Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. Revelation 2:7
Many of us who have been church leaders for a number of years are beginning to ask some hard questions of ourselves. On the one hand, we seem to have success all around us – megachurches that are larger than ever, celebrity pastors that are known nationwide, church facilities that are second to none, and para-church ministries that are multi-media money-making machines that spread our message to the ends of the earth.
But on the other hand, there are less churches and less Christians in the US than in previous years. The church is in decline, with more and more churches closing their doors every day and many pastors calling it quits, with some even leaving the faith. Church attendance is declining year after year, with many Christians accessing sermons and worship music online or not at all. In fact, it is often hard to tell who is a Christian and who is not – many people today profess faith in Christ but that has little bearing on how they live. They are not followers of Christ as much as they are followers of the worldly culture in which they live.
And as much as us church leaders would like to point fingers at the folks in our congregations or blame the culture or times in which we live, we have to admit that much of the problem is our own fault. In recent decades we have looked to business models and leadership principles for direction rather than inquiring of the Lord and the New Testament. Our goals and measurements of success come from the world, not from God. The church looks like a business offering services to consumers rather than the family of God or the Body of Christ that the New Testament describes.
It’s time that we faced the truth – we have lost our way. We have screwed up. We have conformed to the world around us rather than allowing ourselves and our churches to be transformed by the Word of God. We seek after worldly success rather than the One who created us. We peddle solutions to life’s problems without ever recognizing that we are the problem. We who are called to hold out the Word of Life to those who are dying give them platitudes and placebos instead. After all, if we told them the truth, they might leave our church and go somewhere else.
Even essential teachings of Jesus like the Great Commandment are often neglected as we bow our knees to the culture around us. Think about it. We’re not known for our love for God because we don’t live holy lives set apart from the world. We’re not known for our love for our neighbors or co-workers because we love ourselves more. We would rather burrow into our couches and watch our screens rather than go get to know someone. And we’re not known for our love for one another because in most churches we don’t even know one another.
We do talk about some of the teachings of Jesus when it suits our purposes. Take the Great Commission, for example. We teach people that Jesus told us to make disciples but then we tell them that all they need to do is get their friends to come to church and then the church professionals will take it from there. We don’t make disciples who make other disciples. In fact, often we don’t make disciples at all. At best we make spiritual babies that are dependent upon church leaders instead of growing in Christ and nurturing their own relationship with God.
The truth is that we have lost our way and we need a Savior. Thanks be to God that He hasn’t given up on us! His plan is still the same as it has always been – to raise up a flawless bride of Christ that can take the Good News to the world around us. God still loves us and still wants to use us for His glory despite our many flaws. Let’s look at His Word and discover together how we can apply Biblical teachings to how we do church.
What is the Spirit saying to the church in the US?
What is the Spirit saying to the church to which you belong?
What steps will you take to point the church in that direction?
Scriptures to Study: Revelation Chapters 1-3, Matt. 22:36-40, Matt. 28:18-20
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Scripture above is familiar to most of us, especially those of us who are leaders in the Body of Christ. We have spent years and even decades studying the Word of God so that we can be thoroughly equipped to teach, preach, counsel, and lead people in the ways of the Lord. And that is the way it should be – the Word is authoritative and worthy of our study – and it will indeed shine light upon our paths and judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.
I believe that. Do you? If you do, you have likely shined the light of the Word upon your personal life and you have let the light of the Word guide you along paths of righteousness and govern your behavior. And as you have done so, you have likely received healing and help in your personal life; you have begun to experience the abundant life of unspeakable joy and abiding peace that Jesus offers. I praise God for the transformation I have seen in my life and in the lives of other believers as we take His word and apply its truths to our personal lives.
So why then, I keep asking myself, has it taken so many years for me and countless other Christian leaders to understand that the Word not only has authority in our personal lives, but also in our corporate life as the Body of Christ? Why have we spent decades teaching others to apply the Word to their personal lives without thinking much about applying the Word to our church life? Why have we just "done church" the way everyone else does it without applying God's Word to what we are doing?
Sure, we talk about the church being the Body of Christ, but do we really make room for every member to exercise their gifts and function in the ways for which they were designed by God? Do we structure our meetings and services so that everyone has a chance to share and grow in their gifts? Or do we simply put on Sunday morning performances that allow only a select few to share their God-given gifts and talents?
Most of us, having grown up in our modern church models, assume that one senior pastor should be the one to do all the teaching, preaching, and leading. Week after week we who are “pastors” do it all. We preach, we teach, we counsel, we comfort, we do it all. We are the elite, the ones called by God to minister to others. We are living sacrifices, working 60 hours a week for part-time pay. We serve the Lord tirelessly so that others don’t have to do anything except show up on Sunday mornings and drop some money in the offering basket.
And the result of all this effort and sacrifice? We have crippled the Body of Christ, created babes in Christ who can’t fend for themselves, and failed to take care of ourselves and our families. We have taken on burdens that weren’t ours to bear and fashioned our ministries and churches after the wisdom of man rather than the revealed will of God in the New Testament.
So week after week we go through the motions, doing ministry the same way we have always done it. We do church the way we were taught, in the tradition in which we were brought up, without ever thinking about applying the light of God's Word to what we are doing. It is time that we take a step back and think about how we do church and compare that to how the New Testament describes church. As we do that, as we begin to apply the light of God’s Word to how we do church, it will change everything – how we see the church, how we organize and lead our churches, what we do on Sunday mornings or in our small groups – it will change everything!