Well it’s been a while since I’ve put anything on paper. Been fighting migraines so was on a new medication for the past month that pretty much made me a zombie. Got absolutely zero work done so I discontinued the stuff and am nearly clear-headed again! We’ll see, right?!
A pastor buddy of mine turned me on to a book by Jim Putnam called Church As a Team Sport that outlines the author’s approach to relational discipleship within his congregation. I have read a lot of churchy books about how to do discipleship and how to make church actually work; most are okay but nothing that gets me very excited. This book was different. Whether it’s because the guy uses sports analogies and I’m a sports nut or because I think he just gets it from a biblical perspective his approach is very exciting in my mind.
That said he made a couple comments about the church that really stood out that I want to use as my launching point today. According to Putnam, the following is true about American churches today:
- 360,000 Christian churches in America
- Only 15% are growing
- Only 2-5% are growing due to new converts not “church shoppers”
- 50% of all self-described evangelical churches did not have one person convert to Christianity last year
- Only 51% of pastors in Christian churches say they have a Christian worldview
- Of those pastors only 1 in 7 of their congregants have a Christian worldview
- 85% of kids from Christian homes do not have a Christian worldview
For clarification if you’re wondering what a Christian worldview is it’s you believe what the Bible says and know the difference between how the world expects you to act versus how the Bible expects you to act. What the numbers say – which come from the Barna Group – is large numbers of self-proclaimed Christians do not live by Biblical standards rather by worldly standards which are quite different.
Using his sports motif the author’s point is simple: We’re losing the game – badly. In fact we’re being blown out.
There are all sorts of studies and literature as to why this is happening with a lot focusing on how people – especially young people – see the church as:
- Judgmental and Hurtful
- Religious and not Spiritual
- Inactive in Social Justice Issues
- Talk the Talk but doesn’t Walk the Walk
As someone who was out of the church for 25 years I have my own thoughts about what is going on and at the risk of offending just about everyone here they are!
First and foremost people think they know Christianity when they really don’t have the first clue about what it’s all about. All those bullet points listed above are really ignorant statements once you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, learn what His word really says not what you think/heard/believe it says, and allow Him to transform your life. I say this from experience. I have always been a Christian from my earliest memories. I didn’t know Jesus until I went to Seminary in my 40s when I learned how wrong I had been about so many things…including not attending church.
For those who would choose one of the bullets above or some other one not listed here is how I liken your argument: 2+2=4 so I know calculus.
No, really. I know calculus because I can do simple addition!
To those of us who have a personal relationship with Christ and have been transformed by His love and grace the worldly comments we hear come out of supposed learned people’s mouths about our faith are simply dumbfounding – as ignorant as saying you know calculus because you know addition. You cannot know the depth of a relationship with the maker of the universe because you read a verse you didn’t like or understand in Leviticus, went to a bad church service, or didn’t like some Christian you met who didn’t have a loving attitude.
Here’s the real deal: Those who reject the church reject Christ. Ten years ago I would have vehemently argued against this point! “Where two or more are gathered in His name there He is!” I would say! “I don’t need church to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” I would argue. But then I actually studied – not read but studied – the Bible. Jesus talks about HIS church. The Gates of Hell cannot stand against it. He likens it to His bride it is that important to Him. He directs the disciples to go make more disciples throughout the nations spreading his church. See the church is us the people Christ died for – we cannot reject the church without rejecting each other and Jesus told us that one of the greatest commandments was to love one another. We reject the church we reject our brothers and sisters. We reject using our spiritual gifts for the edification of the church as directed. We reject the plan Jesus had for the church and when we do that we reject Jesus because He told us that if we loved Him we would do what He says.
Paul tells us not to stop meeting like some people do. Church is HARD for many reasons, including:
- Difficult to get along with the diversity of people in the body
- There is always friction when people gather
- Christians are not always Christian in how they treat others
- It is difficult to live God’s will with the accountability of the church
- Jesus said we would be persecuted for His name – join a church and see!
- Easier to worship alone or with your family than corporately – too much vulnerability at church
- Church has expectations that include personal growth and transformation which is difficult
- Church demands service/sacrifice of time/talents/treasure
- The music is usually awful
- The services often do not feed the spiritual need
I am sure as you’re reading this you could add a dozen more bullets. But let me put all this into perspective for you with one question:
Why are you here? Why were you born? Why are you on earth?
You are here to be in relationship with God and to glorify Him in everything you do.
That’s it. Period.
Whatever it is you’ve put into your head about why you’re on this earth that is not about being in relationship with God and glorifying Him you’re simply wrong. Don’t believe me? Okay, but think about this.
Scripture says that in the end every knee shall bow before Jesus. When that happens what do you think He’s going to ask you?
Take a minute and think about it.
I doubt seriously that he’s going to ask you about your college degree, your job title, how much money you made, your investments, your hobbies, or any of the things you may now think are important. Given what scripture says He may very well ask you this: “How did you love God and love your neighbor as yourself?” Given His parables He also may ask you this: “I gave you all sorts of blessings and gifts; how did you use that for my church and my people? How did you glorify my name?”
Jesus told us that if we are ashamed of His name He will be ashamed of ours in front of the Father. YIKES! How then can I be ashamed of His bride the church? Does the church do what it’s supposed to do? No – I think the numbers show that we’re doing a lousy job. But part of the reason we’re doing a lousy job is because self-identified Christians are not living lives glorifying God as part of the body of Christ in the church and instead are living worldly lives seeking out “spirituality” whatever that is.
Yes I was once a church hater. I had my reasons but they were immature and selfish reasons that had nothing to do with God. Once I realized that my role in this relationship was to glorify God by doing what he asks – including things that may be hard like going to church – my perspective changed 180 degrees as did my blessings which began to flow abundantly in my obedience.
Is the message today “Go to church?” Yes – suck it up and find a church and become part of that church family! But it’s more than that. It’s get over yourself! It’s not about you and what you want. It’s about God and what He wants. Understand what’s at stake here – scripture tells us that if you’re looking for rewards on this earth you can have them…and lose the ones God has for you eternally. No you’re not going to lose your salvation because you don’t go to church, but God certainly can’t use you in His kingdom in a meaningful way due to your attitude and while being the least in heaven is awesome God has so much more planned for you that you can lose! Think it over and see you Sunday!