Before we start let me say something about myself: I am a born again, Spirit filled, blood washed, Bible believing, Jesus following, Devil resisting, child of the living God. By His grace I have been sanctified, justified, liberated, adopted, proposed to and I am waiting for the appearing of Jesus and the resurrection of my body to be like His glorious body. My point? I am a believer, a Jesus follower; I don’t think I am backslidden or have grown cold (no more than before anyway) and I truly believe that Jesus is the answer to mankind’s terminal sin.
Why say all that? Because of my views on what the church is you could be tempted to think that I have been shipwrecked or have lost the faith; these couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus is alive! His kingdom is among us, if you are a believer His Spirit is in you and you have been delivered from the wrath of God that is to come. We have some very good news to share.
I take God’s call on my life very seriously, so seriously in fact that I would rather be misunderstood by the majority than betray the One who called me. If you read this and disagree with my views that’s fine but don’t be tempted to think that it is written by an angry little man who is disillusioned and disappointed by the hand life has dealt him; far from it, I am alive, I am free, I am part of what God is doing which is exciting, dangerous as well as mysterious and possibly terrifying all at once.
The thing that has changed for me after 25 years of church life, international itinerant preaching, pastoring for 10 years and generally being a card carrying church goer is that church doesn’t work. No really, in the vast majority of cases church does not deliver on what it promises; actually there is no mystery here, an institution cannot through its systems do what only the Holy Spirit can do. No amount of model changes, programs, organisational adjustments will make a difference; these changes might attract more believers from other churches but that is not church growth. Seeing a hundred believers join a church just means the saints are singing their songs with a different band not that the Kingdom has advanced in their community.
I am very aware at this point that some of the learned among you will already know this and sincerely want to see God do His work and be glorified in it, but… (Sorry but there has to be a but) listen to the language and observe the behaviour of the typical believer in any style of church or denomination and we will discover clues as to why our current view of church cannot work. How many of the following have we heard over the years?:
“Why doesn’t the church do more about the poor?”
“The church should do more evangelism”
“The church isn’t very loving”
“The church didn’t care or visit when I was sick.”
“Why doesn’t the church have a better children’s ministry?”
“Regular church attendance is very important.”
“What’s the church doing with my money?”
“Our church has a great worship ministry”
The language people use tells us how they view the church and the examples we have just read show that people see the church as something separate from themselves. This view point then provides an excuse for inactivity concerning kingdom business. For example very few church goers see visiting the sick as their responsibility but they expect to be looked after when they are ill, they say the poor should be catered for but aren’t prepared to be personally generous. Those in leadership then respond to this indifference by promoting ‘ministries’ to undertake that which should simply be done as a matter of course; we then calm any worried consciences with messages about moral behaviour and promises of worldly success.
The stark and scary truth is that most believers do not pray for God to use them as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, they do not train their children nor do they see themselves as full time priests of God in their sphere. On the contrary they have contracted out their spiritual responsibilities to their spiritual service provider- the church. The result is passive believers who believe zealous church going is what the Lord requires of them.
As a spiritual service provider the modern church has in most cases become an entity in its own right apart from the believers; it has in effect become a corporation, a company, an institution that can accept, reject and dictate to the people who belong to it. Consider this, a church can fire its pastor. We might say “no it didn’t, the elders voted him out” but we need to ask where did the elders get the right to vote and the authority to have the pastor dismissed? The authority comes from the institution which was created by the misguided ideologies of the people who started it.
If in a rare case a church is growing through people coming to know Christ then that is not the result of a certain kind of church it is the fruit of effective believers who are in that church. When there is fruit we mustn’t give in to the temptation to believe that the believers are effective because of the church they go to, not so. Effective believers are that way because of their relationship with Jesus, they would be effective in any church and they will in the overwhelming majority of cases be a minority within their church.
Why don’t I want to go to church? One of the reasons is it doesn’t work and for that reason I will not support it with my valuable time and money. Don’t misunderstand me, I love the church, I believe in the church but I don’t accept that much of what passes as church today is what God is looking for. Perhaps we should ask Him to show us what He means when He says church and allow that revelation to mould our beliefs and expectations.