Over at http://www.kinneymabry.blogspot.com (Preacherman’s blog) he recently posted under this title ”
“What does the church need to do to thrive in the 21st century?”
Several people left comments, some were pretty good, some were not. The common thread of thought coming from the commenters seemed to be “Today’s church must get our of our comfort zones, the confines of our comfy buildings, and actually impact the communities we are supposed to serve.” And I don’t disagree at all. I do believe the problems with many of our churches lie much deeper than how we choose to serve others or deliver our message. Yes, every congregation should be making a “salt and light” impact on their neighbors, there is no room for debate on this. And, we can all agree that we need to get our message out to the “unchurched” or “unsaved” (you choose the term..) and not expect them to come to us crying out “Sirs, what must we do?”.
I suggest that before we appoint another committee to study the matter of the most efficient way to minister that we set some things straight first.
1. The world needs Christ more than it needs the “Church”! I will not claim that my research is “scientific” but I have done some observation on purpose. After looking at sermon topics, Bible study titles, resources offered, etc. on both church websites and personal websites (including blogs), and reading the stories that get the most response from “brotherhood” publications, I have concluded that churches of Christ preach “Church” more than “Christ”. This is a trend that must be reversed.
2. Our churches must stop preaching a “gospel system” in favor of preaching a gracious Saviour. On many church websites you can find the “5 step plan of salvation”, but precious little about our Lord Jesus Christ. Not long ago I visited “Apologetics Press” and read item # 8 of the 9 items under the label “What we believe” and I was astonished to find this statement which I quote:
“Salvation is by means of obedience to the Gospel system, involving faith in God and Christ, repentance from sin, confession of faith, and immersion in water for remission of past sins, coupled with a life of growing consecration and dedication.” (emphasis mine)
Far too many of our churches have the same flawed theology. One only has to pause and think for a moment to realize that the “Gospel System” that is so important that some suggest we should surrender obedience to it, rather than to Jesus Christ himself, was invented in the early 1800’s. Peter, Paul and their contemporaries did not have a copy of the New Testament from which they could lift convenient passages to fit their view of how a sinner is saved. If any honest observer will read the Acts and the remainder of the New Testament they will find that the gospel message was about a Person, not about a Plan, it was centered on a Saviour, not a System.
3. Our worship must be centered upon a unique Person, not upon a uniform Pattern. Modern day Pharacees have disgraced and deluted true worship in Spirit and in Truth so that instead of being from the heart it is from the head, and instead of being a delight it has become a duty. What happens on Sunday morning in many of our congregations is predictable, and appears to be done by religeous robots, going through the motions, doing all the right things in an almost mechanical way.
I am sure some of you have heard about the man who said loudly “Praise the Lord” and “Amen” in response to the singing and the sermon. Some godly coC elders cornered the fellow after the invitation and inquired about his insulting outbursts. He replied “Well, I’ve got the Spirit and I’m happy in the Lord”. The good elder said in response, ” Will you didn’t get it here, so be quiet”. Could this story be true in your church?
4. We must become a people who find their identity in Christ and not in how we “do church”. When we can say honestly we are who we are because of what God has done in Christ on our behalf, rather than striving to become who we hope to be, we are only then ready to give our lost neighbor a valid message of the very good news about Jesus.
I believe with all my soul that the greatest need in our churches is teaching our people who they are in Christ, that they are complete in Him, have a living hope that cannot be taken away, and are hidden with Christ in God, not based on their performance but upon His.
One preacher asked a large Sunday school class are you “walking in the Spirit” and they to the last one had no idea what he was talking about. The Christian life is not about rules to follow but about righteousness by faith. It is not what have “I” done but about what “He” has done on my behalf. In view of what He has accomplished apart from my effort and yours, what is my response and yours in our day to day living before a watching world? To whom do we yield?
Paul was the most educated of all the apostles, he graduated from the best religeous schools, he had the right blood line, he had strictly followed the Law, he possessed knowledge and human wisdom beyond his fellows, but in view of all these facts Paul said “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8,9) Should we not be willing to put away our preferences, our human desires, our pride, perhaps some of our traditions, so that we “may gain Christ” too?
In my view, only after we have started to live out Romans chapter 12 are we credentialed to go out and change our world. Men and women are made fit for heaven one heart at a time by hearing the same message Phillip preached to the Ethopian eunich from the prophet Isiah, “Jesus” was the message. Our problem is we want to do the work of God using the resources and in the energy of human flesh. Perhaps it would be good for us to “go wait” in prayer to be endued with Power from on high so that our ministries and message might be confirmed in “the power and demonstration of the Holy Ghost”, (I Cor 2:4,5) rather than depending on human wisdom.
We must be a people on mission with God in His ministry of Reconciliation. Our task is not to “correct” everyone else in the world who claims Christ as Lord, but to publish the very good news about Jesus both with our lips and our lives. We must make known the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life because He is the only way to the Father. Only when you and I personally know the Resurrection can we save men from death.
Our challenge in 2008 is to try to really “restore” the ancient church’s way of doing business. We are only kidding ourselves if we think that “we” alone are right and that everything “New Testament” runs down hill from Resortation churches.