Health of the Church

A recent statement by the Chairman of Canon, the Japanese electronics firm, led me to do some thinking about the health of the church. Speaking to a secular business conference he said, “your systems are perfectly designed to give you the results you’re getting.” The statement was meant to help them understand that if they were not satisfied with the condition of their business then they must re-think the systems that produced it. That brought an old proverb to mind: “One definition of insanity is, continuing the same activities while expecting different results.”

Recently, I asked a group of men, “What is the worst scandal that has impacted the church in the last few years?” The answers included those involving Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and several similar situations. I proposed that while these were negative situations, my answer was different. I think the biggest scandal is that America has forty million evangelicals and we have made so little impact on our culture. In fact, our national culture has probably impacted the church more than the other way around. Paul speaks to this in Romans 12:2 when he says, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Phillips version). Most believers want to live this way but surveys show that there is, in fact, not much difference in the life styles of believers and non-believers. There are obviously many reasons why this occurs but one comes reason to mind immediately.

Our churches have excellent programs but the majority of those who participate don’t seem to develop an inner life that reflects the fragrance of Christ. Such programs do develop a group of people who believe correctly. Our Sunday Schools teach young children the facts of the Bible but, by the time they reach the teen-age years, many leave the faith. There is nothing inherently wrong with knowing facts but if that knowledge doesn’t lead to a sincere love for Jesus then we must rethink this methodology. For most people it begins innocently enough but too often progresses something like this. They start by attending the Sunday morning worship service. Then the pastor says they should be in Sunday School. So they begin going to Sunday School. Then someone says they should attend on Sunday evenings. So they start to attend on Sunday evenings. Then they are urged to get involved in a mid-week Bible study. So they get involved in a study. Next they hear about a wonderful men’s fellowship or, because they are so good with young people and Sunday School teachers are needed, they begin to help there. Someone notices that they have a good voice and they are encouraged to use that talent for Jesus. Soon they are so visible and respected that they’re nominated for the Board. Committee assignments follow. Soon they are so involved with the church they are neglecting their own life in Christ and even their family. Frequently Spiritual burnout occurs and they become “just another attender.”

Many people have been through this cycle, some several times. It’s so easy to have our lives revolve around activities “for Christ” instead of Christ Himself. This doesn’t bring the abundant life that John speaks about in chapter 10, verse 10. We join the ranks of the committed but the truth is that those commitments are about all we have. We were not made for commitment but rather for intimacy with Christ. The only value of commitment is to keep us together until we experience intimacy. We usually think something is wrong with our commitment so we condemn ourselves. Then we go to renewal seminars or wait for the next traveling speaker who can arouse our spent emotions. This cycle produces “Christian Fruit” like church growth, mission programs, prayer meetings and Bible studies but “Christ-like Character” is what God desires.

It may seem that I have given up on the church but nothing could be further from the truth. I am completely committed to the local church, but the Scriptures admonish me to, “test all things and hold on to what is good” (1st Thess. 5:21). After careful evaluation, my conclusion is that something must change if we are to realize our true destiny. We must cooperate with God as he re-trains our minds to think His thoughts rather than continue happily along the path that led us to our present condition.

I do not propose a new method, but rather an increased emphasis on helping people understand how to “Walk In The Spirit” and a reemphasis on personal spiritual growth instead of church growth. We thought we were doing this but the fruit of our collective labors do not confirm it to be true. Our systems are perfectly designed to give us the present condition of the church. May God cover us with His mercy and grant us a new and abundant grace as we move through this new century.

“…receiving the message with great eagerness and then checking the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul said was true.” – Acts 17:11