My family and I have watched ABC’s The Middle since it began its first season. Because we’re normally occupied with other things on Wednesday Nights, we set our DVR and watched it later. This Fall, for its ninth and final season, The Middle was moved to Tuesday Nights; we still DVR the show to watch later. And I may keep this week’s episode for posterity’s sake. Yes, it was that good!
If you’ve never watched The Middle, you have missed out on some funny programming. ABC’s description of the show is, “Forget about athletes, movie stars and politicians. Parents are the real heroes—but we think Frankie Heck, must be some kind of superhero. A loving wife and mother of three, she’s middle class in the middle of the country and is rapidly approaching middle age.” Thus, it’s called “The Middle”.
In the December 12th episode (Episode 10, The Christmas Miracle), Axl, the recent college graduate and oldest child in the family tells his mother that we won’t be going to church with the family on Christmas Eve. He doesn’t see a valid reason for going. As Axl’s family members learn of his disinterest, they express their thoughts of why they go to church. Mike, Axl’s dad says that he’s not one to ask; he’s not very sure of his own faith commitment. His mother, Frankie, searches for her reasons, and settles on the subjective, pleasant feelings she gets when she goes to church. After Axl’s sister, Sue can’t fathom the idea that someone in her family could possibly struggle with their faith.
Many of us experienced a kind of “crisis of belief”, normally around the time Axl does. We wonder what’s the point of maintaining our family’s faith traditions. I see this as a very healthy thing because if we are going to grow in our faith (2Peter 3:18), we must “own” it for ourselves. The faith of our dad, mom, and grandparents is insufficient for eternity, as well as for right now. It’s in these “crisis of belief” times we think that church and the Bible are boring. We don’t see the point of continuing in the Christian faith because we don’t see how it has made a difference in anyone’s life. We don’t see church, faith, the Bible as being… relevant.
Over the past couple of weeks, many of our members have talked about how our adult children – whom we faithfully took to church every Sunday, and tried to instill the value of going – don’t attend church anymore. We invite them, but they seem to have other commitments with their kids’ soccer games, going out to the deer lease, or just sleeping in. Each Sunday, on our way to church, we drive past many homes with all the cars in the driveway. Axl Heck’s feelings are voiced by many former church-attenders and never-attenders alike.
A couple of weeks ago I said that people don’t go to church because they don’t see any reason to go. They see the whole “church thing” as boring. They don’t understand anything in the Bible (assuming they ever pick up… and assuming they have a translation they can understand). They think the church is full of hypocrites. They don’t like the music. They think that everybody’s beliefs are equally valid. They think that all religions basically teach the same thing. They feel they were dragged to church as children and have no interest now that they can make their own decisions, they decide to not go. They think all we ever talk about is money.
Yes, I think “relevance” is the right word for the times. “They” don’t see the relevance. And if we’re honest, we don’t see the relevance either!
Several of our members – who have been believers for decades – have recently told me that 2017 marks the first time they have ever read the entire New Testament. One told me that he’s never read the entire Old Testament, and for most of his Christian life, he has memorized very few verses of the Bible. From other conversations I have had, I can sadly say that his experience is typical of many of our members – and it’s typical of most people who call themselves, “Christians”!
Whether or not we want to admit it, based on our priorities as we live them out, we don’t see the Bible, prayer, Scripture memory, fellowshipping with other Believers, and evangelism/discipleship as being relevant! At all! Sure, we can say we do, but we really don’t. I say these things, not to judge, but to simply state the facts.
Whether or not we realize it, Axl Heck’s question is our question. Why go to church? Why read my Bible? What differences do any of these things make in the early Twenty-first Century?
These are good questions. Questions that I look forward to following up on in the coming days.
Oftentimes, spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel are not seen as being related. Well, of course you have to have embraced the Gospel message to be born spiritually in order to grow spiritually. However, I’m talking about once you’re saved, there’s not a lot of emphasis on witnessing. At least for many church-goers.
Last week, we looked at the issue of spiritual growth and sharing the Gospel. We looked at the context of Jesus’ comments about “the fields are white for harvest” from John 4: the Samaritan “woman at the well” went to invite the townspeople to come meet Jesus who knew all sorts of things about her (as well as her friends and lovers). As they were coming to Jesus, He told His disciples that, “the fields are white for harvest”. (John 4:35)
Our job is to pray to the Lord of the Harvest, asking Him to send His workers into the harvest (Luke 10:2). By the way, that doesn’t mean that we pray for somebody else to come along and do the work for us. The idea is that we ask God to send others to help us bring in the harvest. So how do we do that?
One plan is called 4xFour and it was developed by Greg Wallace of Woodridge Baptist Church of Kingwood, Texas. He suggests the first step is to Identify four “unchurched” (i.e., lost) people within your circle of influence, whom God wants you to share your faith. To do that, we have to realize that there is a harvest, we are called to be involved in bringing in the harvest, and that now is the time to be about the Lord’s business of bringing in the harvest. And that requires that we pray, asking God to lead us to our “four” (we don’t just pick out four random people).
This is just the first step of one plan, which I suggested for Fellowship Baptist Church. You may not like this plan. That’s ok. So what is your plan? How is your plan working for you? (I assume you have a plan)
God hasn’t called anybody to win the entire world to Christ. But God intends all of us to witness to some (1Cor 9:22). We can start by Identifying your “Four”.
So have you identified your “Four”?
One of my concerns over the years is the popular idea of encouraging people to “pray a prayer to accept Jesus into their hearts”. According the new International Mission Board President, David Platt, doing this is superstitious and dangerous.
I took a class on World Religions when I was at UNC-Chapel Hill. Obviously, this class was not taught from a “Christian perspective”. And that was a good thing. It was good to hear an academic description of the major world religions because it gave me an idea as to how lost people look at the world.
One day, our professor began to explain Pure Land Buddhism. As he described the concept of “salvation”/”achieving enlightenment”, I began to feel chills creep up my spine. According to that religion, all you need to ensure your “salvation” was to speak a particular phrase. You could live your life however you wanted before and after speaking these words and you were still guaranteed “salvation”.
So why did I get chills? Because there’s not much difference between that religion’s concept of “salvation” and much of our evangelistic training and mindset!
Let me ask… When you think about when you became a Christian, do you believe it happened because you prayed a prayer, or walked down an aisle? If one must do any or all of these things, then why don’t we see either of those things mentioned in the entire New Testament? Or in the writings of the Church Fathers? Or in the writings of the Reformers? Even baptism — as important as it is — isn’t given as being essential to salvation. In fact, such easy believe-ism is completely counter to everything we read in the New Testament, and the writings of the Church Fathers and the Reformers.
The concept of praying a sinner’s prayer is a modern convention, perhaps shaped by the Western mindset of “being a soul-winner”, similar to being a successful salesman who always presses for the decision and closes the deal. I even remember some of my evangelism training including asking the prospective convert if he/she could think of any reason why they shouldn’t pray the prayer and if not, they should bow and pray.
As Dr. Pratt says in the video above, doing this is dangerous, and even damning.
How many people will stand before God on Judgment Day, claiming that they should be granted access to eternity in heaven because they prayed a prayer, walked down an aisle, shook a pastor’s hand or were baptized?
The prospect of that Day scares me! And it should scare you, too! Jesus took it a step farther, saying that on that Day, many will claim that they had done some pretty spectacular things, but would still wouldn’t enter heaven because He never knew them. (Matthew 7:21-23)
Biblical salvation is more than just praying a prayer, walking an aisle, and being baptized. Salvation is receiving eternal life and eternal life is knowing God (John 17:3). Salvation begins when we exchange our life (all of our sin) for Jesus’ life (all of His righteousness) in order to be put in a right relationship with our Creator and King, against Whom we have all committed High Treason. Without accepting that free exchange, we are all worthy of nothing better than an eternity in hell and separation from God. Salvation continues as we live according to that new standing as adopted children. And salvation is fully realized when we cross over to the other side of eternity.
Does praying a prayer save you? No. Prayer is a natural response to receiving the New Life in exchange for our Old life and being accepted into a new family by a loving Father. And prayer can express our repentance as we turn from our sin and toward God.
What are your thoughts?
Too often we measure ministries by “nickels and noses” or “buildings, budgets, and butts”. If you’re around a group of pastors of different churches, the topic of church size quickly comes up, one will brag about his church’s latest building program, another brags about his latest offering, and still another about how many new members have recently joined the church. And if you ask how many people attended last Sunday Morning’s church service, you will hear a “ministerialy-speaking” number that more often than not, is inflated.
Speaking of inflated numbers…. the first church I pastored had nearly 300 members! But I don’t know that even on the “high attendance” Sundays of Christmas and Easter we ever had more than 50 people in the sanctuary. As we dug into the names, we found that we only recognized about 60. Sixty of 300 names!
You rarely hear of churches cleaning up their rolls, mainly because reporting the numbers accurately makes it look like the church has had a drastic drop in membership. And smaller memberships mean fewer people can go to denominational meetings and vote on behalf of your church. But, honestly, how many people go to those denominational meetings anymore anyway?
Wanting to account for the actual number of sheep in our fold, we began removing the names of people we didn’t know, or that we knew had died. So what happened to so many people on the membership roll? I suspect that many moved away, joined another church, or simply dropped out. Perhaps many were children who prayed a prayer during a Vacation Bible School over the course of 30+ years, and their names were added to the membership and they were never heard from again. (and did we ever follow up with them?)
I have heard of church business meetings where a number of people showed up for the first time in years in order to vote out a pastor (maybe some people didn’t like the way he parted his hair) or to change the direction a pastor was trying to lead the church (perhaps to be less “religious” and to be more like Jesus). Phone calls were made and accusations were leveled, with the result of the poor church clerk having to pour through the membership roster to make sure that everyone in the meeting was entitled to vote, based on their “membership” in the church. I must confess that this is one of the reasons I wanted to clean up the membership rolls; I didn’t want the church to be sabotaged by people who had no vested interest in the normal operations of the church. If there were people who wanted to maintain membership so they could have a “church marriage” or a “church funeral”, I was prepared to conduct their services, but I felt that those “members” had “broken covenant” by choosing to no longer attend and support the church with their time, talent, and their treasures.
So what is church membership?
Even after paring down the list of names to those 60 that we knew, we still had some names on the list because they were family members of charter church members, for whatever reason afraid of removing their grandchild or cousin from the roll. Were they afraid they wouldn’t come back to church? Hadn’t the grandchild or cousin already made that decision?
OK, I’ll step off my soapbox after saying that we need to seriously consider what “church membership” means. By “we”, I mean churches, staff, as well as everyone who calls themselves a “church member”. Wouldn’t it be better to call everyone either a church member or church attender based on their investment of time, talent, and yes… treasures?
I came across a really good post this morning that addresses this question of how to best measure one’s ministry. From a pastor’s perspective, I believe we should change our criteria.