Our Broken Local Churches
Sparked by a combination of reading Eric Metaxes’ Bonhoeffer biography that tells of one of our 20th Century heroes of Christendom not being a big church goer while growing up in a very devout family, and the eventual power struggles that seem to occur as local churches transition between senior pastors, I’m wondering what all the fuss is about local churches.
Do we need small, medium, large, or mega churches for Jesus Messiah’s kingdom to expand?
Do we need the large budgets going for mortgages from the tithes of the faithful?
There was a time that many churches wouldn’t keep a program or ministry going unless there was a committed laity who was leading it and helping to fund it. Seems like a reasonable expectation. But what about the “givens” when it comes to the local church? Got to have a Sunday morning worship time and some kind of program for every age and stage that is offered before or after the worship service. I don’t need to describe the local church to you… You’ve seen the picture many times. And gathering an offering every week is critical to fund the building that houses the activity and pays the staff who organize and create content for the church programs.
So, things are cruising along, but then your pastor gets a call from another church. Should he go or stay? Let’s say he goes. So, you have an interim situation. The deacons, elders, or board members form a search committee and look for another pastor. So, a cross-section of the church members form a group of 5-15 to begin the search. They pray, set goals, write a profile, listen to sermons on CD or online and eventually agree on the guy to call. Everyone is excited. We’re tired of the interim pastor or the assistant pastors who aren’t good at preaching. New energy, new opportunities, new people.
But, whoa, hold on a second. This new guy is not like the old guy or the guy I like online. I think the search committee made a mistake. Now what do we do? Did we call this guy or did God? Our last pastor decided to leave, but this one hasn’t.
… What happens next is a chronic problem in American churches. And it doesn’t look Christian or even communal at all. It’s a power struggle. And most pastors didn’t learn much about it in seminary. And the church leaders are not sure how to handle it either. So, it becomes an opportunity for the devil.
What to do in a local church crisis
The way that Satan works is not surprising or unknowable to us. We’ve seen him doing this kind of thing for centuries. We also know how we are wounded and how we develop protective strategies and a false self or pose. We are pretty simple creatures. Our brains receive input and we act on it. We are scared, we respond with our pose. The status quo is shaken by disagreement over direction or personnel, and we react with our protective strategy. We try to control instead of trust and things go haywire. So, my first suggestion of what to do if you find yourself in this situation is: keep inviting men and women into your discipleship or small group ministry. This is the Gospel being pressed into the psyche and our inner being.
My second response is keep living in the present. Worship our savior, today. Pray for peace, today. Look for someone to help, today. Forget the past and don’t get caught up in “what if’s” of the future.
What evil uses?
I’ve been reflecting over this one for a while. We are a culture of spiritual scientists. Since the 1950s, our educational system has been focused on teaching us the scientific method. You know, gather data, systematically analyze, and come to conclusions. A+B=C. [That is not the way of the Holy Spirit. That is not the way of the gospel]. Most of evangelical Christendom and its leadership has been built through para-church ministries. I was part of one, you were likely part of one. So, we learn to show our intelligence through criticizing or reducing things to a formula. We learn to impress others by what we know. How we can break things down. And much of para-church discipleship is build around an odd mix of apologetics, doctrine and behavior. We do this in evangelical and reformed circles ALL of the time.
The local church’s leadership is full of guys and gals who came to faith in para-church ministries, who learned a bit of doctrine, what kind of speakers they liked and came to the conclusion that A+B=C. We thought that we had Christianity figured out. God was in a box. Our box. My box. I feel bad means I need to do something good. I need to pray, have a long quiet time, invite a co-worker to lunch. Be nice to my kids. Give away some money. Take my pain to Jesus? And look like an idiot? No, thank you. Believe that God loves me anyway? I don’t think so.
My third response is take your pain to Jesus. Don’t try to do something to fix the problem. Ask God to fix it. Because by “fix IT” I mean fix PEOPLE. And we can’t fix people. Remember our battle is not against flesh and blood. It is against the unseen powers of philosophy and systems that set themselves up against God.
Many local churches are led by the same folks who distinguish themselves in the community or market place. We are led lawyers, accountants, doctors and managers. We fix problems, count things, and try to control outcomes. We live in a world of black and white. Right and wrong. We are proud of the manifold success of someone who is paid well in the market place and is a leader in the church. “Wow, we must be a cool church. We have all of these successful professional people in it.”
My fourth response is read the Beatitudes [Matthew 5]. I mean, really read them and take them at face value. Don’t use some interpretation that takes away their sting and power. God doesn’t use the proud. He just doesn’t. There’s no room for Him at many churches. Satan, on the other hand, loves pride because he knows that it has no real power.
We have to go through hard times financially. It is the method of last resort by the Spirit of God. We worship what we can do with money. We love the feeling of security, of peace of mind, of success that it gives us. It does not bring us closer to God. In fact, it is just the opposite. The lack of money brings us closer to God. God loves us and will use whatever means possible to woo us back to Him and to pull us away from evil. The sooner we get to a point financially that we have no hope in money or people, the sooner we see hearts turn to Jesus and His offer of his broken body and shed blood. This is the ultimate black and white, life and death, and Jesus will stop at nothing to win back our hearts.
It’s a wonderful day to sit before our Risen Savior. It’s a wonderful day to do the work of ministry. It is a wonderful day that the Lord has given us.