The effective (or ineffective) church of the 21st century

Over at  (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.

His peace,
Royce Ogle



8 comments on “The effective (or ineffective) church of the 21st century

  1. This is by far the best take on the church in today’s modern environment. I am to link to it and preach this same thing to our church. You have said what I have tried to pass on to many people who just don’t see it. Far too many people are selfish and thing it is about them instead of about others. They go to church looking for what can be done for them instead of what they can give to others. Societal influence and cultural marketing have had too much impact in the bride of Christs thinking. You are preaching to the choir here.

  2. In looking at what is right & what is wrong with today’s church, I recently came across two differing points of view about what a “church” is. I don’t know if they differ so much as to exclude each other, but they are both thought provoking…

    1. Church is primarily a place for a body of believers to be strengthened, equipped, and sharpened to do the work we are called to do for Christ (keeping in mind that the unbeliever will occasionally stumble in) so the services are designed as such – to edify the believer and proclaim the gospel.
    2. Church is a “hospital for sinners,” not a “showplace for saints.” Meaning that CHURCH is the place for unbelievers and those who need healing & deliverance to come to belief in Christ, so the church services reflect this in that they are geared to speaking to the lost & hurting.

    Perhaps if we could figure out what our true purpose is as the Church – the body, the bride – and as the church – the building and local group of believers – we would be able to better mobilize and reach those who so desperately need to be reached.

    I’m curious what your thoughts are on these two ideas of the church and if this has anything to do with our seeming impotence in the “world” today.

  3. Laura,

    Although there are elements of truth in both views I agree with the first more. The “church” in the Bible was not bricks and mortar, nor was it necessarily repersenative of a particular group of people who met regularly for religeous activity. The most common meaning in the Bible of the Greek word translated “church” is simply “assembly”.

    First there is the church “catholic” or universal, which is called the body of Christ, His bride. It consists of every born again one on earth and in heaven without regard to the label they have on the building where they meet. Secondly there is the local or geographicaly located assembly of believers.

    The church on earth is here to worship together, to pray together, to hear the word of God together, to encourage, meet physical needs, confess to, exhort, correct, be subject to, one another. And to love sinners in Jesus’ stead in every way possible.

    Then it is this same group of people who are charged with making known Christ Jesus and His work on behalf of sinners to the world about them. First to their neighborhood, then to the outlying regions, and finally to the whole world.

    Our evangelistic efforts should be out in the market place, sports events, homes, etc. and any place else we encounter people we can love and tell. If some lost folks happen into our assembly great, but in my view that is a bonus and not by design.

    His peace,
    Royce Ogle

  4. Royce,

    Great thoughts and great reminder. Even those trying to get outside of the box at times still focus only on fixing church instead of focusing on Jesus.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Royce,
    Wonderful post brother.
    I think the CoC in the past was know for being the only one’s going to heaven. I believe they were full of pride. I think they focused on issues like instrumental music, dancing, and other issues that dont’ matter. I think in the next 30 years you are going to see a huge change in the way the church looks and functions. I believe we won’t be program driven. I think we will be people driven. Reaching out to those who need help (benevolence) and needing Jesus Christ. I think we are on the verge of a second reformation. I think it is exciting. I think the Holy Spirit will play a major role in our lives in the gifts, worship, the way we live and reaching out to the lost. I pray we will become one over the next decades. When my son becomes a teen I don’t want to hear sermons on instrumental music, exclusivism, elitism, but the love and grace of God. I am excited that we are thinking. Think is important. Understand the post-Christian nation that America is or has become. We need to understand that the word never chages but the way we worship, and reach out can and must. We are living in a dangerous time where young people are leave the church in huge numbers. We need to wake up! We need to get out of our seats and do the work of the kingdom. We need to reach out to these emerging generations.
    I want to thank you for discussing this wonderful topic.
    I love you brother.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  6. Preacherman,

    “I don’t know” is the correct answer to your question. I do believe there is a “revivial” of sorts, not only in Restoration churches but in many of the denominations. Many people are no longer satisfied by just putting in an appearance, a token amount in the collection plate, and saying a prayer before meals. I sense a thrist for something real and vibrant that will change lives here, and assurance of the future.

    People like me who contend for true biblical Christianity, with or without tradition, and with the approval or without the approval of the “brotherhood”, are simply labeled “change agents”. (I think by the way the term is fitting and gladly wear the label.)

    Men like Leroy Garrett, Edward Fudge, and Ketcherside, have made the same plea long before me and the fruit of their labor is coming to fruition.

    A generation of zealots who learned their trade in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s will be dead in a few years and the heart of legalism in the coC will be dead with them. There will always be a few who put self righteousness ahead of righteousness which is by faith, man’s works in opposition to Christ’s work, and contrived worship vs. worship in Spirit and in truth.

    The message of the gospel of the grace of God is going out across our land and is being well recieved. I pray that it continues on that path until Jesus comes.

    His peace,

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