I like to blog every week, and generally I blog on a Tuesday. This Tuesday was a bit difficult though as on a prison visit I was on, there was a lock down and we were stuck for about three hours. To top that off, the M1 was closed on the way back down and it took a long time to get home. So, a bit behind this week.
Anyway, I was praying and thinking on what to blog on when I saw yet another church-bashing blog on Facebook, this time penned by a graduate of a well-known Bible College. In this one, the author shares about his wandering to several local churches and how deficient they were. He expected on fire, vibrant, power-filled, Spirit-enabled powerhouses with the gifts flowing. Instead, he found doughnuts and friends, and worship that – although people were “having a good time” – was ultimately religious.
In this one, the author shares about his wandering to several local churches and how deficient they were. He expected on fire, vibrant, power-filled, Spirit-enabled powerhouses with the gifts flowing. Instead, he found doughnuts and friends, and worship that – although people were “having a good time” – was ultimately religious.
Apparently not one of these churches preached the good news of the gospel – only good advice, and religious philosophy. And, of course the fact that these groups haven’t grown is obviously because they are not how this man expects them to be.
Finally, after the services of all these churches, this gentleman tried to engage people in conversation about the Holy Spirit, but these people were all too defeated and full of doubt and unbelief to listen – because nobody knows what the Bible actually says about who God is!
Now we are not to misunderstand this person – according to them, they are not ripping these churches to bits. They just think it is sad that the body of Christ don’t know who they are, what they have, and any revelation on the true nature of God. They want to go to church to be challenged, to see the gospel preached with signs. The reason the church is not doing this is because, apparently, they are ashamed of the gospel!
This kind of thing is becoming de rigeur these days – it is trendy to bash the local church!
But let’s just put some things in perspective shall we:
1. Not every church service has to be swinging off the chandeliers with healings and miracles every service. If the man who wrote this article remembers back to Bible College days he might remember a teaching where blessings and miracles are compared, and blessing are shown to be superior to miracles. It’s better to be in the Word and focus on the Word and learn the Word week in week out than see miracles.
In the Tree, we have miracle services every so often. They are well attended. But the people who grow in Christ are not the people who show up every few months for a miracle service. They are the people who are there week after week renewing their mind with the Word.
2. There is nothing wrong with doughnuts and friendships. They are important. It’s amazing that although Jesus became fully human some of his followers find it difficult to do the same. The early church used to eat together – and not mystical superfood, but food. And they weren’t all glowing and all amazing, they just ate together. It’s just eating together. One of the most important things any church can offer people is food and friendship.
3. The obvious frustration this man feels I believe is at least partly based on a misunderstanding of the Christian life. It’s not supposed to be a roller coaster, it’s supposed to be a walk in the spirit. Jeremiah wanted to hear God and God sent him to the potter’s house. There he watched the potter turn a piece of clay around and around and around and around, each time crafting it a tiny amount. That is how God works in our lives – through repetition. Whenever someone calls church boring, they have failed to grasp this simple truth.
4. Any donkey can kick down a barn. It really isn’t hard to attack the church. I pastor a network of 4 (very very soon to be 5) churches. If you want to find things to criticise about them, then you won’t have to look very hard. They are made up of imperfect human beings, working out their salvation with fear and trembling. But it takes skill and wisdom to build something. I decided a long time ago I do not listen to people on how to build unless they have built more and better than me. This has saved me from a lot of foolishness and a lot of bluster. I would like to see this man start a church, and in six months after having meetings every week, dealing with people, loving people through divorce and death, being there for people in their best and worst, and then see if he is so strident in his assessment of churches and the people in.
5. We have to be careful in dismissing whole movements and denominations. Now, I say this carefully – I am one who many people have said to me that my preaching of the gospel has spoiled them for legalism, and I know how they feel. Law preaching is the number one danger for Christians as it cuts them off from the live of Christ and makes the cross of no effect. But I also once a month listen to a sermon from a different preacher from a different stream – and they go to Scriptures I don’t often hear preached from and they bring gold I haven’t found. Yes, I might have to sift a little, but I hold on to what is good. You would think a few years of Bible College would have given someone those skills. I would be more impressed to hear about the grains of wisdom, even if they were just grains, that this person had learned from each church they have been to.
6. There is something I call the credibility factor. When you are brand new at a church, you have zero credibility. No one knows who you are – and some visitors to churches can be a little strange. If you start conversations with people during the post-service cup of coffee about why is the church not growing, why is everyone so unspiritual, why were there no miracles today – is the Holy Spirit not present I should expect to be looked at like an alien! It’s not their unbelief that is causing them not to answer, it’s their shock at the lack of manners.
It’s not their unbelief that is causing them not to answer, it’s their shock at the lack of manners. Go for a few weeks, get involved in a small group, join a rota, get some credibility – listen to people where they are. Then you will have the right to feed, to share, to encourage, to inspire and maybe even to challenge.
If you don’t have the time to do tthat, then you are not the person God has raised up to challenge that church, so be quiet, drink your coffee, and learn something as you listen!
7. The final diagnosis of the original author is that the problem is that the church is ashamed of the gospel. It may be some church leaders are playing politics, I don’t know. It seems more likely to me that the gospel of grace is not preached in some places because they didn’t know it. Unfortunately, the one critical visit from someone who just wants to talk about miracles over coffee, criticize the worship, the preaching and the heart of the leadership of the church is probably not about to change that anytime soon.
Here is something amazing: when Jesus was in the synagogue to read from Isaiah, Luke tells us it was his custom. Yes, that dead synagogue. That synagogue with no signs and wonders. That synagogue with it’s doughnuts and friends! That synagogue where a man comes in week after week with a demon and nothing is done. That synagogue where they talk about the Messiah, but they never encounter him. That synagogue where the worship is not my style, the preacher is a human being and its all a bit murky. It was Jesus’ custom to go. What is our custom and is it the same as Christ’s?
Because when Jesus’ time came, he had no credibility gap – because he was there.