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.