Sunday, December 31, 2017

Every Church is a Family, and Many Are Dysfunctional

My church has always been a family too me. They have been there with me and for me when I went through so many things. They were there for the good times, for the celebrations and for the hard times. My pastor from my home church growing up will always be more and just my pastor. He led me to Christ, he Baptised me, he licensed me to the ministry, he preached at my ordination, he performed my wedding, he did my parent's funeral, he was the executor of my parent's estate, he became my dad and was always there. He is and will always be a huge part of my life.

After leaving my home church, I had my church is college, which went through a couple pastors where I was there. The first I never really had much of relationship with, he was a nice guy but we never clicked. The second pastor was a huge part of my life. He invested in me and my wife and our new baby. He taught me a lot and invested in my early ministry. He was a great pastor and preacher, but he was also very real. He taught me how to get through the good days and the bad days.

As I launched into ministry, I served in a variety of different churches with a variety of pastors and leaders. I have served with great men and women and some who were. . . .not as great. You see, just like there are many types of families, there are just as many types of churches and some are more healthy than others. Of course, every church has problems and issues, some run deeper than others. Too often in families and in churches, we ignore the problems, make excuses and pretend like everything is fine. If in a family, there is a problem, we need to address it.

The most common church dysfunction is the same issue that's plagued humanity since the fall. The Israelites had it, the Pharisees had it, the church in Rome had it and it exists today. The pride in man's heart creates an abuse of power. Leaders become obsessed with their own leadership, they become controlling, sometimes manipulative. They become overly attached to their own power and importance, and often Christ is no longer the head of the church. The Pharisees were so concerned with their own control, they didn't recognize Christ. In the end, they crucified Christ because they were afraid to lose power. Too often there is a hunger for control and power, leaders become overly obsessed with being in charge. Just like a controlling spouse, leadership dominance to the point of abuse is a dysfunction in a church.

There is the unattached, uninvolved church. You come on Sunday morning, you sit and no one really connects and no one really knows much. Sure there are relationships in the church, friend, and connections, but those groups don't connect to the other groups. The pastor really isn't involved in his people, the people aren't connected to the leadership and there isn't really a sense of community. It's superficial, and the people are connected but more from proximity. It's like that Thanksgiving dinner when no one talks and it's filled with small talk. The kids don't share with their parents, no one talks about their hurts or their problems. Everything is glossed over and no one really knows anyone else in the family.

Of course, there is the family that is over-involved. They want to dictate every action you take. A church is a great help and the pastor can really help you, but a pastor who is overly involved in your life, one who is controlling and manipulative, well that's as bad as a nagging in-law. A church that wants to manage your clothes, your hair, your money, your kids and how you spend every minute of your day, that is not healthy. Now, there are times that a church family needs to help when you are in trouble, in sin, or in bad spot overall, there are times to intervene, but a constant controlling church is not a healthy thing. It's not good when a parent controls adult children and it's not good when a church controls the people.

Of course, there are lots of variations of the next one, but I'm going to call it the secret sin church. A church that has an issue and maybe it's a secret, maybe it's not, but no one wants to address it. A pastor who is an egomaniac, but he is a good preacher and so we ignore it. The Pastor who tells lies acts more like a politician and says what you want to hear. We know he doesn't but we'll overlook it. The deacon who likes to gossip, but he's been around here forever. The elder who is crooked in his business dealings, but his tithe check is the biggest in the church. The influential church board member who is powerful at church and in the community and tells the racist and sexist jokes in his office. Everyone knows, but we aren't going to say anything. Sure the Pastor is emotionally abusive to his family, but as long as things are good for me, then it's all good. Did that sting a little? Look, I get it, you like the Pastor and he seems to be trying, well sometimes. I have served with men who have had issues, addictions, and problems and they struggled. I walked with them, prayed with them and they worked on and it tried. I'm not talking about those guys. I'm talking about the guy who says "well this just is who I am" so he has an excuse to behave badly. He can call his wife stupid in a group, cause that's how he is. He can threaten and insult church members who disagree because that is just his personality. We all know the controlling husband, the hurtful wife and the abusive boss that are given a pass. It happens in church, it happens a lot. Does it happen in yours?

I want to give you one more, although the list is much longer. The last is the trendy church. I'm not talking about the hipster worship leader and jeans wearing pastor, I mean the church that jumps on board with every new trend. In families, we see the mom that reads a new book or article and now her kids are doing that trend. They are the babywise, gluten and soy free, non immunized, raw milk drinking, Montessori school attending, gender fluid non-binary kids. If I offended you, I'm a little sorry. Montessori schools are probably fine, and if you don't want to eat gluten or soy, whatever. Immunize your kids, and they are boys or girls, it's science. Anyway, we all know those parents who read an article on Facebook about how dihydrogen monoxide has the highest pH of any acid will kill you if you have too much, so they plan to ban it from their homes as soon as they figure out what it is. News flash, it's water and yes, people drowned in it. Sometimes we buy the hype and make bad decisions. Churches can do the same thing, we become the best, purpose-driven, awake, simple church, team sport, radical, underground, crazy love church. Now, most of these books are good, I read most of them and really enjoyed them. The problem comes when a leadership team reads a new book and suddenly that becomes the model. The Pastor's sermons for the next 6 weeks are focused on the book, all the meetings and studies and prayers are focused on the book. The church becomes a mini version of the church that wrote it. The problem is, this isn't Saddleback or Atlanta or even Idaho (unless you are in one of those places, but then you are still not the other two). I'm in Iowa, that's my context. It's totally different than the one I was in when I lived in Arizona. They are both different from Wyoming. Parts are the same, some parts are totally different. I can't use the same cookie cutter approach. Can I use principles? Yes. Can I duplicate everything? No. It's like the parents who read a bunch of books by some pop-psychologist and now the kids are 35 and can't figure life out. Do what is best for your kids, do what works in your church.

Like I said, there are lots more, churches are filled with people who are filled with problems. Problems can be fixed, things can be resolved, and there is always hope. Don't go fire your pastor, burn down the building and disband the church. The biggest problem I think we make is when we start to treat the church like a business more than a family. If you go and fire your pastor and staff, that is a business move. If it must be done (he's embezzling or abusive) then it must be done, but don't fire a pastor or staff because you think you can get a better one. That's like leaving your spouse for a better-looking one. It's shallow and stupid and, well don't do it. I digress, don't throw the whole thing away, remember the point. The church is a family. You don't get rid of your kids, dump your spouse and disown your parents because there are problems. You fix them, at least in a functional family. Yes, there are times when an individual must be removed, but most of the time that isn't the case. Let's talk about the issues in the church, work on the issues in the church. If we just ignore what is going on, things will never get any better.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Real Meaning Behind the Separation of Church and State

I hear things often about how there should be a separation of church and state, meaning that religion needs to stay out of public life. How it has no place in politics, education or the marketplace. At the same time, religion is a key driving factor in one of the fastest growing demographics in this country, the Muslim population. In light of what has, is and will happen in this country, we need to look at what the separation of Church and state is, what the first amendment really says and how it is supposed to function.

First, we need to remember our foundation. Many of those who came to this country from England did so to escape religious intolerance. They were called Separatist (not the Star Wars kind) and they had no desire to be part of the Anglican church. They were Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Puritans, Brethren, and others. They came to this country to escape the persecution that was happening, as a result, the freedom of worship was important to them. They wanted those who lived in this country to be free from the fear of prison for worship. This is why they wrote the first amendment, that Congress shall pass no law concerning the establishment of religion and the free practice thereof. The separation of church and state means that the state would not establish a church, we will have no national religion, no denomination that is the state denomination, like The Church of England. No one would be forced to serve the church by the country.

Now today, we have moved to have freedom of religion, there is an organization promoting the freedom from religion. This is impossible since Christianity has shaped Western society. The whole idea of a weekend, the Gregorian calendar, the university, even democracy has roots in Judeo-Christian heritage. You can't escape religion, and you shouldn't try, even if you don't believe in an organized faith, you have to respect the American right to worship as you choose. You have the right and the freedom to worship Jesus, Mohammad, Budha or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You just do, it's a right. Individuals have a right to express that right in word and deed, as long as it does not infringe on the freedom of another. I can pray for you, I can pray in public, I can read my Bible, I can preach and teach, but I can't force you to read my Bible, pray with me or even listen to me preach. It's a fundamental right of every American.

As Christians (this is a Christian blog, so if you don't want the Christian perspective, you found the wrong place), we need to be aware of where we came from and what our obligation is. We are living in a mission field. America's Christian roots are growing short and the number of those not involved in a church is growing. The number of churches that have left Biblical teaching and embracing popular culture instead of Biblical truth is growing. Many mainline churches are leaving the truth of the Bible for what is popular, either liberal theology or the Word of Faith movement which much of it has turned away from truth in the pursuit of wealth and prestige. To stand on Biblical truth is not as popular and seldom see, unfortunately. We live in a time that American is more openly hostile to Christianity. It's ok to condemn the entire Church because some have acted hatefully, and what use to be considered wrong and immoral is not paraded as "normal".  If you stand on Biblical truth and call for things like sex only inside of a marriage relationship between a man and a woman where children are raised in healthy, two-parent households, you will get slapped with all sorts of labels. The culture thinks that's an outdated idea, I think truth is truth.

The culture may be against us, but there is something we have done a poor job at and we need to double down on. Religious freedom, not for us, but for others. I hear too many Christians saying that Muslims need to abandon their faith. I see posts all the time that Muslim women need to abandon the hijab. We cannot expect the world to give us religious freedom and attempt to subvert the religious freedom on another. It's true that some in the Muslim world don't believe that we should have religious freedom, that we should convert to Islam or pay the consequences. That doesn't matter, they are not the standard. The atheist who thinks that Christians should be locked into mental institutions, the Muslim that thinks Christians should be beheaded, the liberal who thinks we are to keep silent and fall in line, none of them are the standard. We need to stand for truth and for the freedom that we have.

Here is my thought. First, we need to support the rights of the Islamic community, the Jewish Community, the Buddhist community and others that are not Christian to freely exercise their religious freedom. We don't need to join them, we don't need to participate, we can tell them about Jesus and pray for their salvation (we can and we should), but we need to respect their freedom in America to be Americans and be free. Religious freedom is a fundamental right, and while we can have discussion and debate about truth, at the end of the day we need to respect their rights.

In we as Christians are going to make an impact in our society, we will do it with love, respect and understanding. We will share our faith, respect others and love them like Christ did. We can speak the truth without attempting to suppress the freedom of others. In this country, you can be Christian, Muslim, Atheist, straight, gay, transgender and even claim all of the above at any given time. We don't need to figure it out or understand it, but we need to show respect and love and understanding. Remember, we are sent to preach the truth, not destroy the unbeliever, that isn't what Jesus teaches, regardless of what any one else does. Our standard calls us to respect.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

How We Know We Are Failing As The American Church

So here is a sad reality. Wait staff at restaurants hate working Sunday lunch. Why? The after church crowd. They report the crowd is rude, impatient, demanding and lousy tippers.

This is just one report.

The church grew and gained favor in the first century because Christians cared for people. They took care of others, regardless of who they were. They took care of Jews, Greeks, pagans, and even people who pursecuted them. They were killed for their faith, but they never retaliated. They loved people anyway. The American Christian is known for plenty, but the Fruit of the Spirit doesn't seem like one.

Normally I try to close a blog with a solution. In this case, I believe problem is two fold. One, the church is filled with the unregenerate. Yes, I think that many of those individuals in your church who are there every week and even lead teams and ministries aren't saved. We know you can be committed and zealous apart from salvation. Pharasees were not saved. Muslims are not saved. Cults are full of the zealous unsaved. Unsaved church members, leaders, even pastors can serve and be unsaved.

That may sound harsh, but either they are unsaved or the holy spirit has no effect. Which do you believe. The second issue is that we are so consumed by self that we no longer are filled with the spirit. We are selfish, self centered and convinced of our own self importance. I made a Facebook comment today about how if you want to know how your church is doing, change something. What I mean is, rearrange the chair or paint a new color. People will get furious, because they feel the church is theirs and they should get to choose. Usually doesn't lead to showing love or grace. We just accept this reality of church members and make jokes about it.

We are not doing well American church, and the wait staff at the restaurant down the road from your church knows it. We need Jesus and we need to beg for the Spirit to heal us.