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Stacking Corpses: A Look at Today's Church

 

 

Change is an interesting phenomenon. For some it brings excitement; for others it strikes fear and creates consternation. The way in which one deals with change usually has a direct correlation to how closely they walk with God. Because people are not walking with God, they are so confused about so many things, especially about what's valuable and what isn't.

 

Tony Campolo wrote, "One year, my best friend and I devised what we thought was a brilliant and creative plan for mischief. We decided to break into the basement of the local five-and-dime store. We did not plan to rob the place (Sunday School boys would never do that sort of the thing); instead, we planned to do something that, as far as the owner of the store was concerned, would have been far worse. Our plan was to get into that five-and-dime store and change the price tags on things.

 

"We imagined what it would be like the next morning when people came into the store and discovered that radios were selling for a quarter and bobby pins were priced at five dollars each. With diabolical glee, we wondered what it would be like in that store when nobody could figure out what the prices of things really should be."1

 

Sometimes I think that Satan has played the same kind of trick on believers today. He seems to have broken into our lives and changed the price tags on things. Too often, under the influences of his malicious ploy, we treat what deserves to be treated with loving care as though it were of little worth; and then we find ourselves tempted to make great sacrifices for that which has no lasting value, delivers very little gratification, and makes no eternal impact whatsoever. One of the more serious consequences of our fallen nature is our failure to understand what really is important in life.

 

For the past few years, I've been studying the Church from the perspective of being a Pastor, from the perspective of travelling and preaching while between churches, and now from the perspective of serving as Pastor once again. Quite honestly, I'm floored at what I've found. In fact, I am very grieved.

 

As the church gets nearer and nearer to the beginning of end-times events, she is so weak and unprepared for what will take place on the apocalyptic landscape that it's appalling. She desperately needs to finish strongly, but won't without a miraculous spiritual awakening. The Bible mentions that in the last days, there will be a falling away, a turning away from God by believers who are not well-rooted in their faith, by those who seek emotional and sensual gratification from a world hell-bent on entertaining itself to death rather than being content with the spiritual gratification we have in Jesus. That falling away has begun. In fact, recent church growth statistics indicate that some 80% of American churches are plateaued or declining in membership and attendance.

 

Coupled with that is the dismal record of the American church today. Some churches I know have been declining for more than two decades, yet they insist on holding on to their way of doing church for no other reason than because that's the way they've always done it. The resistance to change and innovative approaches to ministry is unfathomable. People are not giving new ideas and up-to-date approaches to ministry the slightest chance to work…because they've never done it that way before. Their way of doing church is tried and proven…proven to fail, that is. An old adage says: "If we keep doing what we've always done, we'll keep getting what we've always gotten." Most churches today act as though they've never heard that.

 

The programs and approaches to reaching people have been the same for the last 20, 30, 40, even 50 years. With the decline in membership and attendance, churches not meeting their budgets, morale being at an all-time low, we can and must conclude that the energy, bitterness, and outright hatred being expended to protect dead programs is unjustifiable. If a church has been doing a few select programs for the past 20 years and participation in those programs has dwindled since their inception, then the keepers of the programs are keeping them going for no other reason than to keep the memory of those programs alive. It doesn't matter that something significant and Kingdom-impacting would be a much better fit for that time slot, they just want to hold to the status quo. If they know that the church was once strong but has been dwindling for the past 20 years and haven't corrected course, then it's as though they're saying, "We've been trying to kill this church for the past 20 years. Leave us alone. Don't be coming in here with new and vibrant ministries to replace our dead, out-dated programs because, if you do, it'll disturb our plans to kill this church."

 

I've fought tooth-and-nail with deacons over the years who were convinced that the church is a business. Every decision they made and every approach to decisions was from a business persuasion. Faith never entered the equation. They were, therefore, intent on treating it as such. It is not. But, with that said, what would one think if the above scenario happened in the business world?

 

Let's say that you own a store that sells audio components. And let's say that in 1968, you received an exciting offer of a promising, state-of-the-art program from one of the leading manufacturers of 8-track tape players. It was the new thing and so you gladly signed-on to be in the program. They offered you the best components and the assurance that they would keep them coming if you signed on the dotted line. For the first five years, business was great and you fell in love with the whole 8-track tape idea.

 

But since 1972, sales and interest in the components have dwindled to the point that for the past 15 years, you've been able to interest only the occasional old, die-hard, 8-track tape enthusiast. This has translated into one or two sales a year and you are struggling to keep the lights on. Oh, you had the opportunity to modernize over the years to keep up with current trends. You remember when young adults began coming in asking for cassette players, and then CDs and Walkmans, and even iPods and MP3 players. But you refused to consider modern components and were committed to keeping the 8-track dream alive, even if it cost you your business in the process. You are the kind of person who is resistant to change and rejected the notion that these new concepts might help you to reach new customers, grow your business, and meet the needs of scores of new people.

 

Now, if you were that business owner and told me that story, I'd quickly become convinced that you had a 15-year-plan to kill your business. Since hundreds of churches operate similarly, I've become equally convinced that they have also embraced some sort of plan, consciously or unconsciously, to kill their churches. Why else would they keep doing the same things that have caused the church to decline steadily for the past few decades?

 

Since I'm a Southern Baptist, I will speak of my experience in Southern Baptist churches. In most of the churches I've served or attended, the people have been taught well what it means to be a Southern Baptist, but they have not been taught what it means to be a Kingdom-focused disciple of Christ. This is a mindset I've fought for decades. It manifests itself in predictable ways. The churches are about propagating their programs, not being on mission with God.

 

If an outreach program comes along, for example, most churches will do it solely because it's a Southern Baptist program, not because they've suddenly become interested in being on mission with God. So, they give the impression that they are on mission with God because they're doing the program, but there's no spiritual power in what they're doing because doing a program is not the same as being involved in a ministry of the Church. For awhile, the program will be popular because it's in vogue. But after the new wears off, the interest dwindles because it was established on a flawed spiritual foundation; or on no spiritual foundation at all. Many times these programs become permanently etched into the church's DNA, fixed in certain time slots, and are almost impossible to replace. That program becomes sacred because so-and-so started it; and its leaders become guardians of "the sacred cow" even long after the "cow" has died.

 

A program differs from a ministry in that a program is something that is done at a specific time, in a specific place, with a specific goal: completing the agenda set forth in the leader's guide for that particular meeting. The concepts are generally not transferable, meaning that they are usually not acted upon outside the classroom setting. The place is established and becomes almost as sacred as the time at which they meet. Changing the time or place takes a consensus of the group. Oftentimes, that which is set forth in the lesson plan is rigid and the leader feels compelled to get it all completed within the timeframe laid out regardless of what else may be happening in the group.

 

A ministry, that which churches should be doing, is not program-driven or narrowly-focused. It changes as necessary depending on the needs of both the "ministers" and those to whom they are ministering. It is not staffed by those who've been recruited for a specific program but rather by those who have discovered their spiritual gifts and are using them in that particular ministry because it is something about which they are passionate.

 

The time and place are flexible and the concepts are transferrable, meaning this ministry is not something that only occurs when everyone is together. It, rather, is the lifestyle of each "minister."

 

The agenda's being completed depends on whether or not each "minister's" needs are met, meaning that if someone's hurting, time is spent strengthening and encouraging them rather than pressing on to complete the agenda despite the fact that someone may be falling apart over in the corner. It's Kingdom-focused and people-driven. It has an obvious spiritual power about it because it is something that can only work if it's Spirit-empowered and God-directed.

 

If these defenders of programs would become defenders of the faith and get on-board with what God is trying to do rather than fight to protect their pet programs, the church would see wonderfully exciting things happen. Things like revival, repentance, people returning to God and rededicating their lives to Jesus, and believers actually getting right with each other, would be commonplace occurrences. The Luke 9:23 solution is that we must get out of the way and let God work. There are so many dead programs and dead church members that we spend most of our time stacking corpses rather than loving the lost and ministering to those in need.

 

Do you remember the people who were just in the way when the four men were trying to bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus? Many of the people were just there to hear Jesus, to see who was there and why, and to gawk; they had no intention of their lives being changed by His message. In fact, they were so much in the way and so unwilling to get out of the way that these four men had to lower their friend through the roof. The gawkers were what I call consumers rather than contributors. Our churches today are filled with Consumer Christians; but God has called us all to be Contributing Christians.

 

In today's church, we have an inordinate number of people who are just standing around doing nothing; just in the way. Stacking the corpses of dead believers and dead programs is not what we're called to do. We're called to be ministering servants, to make disciples, and to love one another. Are you spending more time stacking corpses, standing in the way, and defending dead programs, or have you discovered your spiritual gifts and begun to minister in Jesus' name? The difference really is like the difference between day and night…or rather, light and darkness.

 

My challenge to you today is three-fold. First, go before the Lord and ask Him to reveal to you where you are spiritually. Have you spent an inordinate amount of time defending dead programs? Are you standing in the way of Kingdom progress in your church? Or are you really on fire for Jesus and leading the charge against the kingdom of darkness. These two polar opposites really are mutually exclusive.

 

Second, if you haven't already done so, make a commitment to the Lord to discover your spiritual gifts and to begin using them in your church. If you know your gifts, take some time for self-evaluation. Paul encouraged Timothy to fan into flame the dying embers of the spiritual gifts he wasn't using. Do you need to do the same?

 

Finally, commit to being a part of the solution instead of being a part of the problem. If your only job in the church has been stacking corpses, stop it. Get on board with those who seek to bring the changes necessary to move your church from being program-driven to being Kingdom-focused. And pray and pray and pray that God will strengthen those who are fighting for the soul of the church that they not lose sight of God's plan; that they not forget the vision God has given them of what the church can and should be; and that the Lord will save, remove, or revive those who are just standing around in the way. These, too, are mutually exclusive as well.

 

God's church is too much on His heart for Him to abandon. And we already know the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We are either for Him or against Him; there is no middle ground. Purpose in your heart today to be on mission with God, not because it's the fad; but because it's His will. You'll be glad you did!

 



Then He said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me,
he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
Luke 9:23

 

____________________
1 Anthony Campolo's "Who Switched The Price Tags?"

 

 

Copyright © 2011. Faith Matters by Dr. Ken Lovelace. All rights reserved.

 

 

 



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