It is a good day to Praise the Lord! His Name is worthy, so worthy to be praised. I lift up my voice, and I raise my hands to give Him praise today. He is good, so very good. All the time, He is GOOD!
I cannot help but think that this has been the result of all the changes made over the past couple of years. I don't want to be the "Debbie Downer" who points the finger and says "Look, I told you this would happen if you continued to follow the culture instead of Christ," but this appears to be the case. My heart has ached for a long while as I watched my church turn into a place I didn't know or recognize. Most of the people I saw regularly have left and have moved to other more traditional churches (Methodist, Lutheran, etc.). The reason they have left our church in particular is because they felt they were not wanted, not needed, not appreciated. Their view, their desire for mentor-ship, discipleship, spiritual growth was not being met, and they got fed up with the pablum of "feel good" and "we love you" messages being preached each Sunday morning.
Our church has been in transition for so long that I believe the character make up is no longer balanced between mature believers and those who are still coming to know Jesus as Lord and Savior. The mixture on Sunday mornings seems to be heavily leaning toward new believers. While this is a good thing, always a good thing, the problem rests with the ideology of the new believer. New believers, especially those that have no familiarity with the Church as a whole often do not give money to support the ministry and programs. The old members, the Old Guard, so to speak, were the ones who understood the Biblical mandate of giving, and who took their role seriously, and gave self-sacrificially to ensure the lights remained on, and the Pastor was paid each week. New believers are not schooled, not trained to the point where they see the connection between their support, their role, and the life of the Church. They are new, they are babes, and they are not spiritually mature to understand what the responsibility of church membership entails. And, in truth, why should they understand this role? I mean, so many churches no longer preach the roles and responsibilities of membership. In short, they no longer see value in membership because membership means nothing to them. Yet, when the chips are down, and giving is off -- then membership comes into focus. Ah yes, it is the members who pay the bills. It is the members who support the initiatives. It is the members who are called on once again to answer the call to serve, to minister, to support, and to build up the church.
Oh, wait a minute. What happens when members leave the church and take their support and their resources elsewhere? Who ya gonna call?
Why have so many members left our church over the past year? The reasons given vary:
- they didn't feel needed/necessary
- they didn't like the music (traditional service was changed, no choir, no organ)
- they didn't like the way communion was handled (self-serve, no emphasis on the meaning of communion)
- they didn't like the worship experience (the lighting, the mood, the attitude)
- they didn't like the message (feel good with emphasis on culture and not on the Bible)
- they didn't like the lack of biblical teaching (teaching from the Word)
- they didn't like the way the leadership spent money (on people, programs and resources)
- they didn't like the focus on youth culture
- and so on.
I believe that the reason our church is at the point of dying is because of the focus on youth culture and attracting "God seekers." Our church has always maintained that their focus was on making the church (our community) a safe-place where those who were seeking God could find support and encouragement. The idea was very warm and fuzzy, it sounded so good -- make the place welcoming, warm and friendly. Open the doors to the lost, the poor, the disenfranchised, and spread the Love of Christ to all who are seeking Him.
Unfortunately, while this focus seems Biblical, it is antithetical -- it is the exact opposite of what Scripture tells us is true about the world. You see, the Bible clearly tells us that people do not seek God. No one seeks Him. The only people who seek God are those who have been called, and who have received that call and are responding to it. God seeks the lost. God calls to them. God opens His arms to let them in.
People go their own way. People are not interested in the things of God. For them to be interested, they must be changed. They must be saved. It is pretty easy to see the contrast, to see that all efforts to be attractive to the lost simply portray the church as being not what God called it to be.
Yes, we are to seek the lost (we seek them, not the other way around). Yes, we are to be culturally sensitive, but not in the way that many of the seeker-sensitive churches do it. We are to be different, separated, called out of the world. We are in the world, but not a part of it. We cannot paint the church as being culturally-relevant and still maintain our Biblical standard of being separated. It is not possible to serve both "God and Mammon."
The sad part in all of this is the damage that our church has done to people who invested in the ministry and programs only to be cast aside when they were told that their views didn't matter, that the church was changing, and that they had better get on board. Of course, they were encouraged to get on board. The were also encouraged to go elsewhere if they were unhappy. And, so they did.
What is left now? How do we move forward? The numbers bear it out -- there is not enough income to support the staff -- so staff will have to be let go. My prayer is that some of the staff will leave of their own accord. My hope is that those that do leave will find new positions in other churches and that they will learn from this experience -- do not bite the hand that feeds you. I know, it sounds so crass. Jesus followers should not bite anyone's hand, they should love everyone and freely give to all who ask of them, right? No, not really. Again, it is a Scriptural error. Those who love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ need to be wise stewards of the money God has given to them. They need to consider carefully that the programs they support, even the ministry and Pastor of the Church, are aligned with the Bible, the Word, and are holding fast to the integrity of the Mission of the Church. They need to make sure they are not seeking the world, not seeking to enfold the culture, and not willing to compromise the promises of God for the potential of new members. The church is not a social club. It is not hip. It is not cutting-edge as some think it should be. The church is about Jesus Christ, and it is about growing disciples of Jesus, not just filling stadiums full of people who like to hear a good message.
Ok, so off my rant now. I am praying that God will use the leadership team in place at my church to carefully consider what needs to be done next. I pray that God will move the hearts and minds of the men and women who do serve to consider whether they need to voluntarily leave ministry and move on. I pray that those that remain are redirected and are willing to recognize the errors of the past, and that they need to revisit the call of Scripture -- placing the Word of God above all else.
So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ. (Rom. 10:17 NLT)