How to Save the Church

How to Save the Church December 16, 2013

My entire life Christianity felt wrong to me. I was too young to pin point what exactly it was that made it feel so, not right.

It’s not only that Christiainity seemed to go against my human nature in a repressive manner. It was that Christianity simply did not sound like it was good news to me, or anyone else for that matter.

It didn’t feel like “freedom,” rather it felt more like enslavement.

Everything I did as a Christian, was for my salvation, it had very little to do with Jesus. It was all about heaven, and had very little to do with Jesus. To put it more plainly, it was all about us and had little to do with Jesus.

It was because we mistook love as control, and convoluted it with fear, guilt, and shame. So our relationships with Christ were not filled with light, but rather darkness.

Bringing it back around, this is why my entire life Christianity felt wrong. It was because the church was pointing towards darkness and calling it light, they were pointing towards death and calling it life. They were pointing towards an impostor faith and calling it Christianity.

I speak in these generalities because of the research showing that the predominant Christian has experienced something similar.

“It is not so much that U.S. Christianity is being secularized. Rather, more subtly, Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by quite different religious faith.” – Melinda Denton

Most of us know the statistics. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons pointed out we have a little bit of an image crisis, George Barna showed us what we’re doing programmatically isn’t working, it’s hurting, while the National Study of Youth and Religion has shown youth pastor’s that their ministry’s have been a 50 year failed experiment (I could keep going but you get the point, hopefully).

What kills me most are the pastor’s who attend conferences, buy books, sign up for online “webinars,” and are all asking and wondering desperately how they can save the American Church, when the answer is right in front of them in the form of a simple question…

What if we just did what Jesus was telling us to do? 

What if we actually discipled people?

What if we literally acknowledged the poor, the widowed, and the orphaned?

Now follow me here with this last one, if you’re a church leader this might sound too radical for you, but just follow me…

What if…

What if, you cultivated a community of believers that lived their lives as if their life was not about them! 

What a novel idea! 

The only catch is, you’ll have to also live a life that’s not about you. I hate to say it, but I’m gonna say it anyways… the poll’s are out (I mean literally massive research campaigns have been done, both Christian and secular, including the one’s listed above) and they’re all showing, you’re the problem. 

The pastor. The church leadership. 

You are killing your own church (I wrote here as to why that’s really not a bad thing, well for you it is, but for the rest of us it’s not).

I will admit these pastors, mean well. Their intention is not to sink the ship… Brandon Robertson put it quite well on his blog “revangelical” saying,

“The problem is that the lay people in the pews (or theatre seats) are no longer living in a bubble. Gone are the days of “Pastor said it, I believe it, that settles it!” The new Evangelicals are far more informed, far more connected, and are far more skeptical when it comes to dogmatic teaching that seems to undermine the person, work, and message of Jesus.”

American’s at large, are not buying this theological malpractice that is resulting in an impostor faith. It sometimes feel’s like everyone but the local pastor has read the bible, and is well informed on the life of Christ, and what it means to live like Him. 

I think this is why a new poll released in November is showing a over a 20% increase of Americans favoring the Pope (57%), since July, 2013 where it was at 35%.* It’s because he’s presenting a good news. He’s living out the gospel. He’s not implementing pumped up programs, that seem “cool” and “attractive,” he’s emulating the life of CHRIST.

People, we want meaning, purpose, and depth. We want a faith and person worth dying for. We want JESUS. Cool and attractive are shallow, yes they will get people in the door, but they won’t keep people from walking out the door. You want to save your church? Choose which Jesus you’re going to model your life after:

The biblical Jesus or the Americanized version of Jesus.

[*In my first draft of this post i stated, “the Catholic church has grown by 20% since Francis stepped in and became pope…” After double checking this statistic, it was misquoted to me, and I’ve changed it to the correct statistic, linking to the poll given by the WSJ]


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  • John Lembo

    Boom! Challenged accepted. I totally connect with the theological malpractice part. Just by taking a few theology classes in grad school I am amazed how little diversity my pastors and undergrad professors had in their theology. Their dogmatic teachings that caused me and others to feel either in or out, Christian or heretic/sinner. When it’s so much more complex then that. I see how they intentionally ignored or left out certain voices in their study of scriptures. I’ve kept asking myself the question why would they do that? And the most consistant answer I come to is fear.

  • John Lembo

    Boom! Challenged accepted. I totally connect with the theological malpractice part. Just by taking a few theology classes in grad school I am amazed how little diversity my pastors and undergrad professors had in their theology. Their dogmatic teachings that caused me and others to feel either in or out, Christian or heretic/sinner. When it’s so much more complex then that. I see how they intentionally ignored or left out certain voices in their study of scriptures. I’ve kept asking myself the question why would they do that? And the most consistant answer I come to is fear.

  • Andrew Peterson

    Andy,

    I can’t help but feel like the WWJD message you’ve honed is also a bit guilty when brought against the charge of being “attractive and shallow.” There’s a lot to be challenged by in your message, but there’s also plenty of truisms and blunt arguments used to carelessly aim at the church’s practice.

    In a day of declining church membership, it’s easy to be a critic of the church. And you’re right that it’s a good time to take a look at what isn’t working and let the harshness of reality scare us back to right faith. But what is that? What does it look like? What is the church?

    I want to suggest that it’s not enough to keep harping on the “church is bad”/WWJD message you’ve got going. There’s not enough there to rejuvenate the church. There’s no compelling vision there for what it looks to live in community with others. The NT has a lot to say about the sort of ministry Jesus’ followers are called to carry out TOGETHER. It has a distinct vision for what it might look like to live together in community, and I’d like to see you develop a bit more of that vision. It’s too easy to say “be like Jesus” and leave it at that. It’s too easy to say “you’re killing the church” and not acknowledge the mountain of cultural forces that have been working against widespread Christian belief since the turn of the Enlightenment. It’s too easy because it doesn’t have any vision for what it would mean to be church. Fortunately, seminary offers the real opportunity to push past these easy answers to take stock of the really complicated and complex problems facing the church today. And a better sense of those will only heighten a conviction that we’re going to need more than WWJD to right the ship.

    For me, I know that I can’t do it alone. I need people to be there, to encourage me, to model faithful lives, to help shape my loves, to pray when I can’t, to believe when don’t. That’s why I go to church. Not for a feeling. But for the real community of other Christians. To be myself with them. To celebrate Jesus’ life and work and grace together. And to be renewed at the table for another week or month of faith.

  • Andrew Peterson

    Andy,

    I can’t help but feel like the WWJD message you’ve honed is also a bit guilty when brought against the charge of being “attractive and shallow.” There’s a lot to be challenged by in your message, but there’s also plenty of truisms and blunt arguments used to carelessly aim at the church’s practice.

    In a day of declining church membership, it’s easy to be a critic of the church. And you’re right that it’s a good time to take a look at what isn’t working and let the harshness of reality scare us back to right faith. But what is that? What does it look like? What is the church?

    I want to suggest that it’s not enough to keep harping on the “church is bad”/WWJD message you’ve got going. There’s not enough there to rejuvenate the church. There’s no compelling vision there for what it looks to live in community with others. The NT has a lot to say about the sort of ministry Jesus’ followers are called to carry out TOGETHER. It has a distinct vision for what it might look like to live together in community, and I’d like to see you develop a bit more of that vision. It’s too easy to say “be like Jesus” and leave it at that. It’s too easy to say “you’re killing the church” and not acknowledge the mountain of cultural forces that have been working against widespread Christian belief since the turn of the Enlightenment. It’s too easy because it doesn’t have any vision for what it would mean to be church. Fortunately, seminary offers the real opportunity to push past these easy answers to take stock of the really complicated and complex problems facing the church today. And a better sense of those will only heighten a conviction that we’re going to need more than WWJD to right the ship.

    For me, I know that I can’t do it alone. I need people to be there, to encourage me, to model faithful lives, to help shape my loves, to pray when I can’t, to believe when don’t. That’s why I go to church. Not for a feeling. But for the real community of other Christians. To be myself with them. To celebrate Jesus’ life and work and grace together. And to be renewed at the table for another week or month of faith.

  • Andrew Peterson

    Oh, and where’d you get that statistic about the growth of the Catholic church? Everything I’ve read has suggested the opposite.

    For example: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/11/25/no-clear-pope-francis-effect-among-u-s-catholics/

  • Andrew Peterson

    Oh, and where’d you get that statistic about the growth of the Catholic church? Everything I’ve read has suggested the opposite.

    For example: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/11/25/no-clear-pope-francis-effect-among-u-s-catholics/

  • Yes…that’s it!

  • Yes…that’s it!

  • J SP

    “the Catholic church has grown by 20% since Francis stepped in and became pope…” What’s your source for that statistic? That seems inordinately high considering the Catholic church has grown a little less than two percent annually since Vatican II. Thanks.

  • J SP

    “the Catholic church has grown by 20% since Francis stepped in and became pope…” What’s your source for that statistic? That seems inordinately high considering the Catholic church has grown a little less than two percent annually since Vatican II. Thanks.

  • Hey Joe! Thanks for pointing that out, I fixed it above, I was mistaken it wasn’t a 20% increase in membership or attendance, it was a 20% increase in a positive and favorable view of the Pope. I changed it above, and have added in an addendum of my correction just made.

  • Hey Joe! Thanks for pointing that out, I fixed it above, I was mistaken it wasn’t a 20% increase in membership or attendance, it was a 20% increase in a positive and favorable view of the Pope. I changed it above, and have added in an addendum of my correction just made.

  • Andrew Peterson

    Hey Andy,

    Great discussion starter. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. There’re some great points that you’ve made. It’s certainly true that the American Evangelical churches’ preoccupation with heaven has often reduced Jesus to a handy way to get there. I also totally resonate with pastors who mean well but are totally incompetent. I grew up in that sort of church, and I watched the church slowly dwindle over the last 10 years because of it.

    That said, I want to push you a little bit to think a little deeper about how to right the ship. The problems facing the church today are many and they are complex. You hint at some of these, and I think that’s great. But I’m not convinced that there’s enough here to really give us a vision for what it would look like for the church to be healthy.

    It’s easy to be a critic of something that’s doing poorly, the church for instance. But I think the answer is more complicated than just trying to model our lives on the biblical Jesus. There’s plenty of churches whose doors have closed who ran incredible ministries for the poor. How do we explain that?

    Will it be enough for our pastors, or even our pastors and our congregants together, to live more like Jesus? And does that mean living totally for the poor and the widowed? I think it certainly means at least that. But I also think it means living for one another. I go to church on Sunday because I need to belong to a Christian community that cares for, prays for, and supports one another. I need people to worship with, to pray with, to pray when I can’t, and to believe when I don’t. And I think the church at large should be a place for that too, along with caring for the sick, the poor, and the widowed. That means having some kind of vision for what it might mean to be the church, for why it’s important to get up and go on a Sunday morning, for why the songs and the prayers and the sacraments really mean something important for everyday Christians like me and you.

    But how do we do all that? How do we encourage people to live their lives for others? How does all that happen? What do you think?

  • Andrew Peterson

    Hey Andy,

    Great discussion starter. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. There’re some great points that you’ve made. It’s certainly true that the American Evangelical churches’ preoccupation with heaven has often reduced Jesus to a handy way to get there. I also totally resonate with pastors who mean well but are totally incompetent. I grew up in that sort of church, and I watched the church slowly dwindle over the last 10 years because of it.

    That said, I want to push you a little bit to think a little deeper about how to right the ship. The problems facing the church today are many and they are complex. You hint at some of these, and I think that’s great. But I’m not convinced that there’s enough here to really give us a vision for what it would look like for the church to be healthy.

    It’s easy to be a critic of something that’s doing poorly, the church for instance. But I think the answer is more complicated than just trying to model our lives on the biblical Jesus. There’s plenty of churches whose doors have closed who ran incredible ministries for the poor. How do we explain that?

    Will it be enough for our pastors, or even our pastors and our congregants together, to live more like Jesus? And does that mean living totally for the poor and the widowed? I think it certainly means at least that. But I also think it means living for one another. I go to church on Sunday because I need to belong to a Christian community that cares for, prays for, and supports one another. I need people to worship with, to pray with, to pray when I can’t, and to believe when I don’t. And I think the church at large should be a place for that too, along with caring for the sick, the poor, and the widowed. That means having some kind of vision for what it might mean to be the church, for why it’s important to get up and go on a Sunday morning, for why the songs and the prayers and the sacraments really mean something important for everyday Christians like me and you.

    But how do we do all that? How do we encourage people to live their lives for others? How does all that happen? What do you think?

  • Or to look at another way they were still learning and growing man or were confident that they had found the best perspective and wanted to share it—- if you still have a relationship with them or the people that were teaching you go talk to them….wrestle through some of those “theological malpractices” as you called them…

    Just cause people don’t do what you asked doesn’t mean they didnt consider your opinion and just because they didnt teach a different theology doesn’t mean they haven’t wrestled with it or are afraid of it.

    Thinking and questioning and wrestling are great things — rather than attribute bad or evil motives to someone go talk to them instead.

  • Or to look at another way they were still learning and growing man or were confident that they had found the best perspective and wanted to share it—- if you still have a relationship with them or the people that were teaching you go talk to them….wrestle through some of those “theological malpractices” as you called them…

    Just cause people don’t do what you asked doesn’t mean they didnt consider your opinion and just because they didnt teach a different theology doesn’t mean they haven’t wrestled with it or are afraid of it.

    Thinking and questioning and wrestling are great things — rather than attribute bad or evil motives to someone go talk to them instead.