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10 Terrible Reasons to Be Done with Church

historical-sculpture-religion

The “Dones.” It’s a term sociologists and researchers use to describe those who are done with church. The Dones were once part of a church, but have become disillusioned for a variety of reasons and have decided to be spiritual without the help of a local congregation. And the Dones are growing in number.

I’m a Pastor, and I’ve seen the church from every angle. I’ve been a church kid, a kid whose family left the church, and a young adult who found my way back to the church. I’ve been the Pastor of smaller, more traditional churches, on staff at a megachurch, and a planter of a new church unlike any other I’ve ever been part of. And there have been, in my twenty years of ministry, quite a few Sunday nights when I’ve felt the desire to be Done again.

But I’m here. And I’m committed. And I’ll share why, but first, I want to address some of the most common reasons you might think you’re Done with the church.

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3 Ways to Try to Kill the Church In America

Old Salem Church and Cemetery

So the big news among religious leaders right now are the latest results from new research conducted by the Pew Research Center. The data reflects what I and plenty of other leaders have been anecdotally observing for a while – Christianity is losing ground while other religions are growing along with the number of unaffiliated people.

One of the most interesting statistics for me personally is this little detail:

The new survey indicates that churches in the evangelical Protestant tradition – including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Assemblies of God, Churches of Christ, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Presbyterian Church in America, 0ther evangelical denominations and many nondenominational congregations – now have a total of about 62 million adult adherents. That is an increase of roughly 2 million since 2007, though once the margins of error are taken into account, it is possible that the number of evangelicals may have risen by as many as 5 million or remained essentially unchanged.

That means two things. First, evangelicalism has more adherents than a decade ago. And second, that growth hasn’t kept up with the actual total population growth in the U.S. In other words, we’ve reached more Americans, but we’re reaching less of America as it outgrows us.

The Washington Post shared the news with a simplistic headline of Christianity faces sharp decline as Americans are becoming even less affiliated with religion. Most of those commenting on the article give evidence of not having read the article. The consensus would be something along the lines of “Christianity in America is shrinking because it’s too conservative theologically.” This seems logical, but there’s a problem. It isn’t true. As I commented there,

So, evangelicalism, generally referring to those who believe in a supernatural God, a risen Jesus, and a trustworthy Bible, are doing alright, while denominations that have given up on biblical theology in an attempt to be more agreeable with the surrounding culture are shrinking. Interesting.

This is a point most people seem to miss. After pouring over Pew’s report and reflecting on some of my own observations about evangelicalism in America, I’ve come to some conclusions about what is really going on. I’ll summarize them this way – there are three ways we’re killing the church in America. They are…

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Get Out Front! The World Needs You to Lead: 3 Big Challenges

Forces of Nature

Two thirds of the earth’s surface is water, yet there are places in the world where people will literally go to war over access to clean drinking water. In the same way, there have never been so many books, seminars, and blogs on leadership, yet the culture is still a giant vacuum desperately needing leaders to get out front.

I’ve become convinced that the world needs two things from the church and the church has the potential to offer them. The first is the gospel – the life-transforming, world-changing, culture-shaping good news that Jesus has done all that is necessary to redeem us from sin’s curse. The second is leadership, which provides the vehicle for carrying the gospel to the ends of the earth. Without the gospel, the church has no real reason to exist. And without leadership, the church’s existence is quite temporary.

That’s why I’m giving my life to two things: feeding the flock and leading leaders. Every week, I want to study and prepare to teach truth, speak into the culture, and share the depth of the riches of God’s Word with people. And every week, I want to spent time investing in those who lead – not just church leaders, but leaders in every realm of society – at home, at work, and in the community.

We lack leaders because potential leaders lack three things:

  • A conviction that I ought to lead.
  • The confidence that I can lead.
  • A growing knowledge of how to lead.

So I have three challenges for you to take up.

Challenge #1: See the Need

A lot of people, from Lee Roberson to John Maxwell, have gotten credit for originally saying one of the simplest and wisest things that has ever been said… “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”

  • Families thrive under good leadership.
  • Communities are better places to live because of good leadership.
  • Causes are addressed and needs are met with good leadership.
  • Churches and companies grow under good leadership.

You don’t need a fresh revelation from God to feel called to lead. He has spoken plenty on the subject and His call to salvation is also a call to service. Do you see the need?

Challenge #2: Invest In Relationships

I love Maxwell’s basic definition of leadership, “Leadership is influence.” Nothing more. Nothing less.

The word “influence” comes from a compound of two Latin words meaning “in” and “flow.” Creek beds and canyons are formed because of a flow of water. Weather patterns stay regulated by the flow of ocean currents. And culture is shaped by leaders.

And how do leaders shape the culture around us? Through relationships. The evidence of leadership is change. And the evidence of good leadership is change for good. I love watching my wife lead, and she’s one of the best I know. And what I see that amazes me most is the change she affects in others. A lot of people are in better places because of her.

How are you making a dent? Who has changed for good because you’ve led them?

Challenge #3: Do the Work of Leading

Leadership can either be a lofty idea or it can be an in-the-trenches daily exercise in influencing. Thomas Edison famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” That’s true of leadership too. Goals are great. Vision is essential. But the bulk of leading is doing the hard work, investing time and imparting wisdom into people.

So catch a vision. Make some friends. And get to work! The world needs you to get out front!

Photo by Koen Rayer.

Four Commitments the Church Ought to Keep for the World’s Sake

I’m not an SBC Pastor (Southern Baptist Convention). I’m a BMA Pastor (Baptist Missionary Association of America), but I did grow up in an SBC church, served as a Pastor at an SBC church, and many of my great heroes in ministry have been SBC leaders. So I remain somewhat tuned into SBC happenings, especially via the blogosphere.

I was especially intrigued by the election of Dr. Ronnie Floyd as SBC President earlier this month. Dr. Floyd, for me, ties together the posture of the Criswell’s and Rogers’ of the past with a church on the cutting edge of ministry effectiveness. My own church ministers in the shadow of CrossChurch, and their leadership has been nothing but encouraging toward our work in the same community. While we have somewhat different philosophies and approaches and probably reach different people as a result, we share a viritually identical theological base and have no hesitancy in learning from their team.

I was particularly challenged by Dr. Floyd’s blog post today, encouraging Southern Baptists to make four commitments to American culture

  1. We will always be faithful to lift up the authority, truthfulness, and infallibility of the Word of God.
  2. We will always be faithful to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to know God and to go to Heaven when we die.
  3. We will always be faithful to stand for the religious liberty of every person and every church.
  4. We will always be faithful to pray for the next spiritual awakening in America.

That’s a pretty good list of essential commitments any church ought to make to its community and to its nation. We could add several more, I’m sure, such as developing great leaders from the next generation, remaining culturally relevant as we present a timeless gospel, and being more highly relational in our approach to people. But his four stand alone as bedrock values I could embrace with confidence.

These are challenging times in which the church must find a way to lead and to present the gospel of Jesus. We’ll be tempted along the way to compromise on any of these four in order to suffer less criticism, but if souls are at stake (and they are) and if the church is the one thing Jesus commissioned to be the hope and light of the world (and she is), then we must hold onto these moorings.

You must go read the rest, whether you’re southern Baptist or not.

In a Culture War, There Can Be No Truce Nor Victory, So…

Angry FaceHobby Lobby went to court. World Vision changed its hiring policy. Then they changed it back. The President visited the Pope. It’s been a big week – not for the kingdom, but for western evangelicalism. And it hasn’t been pretty.

The church is called, in Scripture, the “pillar and ground of truth,” so I believe we have a responsibility to be a voice for God’s truth in the middle of a society that doesn’t recognize or understand Him. That being said, I don’t believe our objective is to reform society as much as to offer redemption from sin, or to sway political leadership as much as to offer salvation to the souls of individuals. Every Christian, and every Christian leader and church and religious organization has to determine what they consider worth fighting for and that’s not always an easy thing to determine.

For example, I’ve been vocally supportive of Hobby Lobby’s case because I’m a big believer in religious freedom, even when it comes to Christians who run their own corporations. I don’t believe it’s the government’s role, at all, to mandate that any employer provide abortion-inducing or contraceptive drugs to its employees no matter how nice a benefit some may consider it to be. But when Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was temporarily placed on haitus from his show over remarks about homosexuality, I was pretty silent. I saw it as a pop culture battleground over a commercial enterprise designed for profitable entertainment. You may disagree with me on one or both of these issues, and that’s okay.

When it came to this past week’s World Vision debacle, I didn’t like the way some conservative evangelicals (a label I don’t have any problem wearing) sounded so angry. And I really didn’t like the way progressive evangelicals portrayed conservatives as throwing kids under the bus for their personal agenda when they really just wanted to hold a Christian organization theologically accountable to the majority of Christians and churches that support it financially.

But what I REALLY didn’t like is that “our” battle within Christianity sends the message that we’re just all angry at each other all the time. I’m mostly concerned about the bystander who observes our contentions without the larger context of why any of our issues matter to us in the moment.

And that leads to my observation about culture wars. I don’t believe a truce is an option. And I don’t believe victory is possible. And that creates an unsolvable conundrum.

I say that truce isn’t an option because of what I believe about the Bible. I wrote just a few days ago that I recognize it as divinely revealed, eternal, absolute truth. So it isn’t subject to popular opinion or political reform. It stands. I can’t change it. I can’t compromise it. I can only try to observe, interpret, and apply it in whatever context I currently live.

I don’t believe I’m “homophobic” and I certainly don’t hate gay people (though I’d rather say people, like anyone else, who happen to identify themselves as gay). I simply believe that the Bible gives us God’s parameters for sexual behavior and restricts it to a marriage between a man and a woman. For me, it doesn’t matter to whom you’re attracted. Our identity isn’t defined by our attractions. It’s defined in our creation. And all people, regardless of any particular orientation, are created with dignity and worth and value. So all people need and deserve love from me and from you. And God definitely loves every person enough to give His own Son for them, regardless of lifestyle, orientation, preferences, attractions, or even behaviors. But to ask me to recognize homosexual behavior, or any sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman as good and right and acceptable, is asking more than I can possibly give as one who believes the Bible.

So when I call homosexual behavior a sin or I speak out against abortion, it isn’t because I don’t like you or I’m mad at you or I just want to make you more like me. It’s because of some deep-rooted beliefs in me about the Creator being defined by His own self-revelation in Scripture and not by what people wish Him to be.

So I don’t want to fight. And I can’t call a truce, at least not if it means giving up my belief. But I can love you, respect you, go to church with you, and enjoy a good cup of joe with you, no matter how we may be different.

So if you’re fighting against Christians who embrace Scripture the way I do, please extend some grace in light of the fact that we’re trying to figure out the best way to live out a biblical faith in a society that is grappling with sexuality and the definition of marriage in a way no other culture ever has. Ever.

And to my fellow Christians who believe the Bible, let me explain why victory is no more plausible than a truce. It’s because sometimes in winning the battle, we lose the larger campaign. We can muster our strength in numbers and push and shove to change (or preserve) the laws of the land in our favor, while ultimately failing to show love and respect for our fellow humans. We can influence or force people to behave the way we want them to morally while failing to offer redemption for their souls, which is a perversion of the concept of grace and an offense to the gospel of the cross.

Victory is assured eternally for all who trust in Christ. But victory here and now, in this world, on moral issues divorced from the central message of the gospel is relatively difficult if not impossible. And if it’s achieved, we often sacrifice the greater victory of populating heaven. In seeking to bring the kingdom on earth (which is a good thing when done right) if we attempt to coerce non-subjects into submission, we’ve missed the point entirely.

So truce isn’t possible if it requires abandoning the Bible as eternal truth. And I don’t think victory is possible either, at least not in temporal terms. So what do we do? Keep fighting aimlessly? Bloody our knuckles on each other’s faces until someone submits? Sounds… painful, and definitely not helpful.

Here’s another option. Let’s keep wrestling with the tension between truce and victory. Let’s allow each other to speak. And let’s listen. And let’s respect each other and demonstrate our love with action. Let’s avoid unnecessarily hurtful rhetoric (like “you just be hatin’!” or “you’re just a bleeding-heart liberal” or “you must want to punch hungry babies in the face and torture kittens for Christ”) and check our motives and attitudes along the way. Let’s stay humble.

At the end of the day, some will believe in and follow Jesus. Others won’t. Some will embrace biblical truth and others won’t. Still others will embrace Jesus but fail to understand or to agree on a right interpretation of Scripture. Thankfully, I can be the best representative of the gospel I can be and then allow the issue of conversion to be entirely up to a supernatural God whose Spirit alone can convince others of the truth of His Word.

I don’t fear you. I fear God. I don’t hate you. I just respect our Creator. And I think He’s right whether either of us are or not.

On a side note, I feel I should clarify that if you DO want to punch hungry babies in the face or torture kittens for Christ, please seek help immediately. In case that’s an issue for you.

photo credit: Jan Tik