When I say the church, I specifically mean Westernized Christianity. I’m not familiar with other countries, so I can’t comment. Some would say they are not as bad as someone else (usually Fundamentalists), but the entire system is broken and doesn’t work for this day and age.
Here are a few things that are systemically broken, to one degree or another.
- There are varying degrees of nationalism. Does your church sing patriotic songs, promote exceptionalism / triumphalism of the U.S., fly an American flag, to some degree believe we are or should be a Christian nation? Then it may be a nationalist. Jesus never promoted empire.
- The church doesn’t generally heal our trauma. The church generally recruits and attracts people with trauma. It promises to help them, but it usually doesn’t have the time to help them, so hurt people continue to hurt people. It’s not a bad intentions, it’s just that the system doesn’t work very well at all.
- Everything the church provides can be obtained easier somewhere else. We can find friends anywhere. The best sermons are already on the internet. We can hear the best music and concerts online or go to a real concert. We can have communion / fellowship with people at our house. Small groups are at the house anyway, why involve an organization in that? We are more likely to have a conversation at home or on a zoom meeting than during a lecture.
- The belief systems are harmful and toxic. Churches still teach that we are basically bad, that God is retributive, and that there is a hell. Many teach that women are not allowed to do everything. Others hold on to things like racism. Almost all church promote politics which can easily move into the drivers seat.
- It’s an organization. When 70% of the money goes to salaries and buildings, there is not a lot left to do anything else. The primary goals of an organization are to preserve the organization. Whether they intend to do that or not, most of the energy goes toward recruitment, retention, and putting on the best show.
- The system is completely wrong. It promotes teaching and lecture verses discussion. It provides little to no time to heal our trauma. It promises family, but it is very little like a good family and more like a dysfunctional one. It promises community, but provides entertainment instead. It promotes politics, some times at the expense of the original teachings (promoting warfare, ignoring immigrants, nationalism, etc.)
You may not agree with me that it’s broken, but think with me for a minute why we can’t fix it. Some would argue that the model we use in Protestant and Catholic churches is representative of what was initiated in the days of Constantine. We like to think we have changed when we initiate new styles or add on a coffee shop, but the problems remain and we really have not solved the systemic problems.
So, why can’t we change the church from within?
The church is an organization. See #5 above. We may say it’s the people, but it’s also an organization. Organizations may change strategies, but anyone that has ever tried to change anything substantial in a church most likely has the scars to prove it. We once tried to move some shelving and had an 80 year old woman threaten to get her pistol.
The staff is vested in the current process. One of the biggest changes needed is a huge reduction in staff. So, the people that could make that change have little to no interest in doing it. It is probably similar to changes in any other industries. No one wants to give up their job, especially the clergy. Having 1000 people burn gas to come hear another person teach is a ridiculous way to get information today, but the person doing that would never suggest cutting that program. Other examples are similar.
People still don’t like change. I hate to break it to you – they really don’t! Try moving a piece of furniture around or changing the order of service. The changes needed are massive. We need a completely different experience from top to bottom and people want to keep it mostly the same. I’ve participated in and watched church plants. The mood is always extremely high because we envision we’re planting something revolutionarily new and different and the end result is always not that different at all.
People are nostalgic and have idols. Because we had past experience in a place or organization, we like to think some of that is because that place or organization is special. It seems that way because it’s familiar. Have you ever left somewhere and went back there — it’s not the same because we saw and experienced new things and gained perspective. The familiar clouds our perspective and we fear trying anything different or new because it might be worse.
The church will never experience the change it needs from the inside. I personally believe it will have to die before it can experience new life. The pandemic taught us all that most of what we need can be obtained elsewhere anyway.
The church will be reborn outside the walls. It will have more spiritual directors and way less pastors. There will be more discussion and less teaching. There will be way less exchange of money and more and more sharing our lives. There will be time for trauma work – period — no more excuses or bypassing this area. Theologies will be open and evolving and insights will come from many sources. We will not go back to anything (orthodox, 1st Century, etc.) except to pull truths from many traditions — we must live in the present.
I know we can do it, but not from the inside,
Be where you are, be who you are,
Karl Forehand is a former pastor, podcaster, and award-winning author. His books include Apparent Faith: What Fatherhood Taught Me About the Father’s Heart and The Tea Shop. He is the creator of The Desert Sanctuary podcast. He is married to his wife Laura of 32 years and has one dog named Winston. His three children are grown and are beginning to multiply!