I’m going to say yes. Partly because I have issues with the church.
But first this warning and this disclaimer. This post might offend you. If so, sorry. Not my intent. I spotlight some issues because I love the church and want to see it restored.
This post is NOT an indictment on the church I presently attend. I like my church; I like my pastor. Rather I’m drawing from my experience of visiting, attending, and/or speaking in dozens of churches in multiple states over the last 55 years. I’m drawing on my experience of serving on church and ministry boards, and also from being kicked off boards and kicked out of churches. (I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.) I’m addressing what I see as the state of the church as a whole here in the USA.
The church has lost its moral authority in our culture. Because it has, it no longer nourishes the institution of the family. As a result, children give birth to children who are raised in chaos and arrive in young adulthood morally lost and filled with venom from the deep hurts they’ve experienced. This sets our culture adrift, with power crazed government circling overhead like hungry vultures. Meanwhile, because the church has lost its moral authority, many in government can no longer distinguish between right and wrong, good and evil. They understand only political power. Those who put them in office don’t know how to elect good leaders because they don’t know what a good leader is.
Instead of mourning these losses, popular culture celebrates them.
What went wrong?
From what I can determine most pastors don’t understand how the grace of God works in real life. As a result, they have no prescription for sin, dysfunction, and hurt other than “read your Bible, pray, and try harder.” And, in some churches, “vote for my favorite political party.”
On the whole, churches, Bible colleges, and seminaries don’t seem to teach how the grace of God works in real life, and we’re left to figure it out on our own. Some do. Most don’t.
Some pastors and church leaders are so confused about this that they get their moral compass from their favorite political party and their moral guidance from their favorite news media channel. They reinterpret the Bible along political lines rather than interpreting politics through the lens of the Bible.
Because many church leaders don’t seem to understand how the fruit of the Spirit is formed in someone’s life, they seem to have no way of measuring or even identifying spiritual maturity. As a result, pastors and other church leaders may or may not possess spiritual maturity. Often they do not. Instead, many church boards are populated either with the pastor’s buddies or with power hungry obstructionists who don’t comprehend what the Kingdom of God is or what role the church should have in our world. They have no vision. Instead, they treat the church like one of their business holdings.
And, news flash: Numerical growth is not a vision. It’s a business goal.
And yes, trying to get people to “pray the prayer” rather than “sheep stealing” is a step up. But so many churches don’t really have a good plan for what to do after someone “prays the prayer” other than: attend and financially support our church, and, of course, volunteer in the nursery.
The metrics used to measure church success are butts in the pews on Sunday morning and coins in the coffers. These are business metrics, but they’re not Kingdom metrics.
The financial priorities of many churches I’ve observed are: (1) the building, (2) the pastor’s salary, (3) local and world missions. In my view, that’s exactly opposite of what it should be.
The ministry priorities of most churches are: (1) the Sunday morning sermon, (2) the Sunday morning music, (3) nursery, kids church, youth group, (4) everything else. I’m not saying these are bad things. But this set of priorities does strike me as insular.
Because church leaders are treating churches as businesses, their focus is on the financial health of an organization rather than the Kingdom footprint of a congregation.
Tragically, people in the congregation who truly understand the Kingdom of God and are at work trying to make a difference in their world are at odds with the church’s agenda. These good people are ignored, marginalized, chewed up and spit out by churches. Leadership fears they will divert dollars and attention from the financial health of the church corporation.
What church leaders seem to prefer are homogeneous lumps on a pew who drop money in the plate and, of course, volunteer in the nursery.
To be fair, pastors who come into a church with a vision to make a real difference in our world are often beat up and thrown out by church boards and congregations who will have no part of that. Many pastors with high ideals are corralled into shape by business-oriented church boards who teach them the ways of the world.
Are there exceptions?
Is there hope?
I think it starts with church leaders sitting down and rethinking: What are we all about? What did God send us here to accomplish? How does the grace of God work in real life? What is spiritual maturity and how do you attain it? How can we strategically make a difference in our world?
Church image: John Cafazza, Unsplash.com