image courtesy of churchleaders.com
As difficult as it is for me, a pastor, to stick that title on this entry, it is unfortunately accurate. And, I refer to churches right here in the United States, where the enemy of the church is far more active on the inside than the out. The excellent blog, A Fractured Faith, written by Irish author Stephen Black (I highly recommend his blog and books), wrote a compelling piece on this topic on February 20th, 2020. He stated, as many have felt, that the pain caused him by a local church has driven him from it. Sadly, I know many who have experienced the same.
The church was once a safe place. That is no longer the case. The one place where folks should be able to simply be themselves, good and bad, healthy or hurting, has dropped the ball for the most part. If you are reading this and attend/belong to a church that is carrying out the call of Jesus to be His hands and feet in the world, I praise God for it and thank you for all you do!
Yet, the vast majority of churches I visit in my various ministry roles seem to support, by the predominance of empty pews and chairs, the fact that the church is indeed missing its calling.
Both the cause and the solution to this problem can be found in the same place: the church itself. As I listened to a preacher on the radio the other day, his point made this clear to me. I didn’t catch his name, as I was driving at the time, but his message has quickly taken root in my heart.
His premise was this: that the Christian Church has spent the majority of its time since the late 1940’s teaching their flocks the importance of being obedient to God and the teachings of the bible. He concluded that although the need for followers of Christ to be obedient is very important, if it is not taught/presented in a way that fosters love for God, it can also be quite dangerous.
This caused me to think: How could being obedient to God be dangerous in any way? After all, if I’m doing what I’m told I am to do, shouldn’t that be good enough?
Here’s the thorn in that thinking. Obedience, without a corresponding love that causes the believer to desire to please God, can (and has) led people to become the type ‘Christian’ that has caused such deep pain to my friend Stephen and countless others like him. For example, a church that teaches its people that there are a set of rules that must be obeyed opens itself up to hard-heartedness. It is far too easy to quantify obedience when you can check off the boxes of the things you have completed. The next step in this downward progression is to assume that others who aren’t doing things the ‘right’ way, must shunned. This type of obedience without feeling leads to judgment, which encourages the ‘us v. them’ mentality.
How heart breaking that becomes when those who come to a place of worship seeking care are instead treated as outcasts. Their very brokenness prevents the established membership from helping them because their hearts have been calloused by the narrow perspective many churches have taught them to have. This is what is spawned, in my opinion, when strict obedience is placed above (or instead of) having a loving heart.
Now Jesus was clear that He wanted His followers to be obedient to his teaching. Check out Matthew 28:19-20 or John 13:34-35 for proof of this. But the Lord desires so much more than out rote following of a list of do’s and don’ts. Yes, He wants our obedience, but He wants it because we love Him. A heart that loves the Lord chooses to be obedient as a result of this love, not as a way to earn it or worse, so that we can show the world we deserve it because we have finished the checklist.
In conclusion, my travels have not as of yet brought me to the perfect church and as long as churches are populated by imperfect beings like me, I probably won’t find one this side of heaven. In spite of all I’ve written here today, I end on a hopeful note. You see, the hope I speak of is found in Christ, not the church. Only He is perfect, nothing we put our hands to will ever be. But if we will search our hearts to find those places of judgment and short-sightedness that lurk there, asking forgiveness for them, we can begin the journey of improving the care and support the local church ought to be providing.
May our hearts be motivated by love for God which will then in turn cause us to desire to be truly obedient to Him, in all things.
Blessings and thanks for reading. As always, I welcome your thoughts on this topic.