I am deeply disturbed. I am troubled by the overwhelming lostness in our state, nation and world. I am concerned about the widespread hostility toward the Christian faith, Christians and churches – especially in the United States. But even more disturbing is the large number of churches that do not seem to be equipped to face the needs around us.
The inadequacy I speak of is not due to uneducated or incompetent people in our churches. Actually, Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 that God prefers to use those who are not among the “mighty” and “noble” – those we might brand as foolish or lowly.
My burden is that our churches are failing in large part because many are caught in the traps of meaningless tradition, obsession with structure and frustration over a few who want to manage God’s church for Him. Are these self-inflicted wounds making us impotent and keeping us from doing what God has called us to do?
There are many ingredients in the struggles that churches face. I’ve served churches that had 125 people in Sunday worship and another that saw more than 2,500 worshiping together. I understand many of the complexities of people, churches and cultures.
My ministry with the Biblical Recorder opens the door for a lot of fellowship, conversation and correspondence with a wide cross-section of church people in North Carolina. I’ve never met a perfect person. Obviously, everyone speaks from one point of view – their own.
But over the last couple of years, it seems problems in churches have only worsened. After hearing the continual heartbreak of both pastors and church lay leaders, I want to lay out a few thoughts.
I hear tales of churches dividing, good people leaving their church and pastors being forced out of once healthy congregations. As a pastor who has experienced his share of church conflicts, it is very grievous to hear another pastor or lay leader pour out his heart over the demise of the church he loves. The most common battles are connected to church structure (government) or individuals who insist on “running the church” their way.
Some call these individuals power-brokers, church bosses or church bullies. Whatever the label, they are contributing to the death of many churches every week.
We wonder how a good Christian can be deceived to the point they believe they are doing Jesus a favor when they insist on having their way in church decisions. They seem to have convinced themselves they are serving God, but their agenda for the lost and God’s agenda for the lost are miles apart.
There is nothing biblical or godly about being a church bully. The opposite is true.
In the absence of a servant’s heart, pride dominates our behavior. It takes control with a vengeance.
In Galatians 6:7, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap …” The next few verses explain that if we sow to the flesh, we will get what the flesh does. If we sow to the Spirit, we will get the results of what the Spirit does. Then Paul said, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
Three statements summarize this scripture. First, don’t sow fleshly, self-centered deeds. Second, invest your life and all of your actions in that which is godly, that which is led by the Spirit. Third, most emphatically, do what is good for the health and witness of the church, or as Paul calls it, “the household of faith.”
We are quick to identify fleshly activities as adultery, pornography, drug abuse and the like. But the scripture does not limit itself to those subjects. It applies to any and all actions that are man-centered or works of the flesh.
Go back a few verses to Galatians 5:19-20. Included in the list of deeds of the flesh are “… hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies ...”
Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, frequently addresses church conflicts and church health. A statement in one of his recent blogs caught my attention. He said, “Some committees attract control freaks. These control freaks tend to gravitate toward committees that deal with either money or personnel or both. And if the wrong people control the funds and personnel matters, problems can multiply.”
In his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Rainer discusses many of the patterns that create unhealthy churches and eventually force a church to close its doors. I hope North Carolina Baptist church leaders and members will purchase this book and read it with a teachable spirit.
If there was ever a time when God’s people needed to seek Him, it is now. We are the light of the world, according to Jesus. But that light is no good if it is hidden under the bushel basket of church conflict. The light is not shining in the community when another church closes its doors forever.