A year ago today I couldn’t stop shaking my head. It felt like a bad dream. Our church, which had been the same for years and years, give or take 10 thousand people, was different overnight. And this was kind of a big deal for our family. You see our church is our family. It’s not just a building. We loved our pastor because he taught us the Bible well for over two decades, not just because he was funny. So this moment affected us deeply. However, today I don’t want to concentrate on the sadness or madness of that day. Instead, I want to concentrate on some changes that followed and some changes that didn’t.
So I crack open the Bible to see what God has to show me in my chronological Bible study, and once again I marvel at the timeliness of God’s word. The next chapter to read was 2 Samuel 2. Here is the breakdown.
Saul is dead, and it is finally time for David to take the throne. But now instead of being the king over the entire nation of Israel, the kingdom is divided. There is fighting and disagreement. Yes, instead of fighting their enemies they are fighting each other.
What a travesty.
While I know that God is sovereign, I can’t help but wonder how differently things could have turned out for Israel and how different their status would be even today, if they had stayed united. What could have happened if they had simply done what was just, loved mercy, and walked humbly with their God instead of pridefully insisting upon their own desires.
It seems like we are walking dangerously close to this divisive narrative in the church today. There is almost a “My church is better than your church” vibe because, well, ‘my church’ is…
more world missions focused
more involved in the local neighborhood
has a choir
doesn’t have a choir
has more singers
keeps it simple
meets in a warehouse
meets in a small house
and on and on ad nauseum.
Being a blogger, and information junkie, and speed reader I have read a lot blogs,even some containing misinformation and just flat out lies about my church from the blogosphere. I have then read people discuss those lies or misunderstandings for hundreds of comments on end. Just crazy. I’m sure anyone in leadership at a church is nodding their head right now, because it isn’t just my church. It is happening in churches everywhere.
Church critiquing and church hopping.
This sad phenomenon is so prevalent that when your church grows, it’s likely because a different one shrank.
Would you believe that this has been happening for decades and decades? C.S. Lewis was kind of over it too. He wrote a powerful book called “Screwtape Letters” in which he chronicles the letters of a head demon to his apprentice demon citing techniques and tricks to destroy a young convert to Christianity. In the following excerpt the “patient” is the new Christian, and the “enemy” is God.
My dear Wormwood,
…. You mentioned casually in your last letter that the patient has continued to attend one church, and one only, since he was converted, and that he is not wholly pleased with it
May I ask what you are about? Why have I no report on the causes of his fidelity to the parish church? Do you realise that unless it is due to indifference it is a very bad thing? Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches…. the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic where the Enemy wants him to be a pupil….
Your affectionate uncle,
Screwtape is fine with the believer going to the same church over and over again as long as he is indifferent. Translation: a consumer. Along for the ride. Or as our pastors have said “Looking for a cruise ship instead of a battleship.”
But ideally, get that guy going to a plethora of different churches. Make him a critic, not a pupil of the word.
One of the things that I hoped would change at our church was that people would stop rating sermons and teachers and services. If you love the word, and someone reads it, and teaches it, and it’s not heresy, that should be awesome. The power of a sermon is in the Word of God, not the words of the preacher. The power of singing songs of worship, is the God we are worshiping,not the genre of the worship song.
Here’s a shocking confession: I don’t agree with all the decisions that the leaders at my church make. Truth be told, I also don’t agree with all the decisions the leader of my house makes. I don’t even agree with all the decisions I make!
C.S. Lewis warns of this condition that has plagued our church for years. If you have found yourself being the criticizer, rather than the “Word applier” this is an opportunity to change. How about instead of saying “How was church?” ask, “what did you learn?” or “How will you apply today’s sermon?” or “How did what you heard today line up with what God has been showing you in your own personal study?” or “How are you investing in your local body of believers?”
The problem with church hopping, is that wherever you hop to, there will be humans there also, and they will disappoint you, just like the last church did. Unless you start your own church, and then you get to be the one disappointing others.
Please don’t hear me say there is never a reason to leave a church. That would be ridiculous. Just like I wouldn’t say there is never a reason for divorce. But in both instances, the sad truth is that the most common reason for leaving is “irreconcilable differences.”
Here’s my concern. We, as the bride of Christ, are about to walk through some seriously tumultuous times.
Bottom line:We need each other, desperately.
This is exactly why the devil works tirelessly to separate us.
On the other hand, here’s some good news!
Throughout the course of this year I have also seen a huge effort from the leadership at our church to join with other neighboring Bible teaching churches to make a difference in our communities and our world. I pray that we would follow their lead, and join together in love and humility, esteeming each one higher than ourselves. Get involved at your local church with countless opportunities to show the love of Christ. Don’t let “busy-ness” get in the way. Bloom where you are planted, as they say, and watch your church change right before your eyes! And most importantly pray with Jesus in John 17 that we would be one! Amen!