The question isn’t if the church is in decline, but why? In order for the church to thrive, it will need to go through a radical transformation. In so doing, it won’t become something new. It will become something old—something that more resembles the first century church. I see three areas that will require transformation: 1) The church needs to move from a monologue approach to a discipleship approach. 2) The church needs to move away from its focus on buildings. 3) The church needs to reconnect to Israel.
Realize when I am talking about church, I am not talking about a building. I am not talking about a weekly meeting. I am not talking about any program or organizational structure. By church, I am talking about all true believers in Jesus Christ. While there are local expressions of this larger body, a change in a few local expressions won’t revive the church. The church as a whole must change its course.
MONOLOGUE VERSUS DISCIPLESHIP
Go to any church and what is the focus? For the most part it’s some weekly service that revolves around a sermon. And, what is a sermon? It’s nothing more than a lecture. So, most local churches center their life around a weekly lecture.
Is this Scriptural? Those that support this model will bring up all kinds of Scriptural references about preaching and teaching the Word. An in-depth study of those passages (particularly if one looks at the original languages) forces one to come to some conclusions. 1) God considers teaching and preaching of primary importance. So, we must take it seriously. 2) Preaching has the idea of proclaiming the truth. 3) Teaching has the idea of discipleship—a mentoring, hands-on type approach. 4) These commands apply to all believers, not just to a specialized class of clergy.
Taking teaching and preaching seriously, let’s look at how it should be done. We must conclude the best teacher and preacher was Jesus. Read the gospels and you will find that his go-to method was a discipleship approach. Much of his teaching was done in dialogue. So, he didn’t just talk while people passively sat. He was talking with people—reacting, responding and leading the dialogue. He was also extremely hands-on. He chose twelve and poured his life into them. There was little sermonizing. His style was relational as opposed to stage oriented.
So, a discipleship style of preaching involves dialogue and hands-on within the context of relationship. This also agrees with what the Bible shares about teaching—where parents teach their children, elders teach less mature believers and how the apostles nurtured the early church. It’s pretty simple—A Biblical model of teaching and preaching isn’t monologue; it’s discipleship—dialogue and hands-on within relationship. This isn’t what I’ve seen in any local congregation I’ve been in—at least not as a primary focus.
Now, I know someone will be thinking, “Yes, he has a point. But, why not do both? Why not have our weekly worship service and sermon; and, supplement it with dialogue and hands-on?” It’s pretty simple why not. You can’t serve two masters. One will win out. I’ve been in some groups at various congregations that have some wonderful dialogue and hands-on training. But, as long as they have a weekly sermon and worship service, the bulk of the energy goes there. Which means the bulk of the energy goes to a teaching and preaching style that isn’t Biblical.
There’s only one way to cut this—as long as people are spending time preparing sermons and working on the Big Show, they aren’t spending time in the true task of discipleship. The church has taken on a Big Show, monologue model—a model that has proven its shortcomings in our secular education systems. That model must be abandoned and replaced with a Biblical model. That will completely change how everything is done with church.
FOCUS ON BUILDINGS
The early church met from house to house. This is pretty clear if one reads the book of Acts. However, today most local congregations meet in some building. Why? Just imagine the current Big Show model of church working in a house. There wouldn’t be enough seats. A large auditorium is required. Ninety-plus percent of the time that large auditorium sits idle, but it still must be maintained throughout the week. And, the only reason for that huge auditorium is to support the Big Show model, which isn’t Scriptural to begin with! We’re spending huge money for something that isn’t even helping us fulfill our mission.
The message of the gospel isn’t inward (how we meet our needs), but outward—loving the Lord and helping our neighbor. It involves things like feeding the poor, visiting those in prison, helping the widow, caring for children and the like. If one buys, builds or leases a building for those purposes, then one could make a Scriptural case. There’s nothing wrong with having and using resources, but those resources must be focused on our purpose. In all honesty, most of our focus on buildings is so we can have a big Christian country club—a place for us to meet, greet and have a little dose of Christian entertainment. This falls way short of the gospel mandate!
For the sake of argument, let’s consider the church from a business perspective. In the business world everything has a benefit and a cost. The cost-benefit ratio determines whether something is even worth the effort. What would an accountant say about resources with great cost, but they’re only used a small percentage of the time? Such a resource would quickly be liquidated to free up money for more useful endeavors. Who is a local congregation serving when they have a big mortgage? Scripture proclaims that the borrower is servant to the lender. So, a church with a mortgage is serving the bank? What if the building is paid for, but under-utilized? Then, they are serving the utility company, the insurance company and those congregants that have an I-want-the-feeling-of-ownership mentality.
I don’t believe having a building, a piece of land or resources is always wrong. But, the true mission of the church (which focuses on helping others) is already resource intensive. Let’s not waste resources on unnecessary overhead. Debt, building maintenance and bills can be severe hindrances and too many local congregations are overwhelmed or under-utilized because of them.
RECONNECTION TO ISRAEL
I must be honest. There have been times I have doubted God. It seems at times he hasn’t been active in my life. At times I’ve wanted some sort of sign. I’ve wanted to touch the wonderment of the spiritual, but I’m stuck in the day-in, day-out mundane things of life. I’m stuck in a world of bills, problems at work, illness, family issues and God doesn’t seem to hear my cries.
Recently I’ve been struggling at work. My workplace is a place of turmoil and I’m looking to move on to better things. But, no job has opened—after sending out hundreds of resumes over years of time. It seems I’ve held up my end of the bargain, but God has not upheld his!
Recently my uncle died and my dad has been going through treatment for cancer. This past winter, my parents needed me. Since my job was close to them and I was only working part-time, I’ve had the time to give them the help they’ve needed. As I look at the situation, God didn’t answer my prayers. It wasn’t because he didn’t care. It was because he saw the whole picture. It wasn’t all about me, but he was caring for others as well. If one could only see the big picture, I think one would better understand God and those moments where he seems silent.
The big picture involves a battle between good and evil. A huge part of that battle centers around the land of Israel and the Jewish people. As one studies Scripture, this is quite apparent. As I watch the news, I am seeing prophecy unfold before my eyes. I am seeing the same spiritual battles unfold that I see throughout the Old Testament. Even when God seems silent in my life, Israel is a blaring example that God is true. What happened back in ancient times is happening today. What the prophets spoke of is coming to pass.
Certainly the miracle of the rebirth of Israel has spiritual roots. But, at times, it’s hard to see the spiritual. It’s not hard to see a piece of land, a group of people, battles and politics. The mind can grasp that piece of dirt known as the Promised Land. It’s earthy, but at the same time is a physical representation of the spiritual.
How many churches focus primarily on the New Testament? How many operate with a focus on the Christian life, but overlook a focus on the land, people and blessings that began with Abram and continue to this day? How many have any kind of missions outreach to Israel?
Israel gives us a focus on the big picture. Israel makes the Bible alive—it’s not just ancient stories, but it’s prophecy unfolding before our eyes. Israel gives us the earthy to ground the spiritual. As the Apostle Paul proclaims in Hebrews 11, we are wild olive branches grafted into what God started with Israel. If we don’t consider Israel, at times our faith seems unsubstantiated. When we consider Israel, our faith is grounded in something tangible.
WHO’S NOT THERE?
As I consider these three points of transformation, I have to think about those who aren’t in church. Walk into the local church and look around. You’ll see a bunch of women—far more than men. You’ll see a huge gap between high school and middle age. Likely you’ll see a lot of grey hair. I’m not opposed to women, children and the elderly. But, can you build something vibrant without young people and without men?
So, why don’t young people go to church? I’ve spent over a decade teaching college. I have some insight into young people. First, young people hate lecture. They want their voices to be heard. They want to have input. They long for relationships. I fully believe if they are given a genuine, Christian experience where discipleship is vibrant, they’ll be attracted to it. They see right through to the core of the Big Show approach and they don’t want it. They’ve already been fed that diet in our education system and they find it repugnant. Only a genuine return to first-century principles will work.
So, why don’t men go to church? Quite frankly, men find passivity boring. They don’t want to sit in a pew and watch some guy talk. They want to do something and feel like they’ve accomplished something. You give them an action guy like Jesus, who proclaims, “Come and follow me” and they’ll follow him. You give them a sermon and a song and they’ll walk out the door.
The first century church had danger and a mission. The warrior inside a man says, “Yes! I’m up to a challenge!” The modern church gives them a lecture and a group hug.
WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE US?
Where is the church in a decade or two if we don’t attract young people? Quite simply, we’re dead. How do we attract those young people? We must go through a radical transformation and return to our roots.
Where are churches unless they attract more men? Men are the warriors and visionaries. I’m not saying women can’t have those qualities, but men have those qualities in abundance. When men have a mission things get done. Lives are changed. The world is transformed. The church needs both the strengths of men and women to survive. Right now, it’s lacking the masculine.
The church is currently on the edge of a cliff and the enemy is looking to push us over. We need to change our ways and do it quickly.