

The topic of the shrinking church in the United States, and really in the Western World has been a conversation and topic of many who are much smarter than  I am. As I have thought and lived through the issues, there are a few things I want to point out. Some of these I have addressed before, some are new. In my opinion, they are all symptoms of a disease that is killing the church in the west.

I am currently reading Lessons from the East by Bob Roberts Jr. I am not very far into the book, and he is hitting me in the face with what I know. The Western church stinks at cultural transformation. We don't know how to change a culture or impact a culture. American was settled and colonized by Christians. It was founded by Christians with Christian ideas and principles. We have never been the minority, yet we now live in a Post Christian nation. Even the Republican Party has moved away, nominating Donald Trump for our candidate.

When it comes to impacting society, we want to just change laws, keep our traditions legal and outlaw everyone else. It doesn't work and we know it doesn't work. Homosexual marriage is probably here to stay. Transgenderism is on the rise and we won't make a dent in the legal area, we have to learn how to be salt and light. Unfortunately we are not very bright or salty. I'll come back to that. There are more issues with the church.

With the rate that pastors are quitting, being fired and leaving the church, there is going to be a real shortage of pastors in a generation. Reality is the millennials are not going to act the the Baby Boomers. Bridgers (WWII generation) worked hard, long hours for low pay and built things and never said much about it. Boomers work hard, long hours and low pay and wear it like a badge of honor. They march around parading the long hours, low pay and suffering for the job. My generation, the Xers and Busters, we don't like long hours and low pay, we do it and complain. We whine and moan about working long and hard, but we do it. Millennials, they won't complain, they just won't do it. They are not going to put up with low pay, always on call, whiny and demanding church folk and increasing societal pressure. They aren't going to live in the fish bowl, be gossiped about and judged by people who commit the same sins. Until church members figure out they can't treat a pastor like a minimum wage employee and a doctor at the same time, the number of qualified pastors will drop. The church will decline as it's filled with uneducated men who just want to be in charge.

The other issue is the pastors who just want to be in charge. They want to honor, the notoriety and the respect. They want people to pay attention so they can fix all the worlds problems 30 minutes once a week. The ego of the pastoral ministry continues to grow, and the mega church model has made it worse. You get a church over about 175, the pastor will need help keeping his ego in church. You break 250, he needs lots of prayer. Growing churches ruin good pastors, the temptation to pride is too much for them. We stopped planting community churches and grow mega churches and it's going to kill the church in the West.

I heard a bit of a Tony Evans sermon tonight, and he said that churches need to exist for the sake of the kingdom, but instead churches exist for the sake of the church. He is so right, most of a church budget is for stuff for the people. If your church buys nice land, builds a nice building and decorates it well, they can say it's to reach the community, but that's garbage. The people want a nice place to come to church, and they want others to come and join the church so it can grow. You want to help the church, rent an old warehouse, meet there Sunday morning and do homeless outreach 6 days a week. Feed them, give them clothes and clean socks. Instead, it sits empty most of the time, and the pastor has a nice office to talk to the church members who just want to be comfortable.

This brings me to the main point. The reason the church is dying in the west. There are a thousand little things I can list, lots of things i can point out, but it comes down to one thing. Church members in the West are incredibly selfish. We sing praise songs about ourselves, we go to church so we can get fed, we want and we demand. We talk about being a body, but we only care about ourselves. If you had your arm cut off, would you miss it? So why when people leave a church but stay in the same town do we pretend like they never existed? I left a church after serving there for 4 years, pouring my life into it. The years after I left where the hardest and darkest times of my life. I struggled, I fell, I suffered and with the exception of a few, most people never reached out to me. They knew I was struggling because so much of the gossip got back to me. They were talking about me, whispering and snickering. It's not just me either, it happens in almost every church. People leave, people fail or fall or get hurt and we gossip. Pastors and leaders gossip, and it gets back to people. I have been devastated to hear the things said about me by leaders in social situations that wasn't true and just hurtful.

Let's get to it, the church is messed up and we are the church, so it's your fault. Yes, I said it, it's my fault and your fault. We can't just blame this nameless, faceless thing called the Western Church. We are selfish. I am selfish, you are selfish. Are you willing to give up what you have to reach people? Would you let new people in your little circle? Would you divide your Sunday School class so more people could come? Would you move the time and location of your small group? Would you give up your fancy building to worship at a homeless shelter? Would you give of your time and money to help the less fortunate? Would you call that guy who use to come to church but really blew it and now no one seems him? You know the guy, the one everyone says is a screw up, can you love them, even through they left the church?

We don't. We don't change, we don't do things that hurt or are hard. We don't do the things that really make the church what it's suppose to be. My body doesn't fight with itself, when it does I go to the hospital and make it well. I don't cut off my limbs if they don't do what I think they should. If my arm is broken, I take care of it. I don't fire legs when they give out, I nurse them. The western church is a business, not a body, it's an organization and not an organism. The focus has become maintenance, comfort and control. It may not be long before we lose our lampstand.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Quick to Disqualify

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (I Timothy 3:1-7 [ESV]

These are familiar passages, Paul writing to Timothy and telling him guidelines for who should be a pastor. I have served in, around and among churches who have used these verses to various degrees. One thing I have found disturbing is those who seek diligently to disqualify those who are called to serve. I want to share with you what I think Paul meant and how we use and abuse these verses.

In the church, men who feel called to being a pastor should have a certain character. They should be good guys, love people and behave well. Paul lays out some good guidelines, Pastors should be examples of good Christian men. We have taken the verses in the modern church and turned them into a litmus test. We scrutinize every area of life that we want too, ignore others. We have scores or rude and pride filled pastors who have never been divorced, so they are fine. Pastors that ignore their families, but he has a doctorate and a radio ministry. Lead pastors who devour staff, but are "respectable" because those with money and power get what they want.

In many churches today, Paul himself would be disqualified because of his past. In other churches, they would cut Judas down, give him cpr and put him in the pulpit. We have lost our minds. We disqualify a man who was divorced 35 years ago because his wife left him for another man, then hire a tyrant.

Here is a newsflash. If you applied the letter of this passage across the board, no man could serve. No one is above reproach, each pastor has areas of shortcomings. All have lusted, lied, hated, been prideful and arrogant and rude. Some hide it better than others. Instead of creating a legalistic program of hiring pastors, ranking sins and mistakes and looking to disqualify, use some sense. Find a Paul, a Peter or a John instead of overlooking them in scrutiny.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

How I Would Fix America

So the slogan seemed to work, Make America Great Again, and Donald Trump is our republican nominee for President. Love or hate the Donald, it looks like we will be hearing from him a lot. On the other side, it's probably going to be Hillary, which in my opinion is even worse. It's not good news politically, and many on my FB post are sharing their disappointment in many ways. I figure since many won't vote for either candidate, it's time to put in my 2 cents. If you are going to write in a name, how about me? Why you ask? Here is my plan to fix America.

First, I'm going to make a law that a store cannot be larger than 2500 square feet in space unless it sells hunting or fishing gear. That's right, the giant stores have to go. No more big box store, no more giant parking lot, no more row of check out lanes with no one working them. You sell your item, you sell shoes or dresses or watches or jewelry or meat or fruit. We are getting rid of the Super Center and we are bringing back the mom and pop shop. Next, we tax higher the stores that have an out of state cooperate office, so locally owned shops can be more competitive. Tax breaks and tax incentive for the small business owner. We are also going to give them options to own their building and stop flushing so much money away renting commercial property and being priced out.

We get the mom and pop stores back, then we limit the size of school buildings. There has to be a school for a neighborhood, no more of this giant school building business. We stop pumping money into the bureaucracy behind schools, we begin to limit things above the local school level. We ditch the buses and the national staff that puts out mandates that make no sense. We send the federal money to the state level, the state cuts back and then funnels that money to the local level and school get smaller and teachers teach with more play and better resources. We support our kids in our community schools and actually have a community.

The last one is tricky, because you can't get a law to make this one work. We need to convince the mega church to go away and become a church planting church. Better to have 5 community churches of 200 than one giant church of 1,000. I know, you can get cooler stuff with a thousand people, but if you have 5 solid community churches that work together, you can actually make an impact in your community. Let's meet people where they live instead of having a giant church across town. Bring back the church that everyone can get to know everyone, and the church grows by planting a new work in another part of town. You get to be 350 people, you take 100 people who live close together and you start another church. You don't build a bigger building, you don't get a bigger parking lot, you plant a new church.

All of these things have one main thing in common. I believe them to be the foundation of community. We have lost community, and have become so individualistic, so selfish and self entitled that we are tearing this country apart. People don't care about others, they only care about themselves. Marriages break apart because people are selfish. Families are torn apart, communities break down and society as a whole begins to decay because people are selfish. We end up with Donald and Hillary because people are selfish. Not only that, but we have become so self-focused we don't see what we have lost. Community made us better, made us stronger wiser. We did great things together. We built an amazing country that we are now flushing down the toilet. Without a strong a vibrant community, the nation has no cohesion. Bring back the community markets, bring back the community school, bring back the community church. We need that more than a wall, an increased minimum wage, a ban on Muslims or expanded Obamacare. We need each other.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Training the Sacred for the Ordianry

What happens when the sacred becomes common and ordinary? There are things that God has set up and instituted and they are holy and sacred. The church is His body, communion, baptism are things that are sacred and set apart for God. The Word of God and the pieces that God has put in place for His bride, the church.  We need to take these things seriously as we approach God, as we read His word together and pray together in our acts of Worship. We are often in danger of being too casual with the sacred acts and times that we should bring in offering to God.

Marriage is sacred, the family is sacred, life is sacred. Those things have lost meaning in our culture and are set aside, cast aside and destroyed with very little thought or concern. We are on the verge of being a country that profanes what God has said is sacred. We have stopped caring about the things that God has said are sacred. You can buy a divorce on the internet these days for a quick and easy destruction of marriage. Families are split and torn and separated all the time without a thought. We hear people say "kids are resilient, they will be ok". We have simply justified the destruction of those things that God gave us for our benefit and for our good. 

This begins with me. Do I offer worship, or do I just go through the motions? Am I trying giving God my best?  Many of the sacred things in church we ignore and many of the things that are not sacred we elevate. We focus on appearance, worship styles, even want to critique the pastor on his preaching style and method. We often miss worship because we are not satisfied, and it makes me wonder who are we really worshiping? We are worried about the style of music, the people who are singing or playing or leading.

Sometimes I think we worship a God who worships us.

Is our worship ordinary? Are we giving what we have left or are we giving the best. Do we schedule God around our life or our life around God? What priority is God in our lives? Much of what God is proclaiming through the prophet is what we are guilty of. We give God lips service, we can talk a good game with church folks, but what do we look out outside? Where are our hearts? It may look like we are bringing in our gifts and our offerings to the temple, but are they blind and lame?

Jesus says this in Matthew 5:23-24, if you are offering your gift at the alter and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

What is in our lives comes out in our gifts. When we sing praise, it is the same mouth we use for cursing others? Do we speak encouragement and condemnation from the same mouth? What is the condition of our hearts, and how does it effect our worship?

Have our attitudes become focused on ourselves? The root of detestable worship is selfishness. We want to keep the best for ourselves, so God gets the leftovers. We want to have the things we want, so we give God what we don't want. We cling to those things which we like, that we want and we think they are going to make us happy and bring us joy. Even they become routine, they become addictions, they begin to ensnare us and we become broken and bitter and resentful and we don't worship God.

It's easy to give up the things we don't really care about. It's easy to drop the sins that have not ensnared us. What about the sins that we hold close, that we cherish? Are they standing in the way of worship? I worry that so often in the church we have created for ourselves that we are simply worshiping ourselves, making an idol of ourselves.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

My War with Bitterness and Frustration

There are days when I just want to pack up a few things and leave civilization all together. I hear things on the radio, the news, read them online, the news paper and in social media. This world makes me upset, sometimes just plain angry. I shouldn't get mad, I should just trust God, but I struggle. I don't understand how people can be so ignorant sometimes.

We are all about social progress these days. We are focusing on self esteem and self expression. Now that gay marriage is legal, it's transgender time. Now we want anyone to be able to express any gender they want. This means I can go in the ladies locker room if I decide I feel like a woman that day. News flash, this is stupid and ludicrous. Your gender is genetically defined, it's not a choice. I can't decide to be a woman, a cat or a tree. I'm a human male, it's not a choice. It's not open to interpretation. It's not fluid. What is wrong with this country?

I'm not going to start on politics, socialism, the election and the running joke that has made of our country. The selfish and short sighted worldview in our country is ridiculous. Why would we make it easier for pedophiles when things like pedophilia is on the rise? Had America gone stupid?

These issues aren't even my biggest issues lately. I'm frusterated most of all with the church I see in this country. The gates of hell may not prevail against the church, but America trashed it pretty bad. Our manners are horrible, people are selfish and shallow, the doors are closing, the need is huge and pastors are burned out. The only ones doing well are the prosperity preachers and the heretics. We are a country of shallow thinking, feeling driven, needy and lazy people.

We took the church and made it a business. Pastors embrace a CEO model and age more worried about being respected and having authority than walking with people. In today's model, we would rather fire a struggling Pastor and throw out a volunteer that isn't performing well than to try to mentor them. We give up on people. Jesus restored Peter, we would have sent him back to fishing. Thomas world have been fired for doubting.

We study the Bible to prove our theology instead of letting the Bible prove our theology. We toss out anything with weight, we just want what is easy. We don't struggle, we don't suffer. We want easy life, God that fits in our pocket and a doctrine that we can understand, control and makes concessions for what we want.

News flash, we are sinners, God is holy and you can't control anything. You can't tell your dead heart to beat. Sin is still sin. If you lie, cheat, steal, hurt people or lust, it's sin. Sex outside of marriage between a man and woman is sin. Always. God hates divorce, and your justification doesn't change that. We want to turn a blind eye, but never the other cheek. We will be ok with whatever Trump does or says but if a Pastor messes up, we shout crucify. Leave Mark Driscoll alone already, God will take care of Mark. Deal with Joel and Joyce.

There you go. More people will listen to Steven Anderson say something totally ignorant than will read my blog. People will flock to causes like gay, transgender pride rallies in support of Planned Parenthood, but won't give a thought of how their behavior is destroying America by making us selfish, blind and lazy. People have been so concerned about everyone being able to seek pleasure, we don't notice we are causing all the pain.

I struggle and I get angry. Part is my pride and my ego. I think I'm right and I think if people would listen to me, I could help fix things. I feel like I have some good things to say and contribute. Right now I have few real outlets. I'm frusterated because I see destruction and have little recourse. Maybe I'm a modern prophet, or just an arrogant guy who thinks he knows too much. Either way, I have to fight off the bitterness.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Can't I Just Earn It?

We just celebrated Easter, the amazing work of Christ on the cross, dead and rising again. It's am amazing story, we love to celebrate it and tell it and share it. We stink at living it though. Face it, it would just be easier if we can just earn it. Ok, not easier in fact it's not even possible. We have already lost our opportunity to earn it, but does it keep us from trying? Let's face it, we don't know how to really experience grace. We spend our lives trying to measure up to what we already have. I do it, and you probably do it too. It's human nature. If you notice, the Christian faith is the only religion in the entire world that has the concept of grace. In every other world religion and cult, you get to heaven by earning it, doing more right and less wrong and following the rules.

In our American Christian faith, I notice we have several "works" that we don't call works, but we like to tack on to the end of things. See if you agree with me on these. The first is knowing stuff. If you are a serious Christian, you gotta know stuff. Maybe some of it is Biblical stuff, and then there are things you know about the Rapture, Christian authors or music, and church history. You know what the 10-40 Window is, you know when Lifelight is held. You probably should know some popular Bible Podcasts, some pastors and teachers and scholars. We like knowing stuff, and the more stuff you know, the better you are.

You have to have your daily stuff. You gotta have a quiet time, a nice collection of Christian devotional material. If you pray every day you are good. If you pray with your family you are even better. If you pray with your family and a coworker you are amazing. Don't forget to read your three chapters of the Bible every day so you can read the entire Bible in a year. Don't forget to share your stuff on Facebook or Twitter.

Of course a good Christian is at church every time the doors are open. Sunday Mornings are just for the novice. If you are really saved, you go Sunday Night, Wednesday night, you attend Small Group, prayer group, life group, missions group, committee meetings, business meetings and anything else you can attend. You strive to prove how committee we are to Jesus by spending every moment we can in the church building. If we are super saints, we might have a set of keys so we can open or lock up. Peter may have had the keys to the kingdom of heaven, but that's not as awesome as the keys to the prayer room.

Let's not forget the time factor. How long have you been saved, how long has it been since you sinned? How long has it been since you been to church? How long have you been married, how long have you been attending church or Sunday School? How long since your last confessions? Have you put in your time? How about your money? What is your percentage at? Are you giving pretax? Are you tithing your gross or just your take home?

Yes, there was some humor and maybe a little sarcasm here, but I hope it made you think. None of these things are bad, going to church is great. Reading your Bible is important and amazing. Being in a small group, in Sunday School, those are amazing things. Being a Christian for many years helps you gain wisdom, and of course you need to be involved in your local church. It's not the things themselves that's a problem, but when they become the end in themselves. Reading the Bible is not about reading the Bible, but learning more about God and growing in relationship with Him. Prayer is not about spending the right amount of time in prayer, but spending time with the Father.

The good things we do, we do because we love God, or at least we should. We must be sure we never swap our obedience to the Father for duty or obligation. We do what we do from love, not to earn love. Our lives are spent giving glory to God, not earning glory from God.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Audio Post, What Do You Think?

I am trying something new.  This is an audio post I recorded while driving today. Please give me some feedback! Thanks everyone.

First Audio Post