I’m a church guy.
But honestly, I’m like most. I have my struggles with the church. Some days I’m inspired by her, other days I’m tempted to turn and walk away from her.
Yet I still really, really love the church and really, really believe in her.
However, like someone going through detox, it’s undeniable that the church is in the middle of some major convulsions. The tremors are everywhere.
But as a lover of the church and a long-time practitioner within the church, I don’t want to be just another voice smugly pointing out her problems or standing on the outside launching grenades over the wall. Anyone can do that. I want to be part of the solution and play my part in a much needed revolution.
So let me offer a few things (one in this blog and another in the next) that I think today’s church should reconsider.
We need to start by returning to a biblical understanding of the church.
I agree that many of the voices challenging today’s cultural assumptions about the church are certainly needed. And trust me, I understand why so many people are so disappointed with the church, and why so many are even outright abandoning the institutional expressions of the church. As a pastor and someone who “represents” the church, let me be the first to say, “The church has some real problems today!”
But one thing that concerns me is that many of the remedies being offered to “fix” the church don’t seem to be informed by a clear and solid biblical theology of the Church. Instead, many of the proposed remedies seem to be driven by personal preferences, practical pragmatism, compliance to cultural pressures, or catering to christian consumerism. (You may want to read that last sentence again! )
Many of the remedies focus on style or structure. More candles and less choirs, more organic and less organizational, more spontaneity and less liturgy (or in some cases more liturgy and less spontaneity), more dialogue and less monologue, more experiential and less doctrinal, more comfort and less cost, and etc….
I certainly believe the current conversations about reshaping the church are needed, but my concern is that concentrating on these external modifications may be missing the mark.
Are we focusing on a face-lift when a heart transplant is needed?
In a book Chuck Colson wrote several years ago – titled The Body, he describes the church’s identity crisis with these insightful words.
No perception is more firmly rooted in our culture than that the church is a building – a view held by both church and unchurched. It’s no surprise that nonbelievers don’t really know much about the church’s identity or mission. But when Christians themselves are undergoing a widespread identity crisis, then we are in big trouble. For this confusion strips the church of its authority… The hard truth is that we have substituted an institutional religion for the life-changing dynamic of a living faith. Therefore, there isn’t a more urgent or critical task than the recovery and restoration of the biblical view of the church.
I would propose that a return to the Bible and what God instructs us to do as followers of Jesus and members of His body must be the motivation for and the blueprint from which the Church is reshaped.
I do believe that returning to the biblical understanding of the church will ultimately reshape many of the programs, practices and structures of the church, but let’s just make sure we are starting with the root issues and working our way out from there.
So what should be at the heart of the church?
To fulfill Christ’s mandate to make disciples, who in turn make disciples. Without this understanding of the church’s main mission and a radical decision to return to it, just reshuffling the chairs on the deck of a sinking ship won’t remedy our problems! It’s similar to miss aligning the first button on your shirt. If you don’t get that first button properly placed, nothing else lines up right.
The same is true with discipleship. Without discipleship at the heart of the church, everything else we attempt to do will be out of alignment and all of our efforts and activities will ultimately fall short.
This first suggestion isn’t the complete remedy, but if we would return to a biblical definition and true expression of the church we would well be on our way to a historic reformation.
I long for that. I hope you do as well!
Ken L Roberts