Before I start, I must be clear about where I am coming from. I have two things from which to draw... a good bit of experience (12 or 13 years) as a professional minister and I am part of the next generation of leaders whose mindset will have to see the way forward. Nothing more, nothing less. This post is not about my current church. It is about all churches. It is about my heart for renewal in my denomination. It is about trying to be part of the solution. Although the church I am serving is doing quite well, I see churches failing all around me and am concerned for the longevity of Christianity as we know it if churches do not change. My whole goal is to find the larger things that are hindering us from remaining in the center of the movement of God in the World. My next post will be more about that.
10 Things Churches Need to Stop
1. Tracking Spiritual Growth - Spiritual growth could possibly be the most individually unique thing there is. When have you ever met someone who responded to the question, "How did you grow closer to God?" with something like, "I was muddling through, until I met my church's Goal of [insert arbitrary measure of spiritual growth here] and began to grow closer to God?"
The truth is: God is pursuing us! He takes what we offer and builds on it. I believe that we experience God the way he made us to experience Him. Some people have a super-consistent personality and some people have a much more scattered personality. Therefore, some people will get up at the same time every day, do the same spiritual practice, and grow step by step. Others will do something in the morning, then something the next day in the evening, and then nothing. The next day, they will do two hours of intense something. Who's to say which is better? Not Me! We need to stop trying to quantify spiritual growth so that we can measure our church's effectiveness. We know the things that connect people to God... those haven't changed in thousands of years! Why not just try getting people to grow rather than getting them to conform to some arbitrary, rigid structure we have created?
2. Being Church-Program Pitch Men - I recently noticed a colleague in ministry's Facebook stream... every post was some variation on: "I am so [insert annoying superlative/adjective combo] about [insert name of church program] because of [insert reason or mysterious saying that you would have to come to find out] see you there at [insert time of program]." It made me acutely aware of how much of my passion and energy was spent promoting our programs instead of really displaying the amazingness of who God is. I felt guilty.
This is mostly directed at professional ministers. If the only reason people are coming is because they received three phone calls, four passionate pleas from the pulpit, three letters, two reminder cards, and one door hanger, the program isn't meeting a need! Why not take all that energy and proclaim the brilliance of our creator?
3. Labeling - Look, the only people who know what "missional" or "attractional" or "ecclesial" mean are uber-church-geeks. These terms are as useless as they are meaningless. Our world is in a state of change (see here and here) we do not have a solution, or know exactly how we will need to do ministry in the future to minister in that world. Attaching to one of these ideas as if it is the fulfillment of something is just short of crazy, and broadcasting that to the world is even less rational.
As an aside... we need to start using words for our programs that mean the same thing to non-Christians as they do to Christians. For example, only Christians know that "contemporary" refers to using screens and songs written or revised after 1985 rather than something/someone not being dead.
4. Showing one generation the door - We need the wisdom of the older generations, the stability of the middle generations and the vision of the younger ones to be the Body of Christ. What would happen if we stopped defending the sub-interests of one group or another and sought ways to sacrifice our preferences for the health and unity of the church?
5. Segregation/separation - Really? There's less than 5% of your church that are of a different race than you? There are no poor/middle class/rich people in your church? Why have we become so centered on our niche that we cannot worship in gatherings that come anywhere close to resembling the body of Christ? I have no idea how to fix this, but we look like hypocrites when we say that these things do not change a person's standing before God, but worship in homogenous groups. I am definitely part of the problem. I am praying and thinking about this. I would love to hear your solutions.
6. Wasting Resources - The world is hungry; most of the chocolate in the checkout line was harvested in part by slave labor; the fourth leading cause of death in the third world can be solved with sixteen bricks and a bit of mortar; there are 2 million children in the commercial sex trade; even though the earth produces enough food for everyone to eat well, a child dies every five seconds from hunger. If this is the case, why is there a church with a custom-made sony screen that splits in two on a track to then become two screens on the side instead of the middle? Why do we spend so much time on petty problems like the color of the flowers outside the church? Why are we not sending a bottle of over the counter medicine per family per month to people who need it?
7. Building - Let's face it, with very few exceptions, we are not building works of art that proclaim God's glory. We are building glorified Wal-Marts or office buildings. If Churches need to expand, there are plenty of those buildings that are sitting empty and need to be used. What's better, if things go south, a church is never in the place of having to keep on going because they are obligated to pay a mortgage! That may sound extreme to some, but when we lived in California, I knew of MANY churches, with 10-20 members, that were renting rooms to whoever was willing so that they could pay the mortgage.
8. Making and Publicizing 5-year plans - Things are simply changing to quickly to be able to see that far into the future. We need to not commit to long range plans. I believe that we need to become agile and focus on the more immediate 12-24 months so that we can respond to this tumultuous time. That is not to say that we become directionless or stop thinking ahead. Instead, I suggest that we keep our longer-range plans close to the vest so that they can be tweaked or scrapped without everyone feeling like an earthquake just happened.
9. Mislabeling fun, Christian-attracting events as "outreach events" - We need to be reaching out to a hurting world, but an Easter pageant or Christian concert just doesn't do that. That reaches Christians. While it is important to have times where we have fun and enjoy the creativity of the body of Christ, let's not delude ourselves into thinking that these fulfill our call to the non-christian world. In short, we need to find ways to introduce a hurting world to the Almighty Healer.
We need to be about identifying needs and then using our resources to meet those needs. Over the last month, I have watched as students in our youth group have started everything from prayer groups at their schools to collecting unused food at the end of the day at their schools to give to the hungry. It takes very little effort to find a need and meet it, but it does take effort. It takes a transformation in our mind from faith being about me receiving to faith being about me giving.
10 Being Competitive - I recently observed a couple of ministers intentionally targeting committed believers (at several other churches) who were plugged in and passionate about their faith community. There is not other way to say it except that this is absolutely wrong! The field is so vast, the lost are so many that it is wrong at the least and sinful at the most to intentionally compete with other churches for the found. If churches are doing this, they must stop, and turn their eyes from the barns to the fields! Everyone has people who move from one place to another, but when enticing those believers is your growth strategy... it has to stop.
I am looking forward to a post I am working on called "The Way Ahead" in which I look back on all that God has done in our Engage in the Movement campaign (not capital). In a way this is the mirror image of that post.
How can I be certain I'll go to heaven? Why are there so many kinds of Christianity? What does the Bible say about drugs and alcohol? What's the deal with evolution? From theology to evolution, All the Best Questions! will help young people get answers to the questions they're afraid to ask--and give them the tools they need to wrestle with their own answers.
Includes a Group Guide in the back for those who want to use the book for youth group or small group study.