“Sit Back, Relax and Enjoy the Service” May Be Killing Your Church

Karl  Vaters has some highly provocative and probing thoughts on our approach to “church” and getting people to attend our weekend worship gatherings. – STEVE

Sit back, relax and enjoy the service” may be one of the most dangerous sentences ever uttered in church.

It sits on the Bad Idea shelf next to “Let’s erect a building and tell people they have to come here if they want to worship Jesus.”

I expect promises of great customer service in a restaurant, on an airplane, or in a movie theater. But the idea that church is a place where we pay others to do ministry as we sit passively, consuming and passing judgment on the product being offered, may be the greatest single reason for the anemia of the modern, western church.

The church is not a customer service business. We’re a community for life transformation. We do not exist to serve passive consumers, but to equip and activate disciples.

But, like the monkey stubbornly clinging to the apple inside the cage, we’ll never free ourselves to be biblically active communities for life-transformation until church leaders let go of our  please-the-consumer mindset.

Let’s Stop the Bait-and-Switch

It’s bait-and-switch to tell church-goers that we’re here to serve them, only to teach them a few months later, when they attend the membership class that – surprise! – you’re not supposed to be a consumer after all. You’re here to do the work of ministry.

And then we wonder why they don’t step up and help out more often. It would be like going to Starbucks until you achieved Gold Card status, only to get handed, not just a Gold Card, but a green apron, too. On a volunteer basis, no less.

Bait-and-switch doesn’t create passionate, worshipful, loving disciples. It creates angry, confused and resentful religion-shoppers.

Change “Sit and Watch” To “Come and Participate”

Years ago, I realized that this was a problem for our church, so we stopped offering sit-and-watch events as our church’s main front door experience.

Simply put, we don’t waste our time and money on religious stage shows to entice non-believers to come to church any more. Instead, we invite them to spend time with us as we live life together. 

For instance, twice a year we have an event we call Share Day, in which the entire church body divides into work groups after church on Sunday to serve together on various community service projects. On most Share Days, we have participants that have never attended the church before, because we’ve invited them to help out.

When we fill up Christmas bags to bring to needy children in Mexico, we offer empty bags to our unchurched friends, neighbors and preschool families to fill up. And they do!

Even on Christmas Eve, we have a pre-service time when families can get together to make ornaments, decorate cookies and take a Christmas photo together while snacking on goodies and warming up with hot apple cider. Why? This may be the only time a lot of people – especially visiting family members – will visit a church this year, so we give them a chance to interact, not just sit and be talked to.

When community service and/or interactive fellowship is someone’s first experience with a church body, it sets an important precedent. They know right up front that this is what church is all about. It’s where we live life together in service to God and as a blessing to others.

People Want to Worship, Connect and Give

The church was never meant to be a religious stage show..

And, let’s face it, even if it was, Small Churches don’t have the resources to put on as good a show as our big church counterparts. Oh, who are we kidding? Even megachurches can’t compete with the quality of entertainment people can access 24/7 from the phone in their pocket.

But we can be great at worship, community and generosity.

When someone decides to get out of bed on Sunday morning to go to church for the first time – or for the first time in a long time – they’re not doing it because they don’t have other entertainment options. They’re doing it to meet a need they may not even fully realize yet.

They want to connect. With God and with us.

A great, interactive Small Church may be the best place on earth to do that.

FOR MORE KARL VATERS

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CLOSING A CHURCH

John Frye shares his reflections on closing a church.  What can we learn from this? – STEVE

Closing a Church (John Frye)

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 3.35.58 PMThe Closing of a Church, by John Frye

Last Sunday the local church where I have served as pastor for nine years closed. Thankfully, it closed well, but not without tears. The church had a faithful, yet roller-coaster history and for reasons too cumbersome and complex for this post, the decision to close was a “severe mercy.” Severe in that it is always hard to end a church’s history and merciful because the faithful folks who hung in to the end were fatigued and needed a clear, sharp decision about their future.

I had to do some painful soul-searching. When I agreed to take the call to be the part-time, interim pastor of the church, I was told, “John, you may just be there long enough to give the church a good burial.” This potential (short) future of a ministry did not set well with me. I thought, “No church is going to die under my watch.” That was nine years ago.

As the ministry entered into its final two years, issues in the church’s DNA, frictions with members, and the inability of the church to negotiate healthy change, the church entered into what our denomination calls an “at risk” status. Using a medical metaphor, the church went into cardiac arrest and was on life support in the last eight months to a year. It’s hard to get a church on life support to become more missional. Energy levels drop and morale flounders. I came to a hard realization: churches do die and this one was dying under my care.

At our denomination’s once-a-year annual meeting, I would attend as a delegate from our church. Delegates celebrated and voted into the denomination new church plants and churches switching denominational affiliation. Delegates also were informed of and voted on churches that closed. I knew that churches do, indeed, die. Yet, I would always say to myself, “Not the church where I serve. It won’t happen.” A pastor’s pride, a leader’s stubbornness can sometimes become the block to the larger purposes of God. I had to wrestle with this.

My experiences as a pastor have shaped my ecclesiology. I no longer idolize big churches (mega-brands). I was the teaching pastor of one of those for 24 years. I ended my ministry there very wearied and in a dark-night-of-the-soul condition. On the other hand, I no longer think little churches only have one future: to grow into healthy, missional communities. John the Apostle’s pastoral wisdom in Revelation 2-3is very significant to me. The only glorious One is Jesus who walks among the lamp stands, his local (real geographical) churches. As a pastor I am owning into the ragged humanity of the “body of Christ,” glorious as she will be in the consummation.

Big or small, churches are fragile because of the lingering power of the Fall in and on human relationships. Let him who boasts, boast only in the Lord.

DOES THE CHURCH HAVE A FALSE VIEW OF SELF?

Charles Blake is THE CHURCH WHISPERER.  This recent blog post provides some important commentary worthy of reflection. – STEVE

 

BY CHARLES BLAKE


The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.  1 Timothy 1:15-16

Does it matter whether or not Paul was in fact the “foremost sinner” before coming to Christ? Or, is the more important point that he perceived himself as such? Yeh, I think so too. It is the self-perception on this issue which matters most.

I think  two of the biggest problems for most Christ-followers today is (1) having a false sense of who God is, and (2) having a false sense of who we are without him. The gospel is difficult in the American culture because there are so many in this culture who, frankly, do not feel the need for a savior.  What’s worse, the church has become less effective as those of us in the church have tended to forget for ourselves just how desperately we need a savior. Still.

Churches, you see, can have a false sense of self just as well as individuals…we can actually stop remembering who we are without God. We can get so wrapped up in “doing church” that we lose sight of what matters most. Specifically, here are five ways I have seen us have a false sense of self…here are some lies we sometimes believe about our church:

1. We’re better because our music/preaching/buildings/programming/resources are better. Truth is, we are probably not better at all. But IF we are better, it is only because of the work of the Spirit among us. All the stuff we do…is just stuff. With Jesus, the church has all it needs. Without Jesus, we can do nothing.

2. Our numbers prove that we’re successful and making a difference. Our numbers prove we are reaching people, and that’s a good thing. But our numbers do not tell us anything at all about spiritual transformation or changed lives. Without those, we are accomplishing very little.

3. We are a missional church and should be focused outside the church, not on relationships within the church. According to Jesus in John 17, missions outside the church DEPEND UPON relationships within the church.

4. We’re efficient, doing more and more ministry with fewer and fewer people. What do you think is more valuable to the kingdom…having a broader ministry reach or involving more of our people in real ministry? Think about it.

5. The current absence of any unhealthy conflict in our church proves that we have unity. Wrong. It proves we are currently between issues. And that’s it. Unity has to do with the quality and transparency of our relationships with each other, with conflict or without it.

When Paul refers to himself as the foremost among sinners, he is simply recognizing who he really is without Christ. In desperate need of a savior. It is a healthy self-awareness. Let’s help our church have that same level of reality when we look in the mirror. It will do us good.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com

THE SHOWCASE OF OUR UNRIGHTEOUSNESS

More from Michael Kelly and his blog Forward Progress.

 

BY MICHAEL KELLY

What destroys the work of the gospel in a person?

All kinds of things, but certainly not least on that list would be self-righteousness. Confidence in ourselves, being proud of how good we are, or internally harboring the belief that “we’re really not all that bad” runs contrary to the core of what the gospel message is. Think about it with me – what do you have to know to come to Jesus?

Not a lot, truth be told. There’s not a class you must take; no certificate you have to earn. But you must know at least two things:

1. Who He is. That Jesus Christ is the Son of God, crucified and then risen, not because of His own sin but as a willing sacrifice for yours, which leads us to the second thing:

2. Who you are. Not who we should be; not who we would like to think we are; not who we aspire to be; but the rock bottom realization that we are, at our core, wicked and in need. That sin is not just something we do, but is the driving force behind who we are, and it’s from this reality that we must be rescued.

And that’s precisely why self-righteousness is so destructive. With each bolstering run on the ladder of our egos, we knock down the sufficiency of the cross. We are, if not in word, crying out at the cross that this really didn’t have to happen. Not for me at least. With our self-righteousness, then, we simultaneously deceive ourselves and rob the Son of God of His rightful glory. It’s clearly, then, something that we should be on guard against. And yet, like so many other idols of the heart, our sense of self-righteousness does not often come on us suddenly, but instead creeps into our thinking slowly, over the course of time, until we unknowingly have begun to resist the truth that we are rightfully condemned before a just and holy God.

But there is an occasion, at least in my own life, that provides an opportunity for me to self-diagnose this creeping kind of idolatry. I can know whether or not I am giving in to my own ego by my reaction to God showing grace to another.

I remember a story Jesus told about a vineyard in Matthew 20. In it, a landowner goes and hires a group of laborers early in the day. They agree to the wage for their service, and the workers start putting the nose to the grindstone. Then, later in the day, the same landowner goes back to where he hired the first group only to pick up a few more workers. And then a few more workers even later in the day. When the day reaches its end, it came time for the money to be handed out. Much to the initial group’s surprise, they got the wage they had agreed to… and so did the other workers. The same wage, for unequal amounts of work.

And Jesus says this is what the kingdom of heaven is like.

And everything in me rises up and says, “It’s like what? Like unfairness? Like injustice?” And that’s when I know.

I know that it isn’t really a sense of righteous injustice rising up in me; it’s my self-righteousness laying claim on what I think I deserve. It seems I have forgotten, based on my reaction, that what I truly deserve is the very condemnation Jesus has rescued me from. It’s at this moment that I, or maybe you if you’re tracking with this, have two options:

1. We can harbor our resentment at the generosity of God, and in so doing refuse to acknowledge the truth that we are still broken people no matter how many classes we’ve been to and Bible stories we’ve read. If we do, that bitterness will grow over time and cause our hearts to calcify until we no longer see the need for grace for anyone, much less ourselves…

OR…

2. We can take the invitation to stop complaining and start celebrating. This is what the father asked of his older son in another one of Jesus’ stories, when this older son was so offended at his father’s generosity. And if we choose this route, sure, it might be a little awkward at that party first, and we might look around at all the younger brothers who came to work later than we did, but as the party wears on, we will be reminded that it’s only by grace that we got the invitation in the first place.

And then we dance.

 

WHY MIGHT WE GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER?

Michael Kelly has a great blog about faith life.  This post gives us much upon which to reflect. – STEVE

WHY MIGHT WE GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER?

by Michael Kelly

The writer of Hebrews gave a very practical instruction in Hebrews 10:24-25:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Don’t give up meeting together. Translation?

Keep going to church.

Which when you say it like that, sounds pretty dumb, right? Of course we know that we should keep going to church. But if it’s it that simple, then why give the instruction? In other words, what might keep us from meeting together?

For the Hebrews, it was persecution. This letter was written to a group of persecuted Christians who, based on what we read in the letter, were teetering on the edge of going back to their former way of life. That’s why you find such a strong emphasis on perseverance – it’s because those who persevere to the end show their faith to be true and authentic. For these Christians, then, one of the ways (and maybe even the primary one) that they demonstrated their lasting commitment to faith in Jesus was the fact that they were willing to keep showing up.

This was no small thing for them.

Showing up and meeting together marked them as a community of believers, and when they were marked they were targeted. Property was seized; prison terms were handed out; jobs were lost and livelihoods were in jeopardy. But on they came.

I, however, don’t live in a situation like that. Is there then any value in giving a command like this to a society where there are no restrictions on going to church and meeting with other Christians? Of course, the answer is yes, but we get to that answer by asking a similar question to the one we asked of the Hebrews:

In an affluent and relatively free society, safe from persecution based on religious preference, what might keep us from continuing to show up? Many things I suppose, but at least these two:

1. Convenience.
I know, I know – the church is right around the corner, right? Just down the road? At worst, on the other side of town? But despite the proximity and availability of local congregations, the call to meet together challenges our sense of convenience.

We live in a culture that’s microwaved; we want what we want, when we want it, and what we want is NOW. Meeting together, though, is a long range strategy interjected into a short term society. Relationships of trust and mutual sharing don’t automatically happen; they develop over time. A gospel-centered worldview isn’t formed overnight, but through the process of hearing the same thing over and over again. The ability to recall and apply Scripture to specific life situations doesn’t happen automatically but slowly over the course of listening to others do the same.

All of these things involve time, and therefore all are inconvenient. This fact all by itself might make us give up the long road of meeting together and instead just look for the DVR version of the church so we can skip to the high points.

2. Discomfort.
Meeting together – showing up at church – is (and should be) uncomfortable. That’s because truly meeting together involves a level of self-disclosure that hurts. Sometimes it hurts a lot.

That’s the difference between “meeting together” and “meeting together”. In the latter, we aren’t spectators; instead, we are active participants, longing for not just a connection with others but the kind of connection that will truly help us follow Jesus. And because that kind of connection is only inspired by walking the difficult road of confession and transparency, many of us aren’t ready.

It’s just easier to stay home.

But the question, as the writer of Hebrews put it, is where do you want to find yourself as the day of the Lord is increasingly approaching?

Probably not on the couch.

IF JESUS PASTORED YOUR CHURCH, YOU’D NEVER GO

Came across this interesting in Crosswalk by Dr. Julie Barrier. Think about it.

 

A scruffy homeless dude pops through the door of the church house with his motley entourage. The trendy thirty-somethings sitting near the aisle gagged at the stench of their sandals reeking of foot odor.

Honestly, is this the new pastoral candidate? And who is his crew? They weren’t invited! The parking lot attendants were already upset. The fig trees shading the front door were a little scraggly, but one word from the new guy and they curled up and withered. Instantly. This man was a wizard.

He strode confidently to the front, set the pulpit aside, and sat down. Nina Smothers spent hard-earned cash for that wooden lectern in honor of her dead, departed hubby Harold. She dashed out of the sanctuary in a huff. With great authority, this Jesus asked all of the wealthy elders to stand. These guys were the cream of the crop. They never missed a Sunday, lived exemplary lives and were model husbands and fathers. He commended them for their efforts.

Here’s the kicker! Jesus asked them to withdraw all of their savings, cash in their 401K’s, stocks and bonds. Porsches and BMW’s must be returned to the dealership and their pricey suburban homes listed immediately. Everything must go. (Sounds like a “going out of business” sale…) Finally, He challenged them to turn over their net worth to the World Vision fund to help dying widows and orphans in Bangladesh. This tight-knit group of top-shelf leaders shook their heads, grabbed their stylish children and sadly left the room.

The crowd was definitely thinning.

Finally Jesus delivered His “sugar-stick” sermon from Luke 8:5-15. The remaining congregation perked up their little ears. Francis Chan described Jesus’ words in this way: Jesus started His sermon by saying, “Gee, it’s great you all came…be sure and bring a friend next week!” Not. He told an enigmatic tale about sowers, seed, paths, rocks, thorns and good soil. “He who has ears, let Him hear.” Then He retired to the front row. Even His band of brothers scratched their heads. Peter piped up, “What a weird story! What was that all about?” Jesus’ cryptic answer still confounded His boys. “To you it’s been given to know. I speak in parables-seeing they may not see, hearing they may not understand.” The natives were getting restless. Pew-huggers in the back slinked out when Christ was not looking. Jesus whispered, “I’m not going to spend my ministry watering rocks or fertilizing thorns!”

Now here’s the conundrum. Luke 14:25 tells us great crowds accompanied Him. This place was a mega-church. Big video screens, screamin’ band, cushy seats and a coffee bar out front. Why would Christ blow this amazing opportunity?

Christ stood to offer the invitation. “If anyone comes to me and doesn’t love me more than Father, Mother, even his own life, he can’t follow me.” (Matthew 10:37-39) Jesus continued,  “Are you really sure you should be here? Hate your father, wife…leave them all for me. Count the cost. I’m telling you about the cost of following me up front. Pick up a cross and come and die.” The silence in the church was palpable. Instead of an emotional invitation with crowds streaming to the front, there was a massive exodus through the back door. One kid filmed the fuming mob’s departure on his smart phone and uploaded it to YouTube. Two million hits.

The smelly twelve were left. Jesus mumbled, with great sadness in His voice, “You’re not going to stick around either, are you?” (John 6:67)

Peter piped up, “Where else shall we go? You’ve got the truth, the living words.”

The offering was non-existent. No money was raised for the offsite campus with the video feed. In fact, if we were true to Scripture, Jesus would have whipped the ushers, turned over the offering plates and screamed that this was “God’s house of prayer.” However, the ushers and the rest of the comfortable Christians split a long time ago. The scraggly teacher never made it past His first Sunday. He was fired on the spot. An Abercrombie model with killer people skills took His place.

Francis Chan ended his sermon on this subject with this compelling statement. “Are we obeying the most obvious truths of Scripture? I want to be real salt, good soil…the real deal. Be intimate with Jesus. Love Him enough to take up your cross no matter what!”

If Jesus were the pastor of your church, would you go?

This article was inspired by Francis Chan’s compelling sermon “If Jesus Were the Pastor of Your Church, You Probably Wouldn’t Go.”  

 

WHITE MILLENIALS ARE LEAVING THE CHURCH

Once again an interesting article posted  by Scot McKnight

WM

BY BOB SMIETANA

About a third of young (18-29 year old) Americans — and more than half of younger Christians — are people of color, according to data from the Public Religion Research Institute. White Christians, on the other hand, make up only a quarter of younger Americans. In fact there are more Nones — those with no religion — than white Christians in this age group.

That’s a remarkable demographic change from older Americans, where nearly 7 in 10 are White Christians, according to PRRI. “What you have in American religion today are the nonwhite Christians and the Nones,” says Mark Silk, professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut.

But the switch from most Christians being white to the majority being non-white has largely gone unnoticed. Instead, most of the focus has been on the idea that “young people are leaving the church.” That idea is true among white evangelicals, who show a dramatic decline in PRRI’s polling. Among Americans 65 and older, nearly 3 in 10 (29 percent) are evangelicals. That number drops to 1 in 10 for younger Americans….

[Pastor Derwin] Gray explains that since the 1980s, white megachurches in particular grew using a technique known as the “homogeneous unit principle” — the idea that the best way to grow a church is to cater to one specific racial or social group. That’s left them cut off from other ethnic groups and unable to see the bigger picture of what’s happening in the demographics of American Christianity, says Gray.

“One of the dangers of being the majority culture is that you become complacent and you don’t listen,” says Gray. “You think your problems are everyone else’s problem.”

The future, says Gray, will belong to churches that are multiethnic, because that’s what God wants. He points to a section of the book of Revelation to make his point: “After this I looked,” says Revelation 7:9, “and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

THE CHURCH–WHAT IS AND WHAT COULD BE

The church gets a bad rap these days, and it is important to explore this issue.  Scot McKnight has some excellent insights based on his study of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. – STEVE

Do you love the church for what it could be or what it is? If the former, I suggest you read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s magisterial little book, Life Together. It is, so I think, his best book. No need, however, to debate what is neither provable nor non-falsifiable — what one thinks is his best book another will not.

What is worth discussing is his incredible set of statements about the expectations we bring to the church and that we expect of the church and how our expectations, when they encounter the realities, are dashed to the ground.

What is worth discussing is that until we realize that the eucharist table is at the front of the church under the cross — because those who come into the fellowship and “cracked Eikons” and in need of grace and healing – we will not comprehend what the church is.

Leaving the church because it does not meet our expectations is failing to understand what a church is; we have a church because we have failed to meet God’s expectations. Failed expectations, then, are the foundation of the church and the reason for its existence.

Leaving the church because it does not meet our expectations is to create a church for ourselves. It is, if I may be so bold, idolatry.

Many enter into ministry with the ambition to make a church what they think it could be instead of what it is.

Until we understand what the church is — a fellowship of sinners at different locations in a journey — we will not understand what the church could be and can be. No two Christians are perfectly compatible — in theology or praxis — and therefore there will be tension in the church, which is precisely where we need to begin to see what the church is. Not a fellowship of those who agree or who are alike but a fellowship of those who don’t agree and who are not alike. When we demand the church be like us, or like our vision for what it is, or we leave, we create our own church — and eventually (if we have the guts) we start a church that begins the same old process of a fellowship of those agree who eventually become those who disagree and who split. Bonhoeffer still speaks.

In my classes at Northern Seminary I routinely allude to Life Together. Here are my favorite lines, lines that follow on from his important claim that Christian fellowship is “through” and “in” Jesus Christ:

This dismisses at the outset every unhappy desire for something more. Those who want more than what Christ has established between us do not want Christian community. They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community… Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into the Christian community. Precisely at this point Christian community is most often threatened from the very outset by the greatest danger … the danger of confusing Christian community with some wishful image of pious community, the danger of blending the devout heart’s natural desire for community with the spiritual reality of Christian community.

Now hear this:

Only that community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment with all its unpleasant and evil appearances begins to be what it is should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

And this:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.

Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves.t

MILLENIALS AND THE FALSE GOSPEL OF NICE

Great article here from Dan Darling:

Perhaps you’ve heard that there is trouble brewing among evangelicals.

Younger Christians are weary of pitched cultural battles and are longing for the “real Jesus” – a Jesus who talks more about washing feet and feeding the poor than flashpoint issues like same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life.

If key evangelical influencers don’t listen, we are told, they are about to lose the entire millennial generation. Or, maybe that generation is already gone.

This story has been told with testimonials, chronicled in best-selling books and posted on popular blogs.

Here’s the short version: If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off.

Embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions:

• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.

There’s only one thing wrong with these two ideas: They aren’t true.

Let me explain…

Opinion by Daniel Darling, special to CNN

(CNN) – Perhaps you’ve heard that there is trouble brewing among evangelicals.

Younger Christians are weary of pitched cultural battles and are longing for the “real Jesus” – a Jesus who talks more about washing feet and feeding the poor than flashpoint issues like same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life.

If key evangelical influencers don’t listen, we are told, they are about to lose the entire millennial generation. Or, maybe that generation is already gone.

This story has been told with testimonials, chronicled in best-selling books and posted on popular blogs.

Here’s the short version: If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off.

Embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions:

• Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace.
• The real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity.

There’s only one thing wrong with these two ideas: They aren’t true.

Let me explain.

First of all, evangelicals don’t have a youth problem. I’ve heard the apocalyptic “leaving in droves” narrative since I was, wait for it, an evangelical young person myself.

But experts who have weighed this data point beg to differ.

Bradley Wright, a sociologist from the University of Connecticut, has thoroughly examined the data that purportedly shows an exodus of young evangelicals and says it doesn’t support the “disaster narrative.”

Wright says the biggest drop of faith in young people happened in the 1990s, and that current levels are about the same as the early 1970s.

Ed Stetzer, the president of Lifeway Research, has also looked at the statistics and has concluded that while religious identity has declined in America, it’s mainly the nominal Christians and mainline Protestants who’ve suffered – not evangelicals.

“The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years,” Stetzer writes, and “no serious researcher believes Christianity in America is dying. Not one.”

Of course, there are legitimate concerns about the evangelical church in the United States.

For the last several years, some Southern Baptist leaders have voiced concern about the decline in baptisms and membership.

But nobody is suggesting that orthodoxy is the reason for decline.

If anything, leaders are pointing to a lack of faithful evangelical preaching and intentional gospel witness as the culprit. Church history doesn’t bear out evidence that a mushy, heterodox movement is the cure for stagnation.

What’s more, there is anecdotal evidence that seems to indicate a robustly orthodox evangelicalism is growing among the young.

Networks such as The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel and others are growing. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, an unflinching bastion of orthodoxy, enrolls more Masters of Divinity students than any other institution accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.

One might argue that young evangelicals aren’t fleeing core conservative institutions, but flooding them.

Perhaps the doom and gloom story seems familiar – if also wrong – because we’ve heard it so many times before. As young scholar Matthew Lee Anderson puts it, the “change or die narrative is presented as a perennial problem.”

Progressive hand-wringers are missing the point, in my view. If history teaches us anything, it is that what dies is malleable, un-rooted faith and not 2,000 years of Christian orthodoxy.

But even if the change-or-die narrative is true, even if faithfulness becomes less attractive in this new age, this shouldn’t be cause for worry.

Jesus prepared us for seasons like this, urging his followers to a counter-cultural faith, one that gains the favor of heaven, but earns the antagonism of the world.

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me,” Jesus says in the Gospels.

The pop Jesus of progressives sounds less like the Jesus of the Bible and more like a malleable deity who easily aligns with our cultural sensibilities. A mascot for every chic cause, except for that difficult mission to which he called his followers: cross-bearing.

Consider some of Jesus’ statements:

“You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.”

“If anyone does not hate his father or mother, he cannot be my disciple.”

“If any man will be my disciple, let me him take up his cross and follow me.”

“For this cause, shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.”

What’s more, Jesus praised John the Baptist, that culture warrior, for his prophetic word against Herod, the monarch who committed adultery.

Yes, it is true that Christians should be known more for what they are for than what they are against.

But if you move past the rhetoric, you’ll find that it is often not aggrieved ex-evangelicals who are founding and leading charitable organizations, but the stubbornly orthodox. Faithful Christians are not the only ones in the trenches, relieving human need – but they make up a large percentage.

All over the world, you will find faithful followers of Christ adopting orphaned children, rescuing girls from trafficking, feeding the poor, digging wells and volunteering in disaster relief.

My own denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, operates one of the world’s largest relief operations while holding fast to its theological commitments.

And some of the world’s most effective ministries to the poor and marginalized were started by and continue to operate according to evangelical Christian beliefs. They live in the tension of the New Testament, which calls believers to both faithfulness and charity.

In fact, the most effective agents of hope in this world likely don’t have Twitter accounts, have never blogged and might never have even uttered the words, “social justice.”

And yet silently, quietly, patiently they serve the least of these, not because they first jettisoned their quaint notions of orthodoxy, but because they held them tighter.

Daniel Darling is the vice-president of Communications for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the author of several books, including “Activist Faith.” The views expressed in this column belong to Darling.

MAYBE CHURCH IS ABOUT MORE THAN WE SEE

Reposting an article that needs to be part of the dialogue about the nature and fruitfulness of the church today-Steve

BY NATE PYLE

I’ve tried hard not to write about this. Really hard. I don’t want to be the guy that has to weigh in on every controversy that erupts in evangelical culture. And yet, when Donald Miller wrote about not attending church and “graduating” from traditional church, it generated a lot of angst in me. My frustrations come, not because I don’t understand his point, but because I relate a lot to his feelings about traditional church. I am somewhat of a reluctant pastor who passionately loves serving the church. What I mean by that is, it was never my intention to be a pastor, and when I got fired from my first church job, I wanted to walk away from the church.

But I couldn’t. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t.

I love the church, and I believe a lot of what we see on the surface of church isn’t necessary to the Christian faith. But that doesn’t mean we should throw it out. Church, as with most spiritual things, has the surface thing we see, and then there is the thing behind the thing. If all we see is the music and the lectures and the frustrated parents who spent the morning wrangling kids into clothes to get them to church on time, then we have to wonder if it is worth it.

If all I’m doing is giving a lecture I don’t want to do it. For one, I’m not that good of a lecturer. Two, there are a lot of others who are better than me. Thousands of podcasts and sermons are available online, most of which are probably better than me. If you want a lecture, listen to Tim Keller. He’s better at it than me.

If all I’m doing is giving a lecture then I am wasting my time. A good portion of my week is spent studying the Bible, reading commentaries and theological books, praying, and writing all in preparation of giving a good lecture on Sunday mornings. But if I’m just giving a lecture, then all that is pointless. Seriously. Because 90% or more of what I say on a Sunday is already known by those sitting in the congregation. And an even higher percentage is forgotten by Tuesday.

If all we are doing is singing songs, then we should stop immediately. Immediately. Because it is weird. No where else in American society do adults gather in a large room to sing songs together. You could argue it happens at a concert, but people don’t gather to sing songs, they gather to hear a band or singer. The closest you could find is a karaoke bar. Which is weird for other reasons. If church is just a Sunday morning karaoke bar, then we should stop. Now.

If all we are doing is putting on a concert, then lets admit there are a lot of better concerts out there. And while we are at it, let’s also admit that no one likes a concert at 9 a.m. on a Sunday morning.

If all we are doing is gathering once a week for community, then we don’t understand community. Being in the same room with the same group of people for an hour a week and then spending fifteen minutes chatting over cheap coffee doesn’t constitute community. The old guys who meet at the same diner for breakfast on Fridays have better community than we do.

If all we are doing is lifting a cup of grape juice and dipping some tiny squares of cheap, crustless white bread while standing over a heavy oak table, then we serve the worst appetizers ever.

If all we are doing is singing songs and listening to lectures, then to hell with it. Because that’s not enough.

But maybe that’s not all we are doing. Maybe I am not just studying the Bible and commentaries and theological works to prepare a lecture. Maybe I am entering into the presence of God, on behalf of the people of God, to deliver the word of God.

Maybe it isn’t just a lecture, but a submissive act of subverting the narrative imposed upon the people of God six days a week by orienting and reorienting ourselves around a narrative of grace.

Maybe we aren’t just singing songs, but maybe people who are vastly different than one another – mothers and father, young and old, men and women, black and white, widows and widowers, rich and poor – are joining their many voices into one voice and declaring something together.

Maybe we aren’t just lifting a cup with cheap grape juice into the air while we recite some words. Maybe we are acting as hosts to the Table of God, where the presence of God rests uniquely as it invites people to a space of grace and equality.

Maybe we aren’t just coming together to find community. Maybe we are involved in an embodied, liturgical rhythm that informs our lives about what we value. Maybe the act of getting up, dressed, moving, coming together, isn’t about community, but is about liturgy. It shapes us. It involves us. It reminds us. Even the most contemporary non-liturgical churches requires the liturgy of coming together.

Maybe we aren’t gathering in tribes, but we are gathering in a local place to remember that as we gather, all tribes gather and will one days sing together with one voice to the one Lord.

Because if it is about that, then I want to be a part of it. Even if it is boring and difficult and maddening and uncomfortable. Because the thing we see on the surface is connected to what’s behind it. And what’s behind it is beautiful and rich and wonderful and mysterious and inspiring.

If church is about all that, then I’m all in.
– See more at: http://natepyle.com/maybe-church-is-about-more-than-what-we-see/#sthash.vXRlW5RA.dpuf