We suck…but not like we thought
It happened again today. It seems like a regular cycle brings around articles from Rachel Held Evans or someone similar who portends to speak for a certain group (hers is young adults) within the Church telling us old curmudgeons what we’re doing wrong. Today’s article was a recycled article (2010) about the concept that having a segregated youth group keeps our teens from being active in the life of the Church…thus “killing the church”. (That is a gross oversimplification, but I don’t want to rehash the article…just give the example.)
This article brings to mind a couple of things:
Church “Hero” Transition
A few years back, in a seminary class (I can’t remember which one or which instructor…getting old) we were challenged to look at the heroes the typical church holds. Who do we esteem within the church culture? The challenge was laid on a local church scale, but then it grew. We were challenged to look at the larger Church (capital C) heroes and how they’ve changed over the years. We started with giants like Francis of Assisi, Bernard of Clairvaux. We moved through Luther, Calvin, Wesley…Chesterton, Moody. We talked at great length about Dr. Billy Graham. He was the foremost public protestant Christian on the planet for most of my life (and still is, although sadly his days are fading), and he was at-heart an evangelist…they all were! We were asked who replaced Dr. Graham as the voice of reason and expertise within the English-speaking Church. The consensus answer was Dr. James Dobson. I hold nothing against Dr. Dobson. I loved his radio program (although NOT his radio voice), and have used many of Focus on the Family‘s resources throughout my years in church leadership. However, that transition moved our ‘hero’ from an evangelist to a psychologist. Perhaps today, our expectations are even lower…a journalist/blogger?
Perhaps part of what is “killing the church” is that we’ve lost what it means to be the church. Perhaps we’re obsessed with placating people or making sure their feelings will drive them back to our parking lots each week. Maybe we’re so concerned about giving everyone a voice (journalism/blogging), that the Church has lost her own! Have we lost our zeal for seeing lives transformed by the saving grace of Jesus Christ? Does it matter to us if people ‘feel good’ all the way to Hell? [Yes, that’s harsh, but so are most of the articles written about how the Church sucks.]
Wait Around It’s Coming Back
These articles touch something inside people. I remember being touched by them when I was a few decades younger and wanted someone else to express my ideas about the Church. When someone did, I pumped my fist in the air with a “YES! FINALLY!” Had Facebook been around, I likely would have shared and commented and linked them all. Sit for a little bit, and you’ll see the cycle return with another (perhaps newer) article and the target generation pumping their fist. You’ll see another article go viral about a particular way in which the Church sucks….and then another…and then another. I agree with some points and disagree with others, but the vigor with which they usually make their statements is misplaced vigor in my opinion.
Today, it’s hip to critique the Church’s tradition as passé; its programs as meaningless; its history as irrelevant, and its…whatever as…whatever. We get it. The Church is not what it should be…but it’s not because this one target audience has been left out of the equation. The Church is not flawed because the ‘model’ didn’t consider the changes of our culture. The Church is flawed because WE have lost OUR way! It’s more personal than institutional!
What’s The Difference
The difference is that these articles all take aim at the institution of the Church…the structure, the doctrine, the ecclesiology. Those are not the Church. You and I are the Church. When Jesus returns and weds His glorious bride, she won’t have a title like United Methodist or Southern Baptist or Church of Christ on her. We are His bride according to Scripture. We are the Church, and so perhaps critiquing the programs and actions of (the organization known as) a church is not a good starting point. Perhaps the best starting point for looking at the ills of the Church is within each of us.
What are the Church (you and me) called to do/be?
Be holy as your Father in heaven is holy (17 times in the Old Testament, Jesus chooses the word “perfect” when He quotes this in Matthew. Well, are you? I’m not yet, so maybe I’ll do some work on this plank in my own eye first. Will the organizations I lead be better off for that?
Go and make disciples of all nations… (“The Great Commission” as we call it). When is the last time you shared the hope of Jesus with someone other than a fellow-believer? I’m not talking about hitting people over the head with a Bible…I’m talking about compassionately seeing someone’s situation and bringing the grace of God to bear. When is the last time you passionately shared what Jesus has done in your life with another ‘beggar searching for bread’ (that’s what evangelism is according to D.T. Niles).
Speak the truth in love… Do we speak to each other in loving tones of compassion and genuine concern? Or do we point fingers and chide each other to prove a point and win an argument? Or do we speak in loving tones while neglecting the truth for fear of hurting feelings? Sharing the truth is awkward…it always has been. Is the eternal reward worth a little social awkwardness?
How is this article different than those?
I’m not calling for an uprising. I’m not trying to tickle itching ears by saying what they want to hear (and yes, I would say some of those articles are venturing into that ground). I’m trying to return to the First Calling of the Lord. He didn’t call me to be a leader, or a pastor, or a husband, or a father, or even a man…until He first called me to be HIS! So rather than asking, “Where has the Church gone wrong?” (a fully-appropriate question that needs to be examined…just in a different light): I invite you to first ask with me, “Where have I gone wrong?”
It is through a changed heart that God truly works His best renewal. Perhaps your heart is the one He wants to use to renew the 21st Century Church. Perhaps it isn’t. Either way, I can promise that He wants to bring renewal to your life and mine…so let’s start at the very beginning. It’s a very good place to start. Where have I gone wrong? [Psalm 139] 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: 24 And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.