The real- REAL reason people are leaving the church.

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I think I have read no less then 35 different blogs titled:

“The real reason people are leaving the church.”

There is even a rebuttal saying, “Because actually, they’re not.”

Even the famed Matt Walsh jumped on board this sinking ship.

But so many seem to be missing the point. While I don’t necessarily have an issue with their explanations and analysis for the supposed exodus, I do have a problem with the initial premise. You see the question they are answering is not a new question. About 15 years ago,in particular, people were asking the same question.

And the answer was this:

“We need to be more relevant! Hey, we’ll even start a magazine called ‘Relevant’ and that will help!” So the music got flashy, people church-hopped, and the pendulum swung.

Now, the question is being asked again.

But this time the answer is: “We need to be less relevant! Let’s go back to hymns, sacraments, liturgy and stuff and NO flashy music, this will bring them in.” (insert pendulum swinging the other way)

My problem with all this conjecturing is two fold.

First of all, I don’t buy the assertion that ‘Christians” are leaving the church.

Why? Well, because there is really no evidence that this is happening. In fact some would argue that it is not even theologically possible. The evidence presented to prove their point of mass exodus is that  the percentage of self-professed Christians has dropped from 78%-70%. But look. No Christian I have talked to has ever given any credence to that unrealistic original statistic.

It’s kind of a joke. A sad joke.

It usually goes like this:

“How are we still killing babies if 80% of the country is following Christ?” Oh, right. Because the statistic is false. People check the “Christian” box like it is a nationality instead of an actual commitment to following Christ.

Secondly,  since there is no actual proof true believers are leaving the church, I personally don’t think a decline in numbers is a bad thing. 

You see, after 28 years or so of constant growth, my church went through a definite decline when the pastor at the time had one of those “Moral failings.”  The weeks following the initial disclosure were filled with many emotions, not the least of which was fear. Driving home from running errands one night, I had a noteworthy moment of anxiety. I thought of my former pastor and feared for his soul. What if he doesn’t truly repent? What if he walks away from the church altogether? What if he is lost forever? Then I had an even greater fear of something much worse. What if he doesn’t walk away from the church, per se, but instead walks away from truth? What if he pulls a Rob Bell, and decides that he “humbly” realizes that he knows more than all of the church fathers before him, and truth is relative and “Love wins” and joins forces with…. Oprah! And what if he, with all his charisma and charm, leads thousands of people away?

It was there at that stop light, that I heard a voice in my spirit say these words:

 “It’s still too big.” 

What? I thought. My church ? What is too big? 

“You want the moral majority, but I have called you to the narrow road.”

My mind immediately went to the story of a scared Gideon as he prepared for battle, when the Lord reduced his army from thousands to hundreds. I realized at that moment that life was different now. Not just in our church, but in our country. And I knew that our church was being prepared for something more. Something greater.

Greater persecution. Greater affliction. Greater obstacles. A greater mission.

And before our church had been hit with tragedy, it was just too big. Possibly a bit of the “mile wide, inch deep” syndrome. Don’t misunderstand. Great ministry happened for years at Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Scripture was taught. Disciples were made. Pastors were sent out all over the country and beyond. Lives have been forever changed. However, this depth of faith was not a reality for the entire body. For some people it was entertainment. They were there for the show. And now that the main character was gone, they were leaving too. And that was a healthy decline.  But for those that stayed – there has been an awakening. A girding up of sorts. A unity towards the forwarding of the gospel. We have been reminded that we are on a battleship, not a cruise ship! When we look at those “Christian” statistics in America? They aren’t real. They are still too big. So you want to know why the church is or isn’t growing? Here’s the answer that I haven’t heard one person say.

…neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (I Cor. 3:7-HSCB)

We have to look at a couple factors. Are we preaching the word? Yes.  Are we mentoring and disciplining? Yes.

Great. But remember, here’s the important part:

Only God gives the growth. So it doesn’t matter if you sing hymns with an organ, or praise songs with a tambourine (our worship leaders nightmare.)

God watches over His word to perform it. He has a story to tell. And He has already warned us in great detail where we are headed. But take heart! This is not a doom and gloom message. This is a Joshua 24 type call to action! Do not despair over numbers. Choose this day whom you will serve. Go and make disciples. This was and is our commission. Be bold and courageous. Do not be afraid. Be prepared to give an answer for your faith. Throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us. Keeping our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of our faith!

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The best lesson I learned from my mom.

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(pic from circa 1980-somethin…. Ignore the date, its a pic of a pic.)

My mom is hilarious. But mostly unintentionally! She is an energetic, Sicilian, from Brooklyn who loves Jesus. And just about everything she does and says is colored by those factors.  When I told her I was going on the rode to make a fortune with a stand up act solely focused on her infamous quotes, she asked me to wait till she was gone.  I even came up with a hashtag #thingsmymomsays. Truth be told, she loves my jokes, and hearing her hearty laugh is my favorite part of teasing her. However, as the Lord would have it, the first time I ever got on a stage to talk about my mom, it was to sing a song about how awesome she is. This mother’s day, and every day, I am thankful for a mom that stayed so close to God, so filled with His Word that she always knew when I needed her the most.  From childhood to having my own children, she has loved and supported me in just the right ways at just the right times. I pray that I can be that mom for my children, staying close to God so that I can be there for them in just the right way too. Listen to her song, and share. Let’s be there for each other and honor those that have given so much to be there for us!

How old are you? Really.

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The latest viral craze circulating the internet these days is the “How old are you?” app. Either people think it’s funny when the app guesses way above, or they think it’s flattering when it guesses completely under! But either way, people are sharing their results like crazy and the app developers are #winning !
Seeing people freely share these age announcements made me wonder how quickly we would share an app that could quantify one’s spiritual age.
And by spiritual age, I don’t mean the length of time you have been a Christian, necessarily, but more along the lines of one’s maturity or development.

There are 3 basic stages, and they fit quite nicely into the trivium of Classical Education.

The first stage would be baby/early childhood

You need milk. You need to be fed. Church is your only interaction with the Bible or worship, and that is where you get all your spiritual nourishment. Everything is new and exciting. Bible verses leap off the page. I CAN DO ALL THINGS THROUGH CHRIST WHO STRENGTHENS ME is your mantra. Nothing is impossible for God. You are starting to see these truths for yourself in your own study.

In Classical Education this first stage is referred to as the “Grammar Stage.” You are filling yourself with information even though you likely don’t understand the depth of what you are hearing. This is an important stage of development, as long as you don’t get stuck there.

Next is the teenage stage.

This is where you start grappling with some of the deeper issues. How does one reconcile suffering with a good God? How does the Bible line up with science? How do the prophecies play out? Discussion is invaluable. However, discussing and debating with grace is a skill that must be learned. Without the proper mentor, this “teenage” Christian thinks he is farther along then he is. Instead of seeking to learn and discern, he assumes he is already there. A little bit of knowledge and a lot of enthusiasm can be dangerous. Here is where rebellion can rear its ugly head. Those you used to admire and respect in the faith, now seem to get in the way of what you think to be best. The need for a mature mentor is crucial in this stage, but admitting you need one takes maturity that is rarely seen.

In Classical Education this stage is called the “Dialectic stage.” This is when logic and dialogue are taught so that one can properly work through the knowledge that has been acquired. The problem that can arise here is that discussion and humble debate can become foolish arguments of which we are cautioned in 2 Timothy 2:23.

Finally we have the Mature Christian stage-

In the first two stages we have learned of Christ and now we start to make Him known. You have built a foundation of information. (Grammar) You have researched and talked through ideas with respected elders.(Dialectic) Now it’s time to put those ideas into your own words and persuade others to follow Christ as you are following.(Rhetoric) But how? Jesus tells us in Matthew 28:19
Go.
And make disciples.

In Classical education, this is called the “Rhetorical stage.” Here you take the information you have studied, the issues you have worked through, and begin to express and share them with others. Now you are the mentor, the group facilitator, the Bible teacher. But what I find interesting in this third level of learning is that one word. Learning. Because we all know that the best way to learn something is to what? Teach it! This doesn’t necessarily mean you become a pastor. Teaching can be one on one, or like Jesus, one on 12.

All too often people get comfortable in their particular stage.
Going to church week after week, and never going deeper than that weekly pick me up.
Attending a small group year after year, being mentored but never moving on to become the mentor.

Often God has to do a little agitating to get us to move. A little pushing out of the nest to get us to fly. Which will likely involve some falls straight to the ground.

Is God trying to push you to the next level?

Maybe you have been attending church week after week, but feel lonely, and the need for community? Join a community group.

Maybe you see a need in the body of Christ, and it seems like nobody is filling that need! Pray about stepping up to be a solution.

Pray about who you can begin to pour your life into. And do it. Most likely you will find that becoming the “teacher” makes you the student more intensely than you could have ever imagined.
And here’s the crazy part:

We are always cycling through these stages. You may be in the mature “Rhetoric” stage when it comes to the life of Christ, but what about Prophecy? You may feel that you are ready to mentor a new believer in the ways of Bible study, but what about lessons in humility? Regardless of how long you have been a child of God, there is always something new that we have to learn.

And to really learn something, you need to go through each stage.

For instance, do you want to know more about prayer? Here’s how you do it:

Grammar Stage: Define the word prayer. Look up all the verses on prayer. Read through the Psalms. Memorize key verses.
Dialectic Stage: Get some friends together a go through a book on prayer (a good one is by Timothy Keller) or do a group study on Psalms, maybe invite someone that is a prayer warrior to facilitate the group. Pray together.
Rhetoric: Share what you have learned about prayer with a friend. Ask a younger Christian if they would like to do a study on prayer with you leading. Write a blog post on prayer and submit it to an online source. Have a group of friends over for a special night to study prayer. And PRAY.

I pray that whatever your spiritual age is, you would press on, pursuing as your goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. (Colossians 3:14)