Reflections on the Church of today
I talked to a couple recently that wanted to find a home Church for them to join. They were looking for a Church home with simple requirements.
“We want a Church that makes you feel good when you leave. You know, good music, great preaching. We don’t want someone making us feel bad if we miss a service here and there. We have no interest in hearing any old fashion “hellfire and brimstone” preaching.”
I immediately thought about a discussion I had with a pastor. His Church policy reflected a system designed to get the Church growing again. Sunday morning services were done differently than any other service. Praise and worship should be dynamic, with a good team of musicians backing up a talented group of Praise and worship singers. You take full advantage of technology and use multimedia presentations to help the morning sermons be memorable. Sermons are tailored to be uplifting, teaching subjects that everyone deals with on a daily basis. Avoid subjects that can cause distress. New visitors will be chased off if they are confronted with a sermon that causes fear. After all, we don’t want people to become a Christian from fear, but from love. Avoid controversial messages that might offend someone. Sunday mornings are designed to encourage visitors to stay, come join us! After they become members, the Church encourages the new members to attend special classes that teach the tenants of the Church, What we believe. It is in the other services and classes that members are taught about Hell, Morality, Salvation and Sanctification, and everything a growing Christian needs to know.
What could be wrong with that?
If a Church grows using this system, great! It’s hard to argue with. The system works. When I about some of the preachers that have large, successful Churches, getting ridiculed and accused of misleading Christians, I take notice. I listen to them and read some of the books. Rick Warren wrote “The purpose driven life” and, while it is widely read and praised, many fundamental Christians angrily rebuked Rick Warren for it. Did they read it? Joel Osteen Kenneth Copeland and many others catch heat for being successful.
But there is a problem.
While mega-churches get larger, Small Churches get smaller. People leave small Churches and join the large ones. Why?
Back to my original conversation with the couple searching for a Church home. Small Churches are unpopular for one reason in particular. We make people uncomfortable. People in small Churches out produce mega-churches in a huge area. Attendance over all services.
I pastor a Church where almost 90 percent of our Sunday morning attendees also attend Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings. We are not unusual in this. Most Churches who still have Sunday evening and Wednesday night services far outperform their larger counterparts in attendance across all weekly services. Several years ago we visited a Church with around 2000 members. They needed three services on Sunday mornings to accommodate the crowds. The service was great. Very upbeat, good preaching that had everyone pumped up when they left. The next service was Wednesday night, as Sunday evening services were cancelled so families could spend that time together. When we arrived Wednesday evening, we could not find anyone. The auditorium was empty. We wandered around halls until we came across the youth group. They directed us to the fellowship hall where we found ten others sitting around. “Can you direct us to the Wednesday evening service?” I asked. “You’re here” came the response. A little surprised, we took our seats. A few minutes later the Pastor came in. Since we knew each other well, he shook my hand and asked if my wife would be available to play the piano and lead us in worship. We had a great time together, and afterwards I asked if there was something unusual going on that would account for the small group. “No.. This is about normal for Wednesdays.” I was told.
And there is the problem. If a Church of, let’s say, 10,000 members on Sunday morning would then have only 500 members who followed up on any other service or meetings, what kind of member to they make? If a family attends Church once a week, on Sunday morning, and never other than that, can they grow? Do they ever receive doctrine if all they hear is an uplifting sermon in a service that runs an hour and a half?
When I first contemplated that, a passage of scripture immediately came to mind. In 2 timothy 4:3 Paul tells Timothy “…For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
Read this passage again. I always assumed this would refer to the world. I figured he was talking about heathens in the world who preferred new age eastern religions over Christianity. People preferring self-help books over the Bible. But perhaps he was talking about Christian men and women in the last days. Christians who leave the Church they are in because they “need to get off my back” or “I felt they judged me” or “I need to find a Church that can meet ‘my’ needs.”
That in no way means the preacher preaching that sermon is bad. It just means these people he refers to will only go to a place where they hear sermons that make them feel good. They will stay for the pleasing Sunday morning service, but stay away from the evening services and classes where he preaches scary stuff, like “DOCTRINE”.
I have made a determination that I will preach the same sermon on Sunday morning that I do on Sunday night.
I lost a family from my Church last year. When the mother explained her reason for leaving, she said she needed a Church that could meet all of their needs, and the big Church she was going to could do that. They offered teachers for her special needs child, volunteer workers who could help her with social services, and had special busses to pick them up from their home. All we could offer was our prayers.
I admitted that was all true and wished her the best. While walking back to my offices, I thought “Wow that would be nice to have some of the assets that Church has. It would be nice to have those assets at my fingertips, so I had more to offer when I visit and pray for my people. Then it hit me like a thunderclap. Revelations 3, the Church of Laodicea. The last of the seven Churches of Asia. They had all they needed and did not need God for anything. The Church there had all their members could ask for. What need did they have of God? Yet they announced themselves spiritual. Maybe it refers to those people who will only attend a Church that had it all. Poor small Churches have to depend on God just to get them through another year, yet the Laodicea Church was wealthy.
Hmmmm…….more to come.
(This is the personal thoughts of Pastor Charlie. This and a buck fifty can get you a cup of coffee. Nonetheless, Pastor Charlie welcomes any commenst you might have. Just email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and write pastors corner in the subject line.)