I don’t know what you get in your social media or email inboxes but over the last couple of years I have read countless comments, articles and of course the books are out there by the ton which speak essentially of three matters related to Christianity:
Churches dying and in particular, the younger generations walking out and not returning linked with a related issue of what I believe to be basic spiritual and indeed, the stuff of plain ol’ human (time/experience) maturity: growing up. “What do I really believe and why?” Extremely good questions and each person must work this out regardless of the issues.
There is little doubt white and old-school “We ain’t gonna lose our grip on power nor will we change for YOU” attitudes and voting, rhetoric and gender, race, immigration, LBGTQ, guns, war and other elements are major players in all this, but there is also a profound sense of worry and loss among at least a sizable number of folks who have grown up or at least grown to love their local church, leadership and/or forged close friendships around the fellowship, services and teaching offered.
The truth as I see it? Neither Truth nor genuine church has ever been about the numbers of people hanging out, nor even in the clear reality that if we have more peeps and more money we can accomplish a lot more on earth. Of course we could. And you can debate that but the logic fails me if you do. More people and more loot CAN accomplish more for the kingdom IF IF IF the stewardship of both is truly, lovingly surrendered to the Lord and in meeting actual needs rather than chasing pet projects or “status” slop. But numbers of people involved somehow equals legitimacy? Nada.
Everything from style preferences pertaining to music, speaking, air conditioning, the look and feel of the building, tithing, the most simple “who gets their way” and a hundred other issues are all involved along with the rest of what I’ve mentioned here.
The rub: church is a grouping of followers of Jesus, not this or that place, style of assembly, nor is it about the number or name of that particular gathered people of God.
“Successful church”- WHATEVER that means to you isn’t always what you or I deem truly a God pleasing entity. I say if there aren’t enough people of faith walking in relationship to Jesus, willing to commit to meet, share, serve and grow as well as reach beyond the walls of the place, let it die. I don’t care how hip, un-cool, or what cultures or subcultures are involved.
Christ is Lord and Savior, not a culture of comfort -though The Comforter/Counselor comforts like no other!
See, “Unless the Lord builds the house…” it’s wood, hay and stubble even if your fave people show up, dig the music and love atmosphere and food.
Further, the deepest issue is not how you personally identify… rather it is how God Himself identifies you and specifically, what a follower, daughter, son of His looks like and is. This indeed comes down to scripture rather than mere personal belief, feelings or sense of personal value. To the extent we are willing to face hard questions and embrace the hard truths of the truly Good News of Jesus we are also willing to be changed, loved, healed -and as we are we become walking gifts of change, love and healing poured out both within the local church and to the world outside of it.
The true church by God’s definition isn’t limited by what we do or do not do, build or not build because it belongs to the risen Christ, is part of HIS kingdom where He alone is King. The true church is fueled by God the Holy Spirit and is blessed by God the Father because by His gifts of grace, faith and love. It’s people who individually and gathered follow Jesus and serve Him, the rest of the larger body of Christ and who reach out with compassion to the lost.
A church laced with sinners (all local assemblies) will hurt, frustrate, challenge, provoke acts of kindness, betrayal, faithfulness, hope, love and misery -just as all relationships between sinners in or outside the Christian camp.
The ebb and flow of lots of believers, fewer believers, backsliders, deep or kindergarten commitment of it’s people is nothing new and will continue until He folds the world up like a scroll and we are all together in His literal kingdom.
But it also seems to me that spiritual journeys vary greatly and for many reasons, sometimes likely due to a child’s faith having to become challenged as they grow up, move from the security and stability and/or at times hypocrisy and/or their own pettiness, rebellion and desire to be and do AS THEY WISH, GOD OR NO GOD which of course can either lead them to repent, believe and follow Him later on as did the prodigal son -or to “curse God and die” as Job’s wife recommended as he suffered horribly.
If you are not in RELATIONSHIP with God on a daily basis you likely aren’t comfortable with His people whether they are full-on lovers or bigoted jerks -and the churches have always contained both. Last time we were honest -so does the rest of the world…
“Faith” as a mere intellectual concept isn’t a relationship.
Relationships between imperfect, flawed, sinful and at times very troubled people are messy, distressing, painful… and we are at times those people in relation not only to one another but to God as well.
We are all at varied stages of both spiritual and life experience growth, yes, spiritual and otherwise. It seems to me actually cutting one another slack, grace to grow and forgiving one another (a rocking and deeply core command of Jesus to His Own) is the work of both human-human and human-God relationship. Blow that off and you are going to be willfully by-passing lessons that will assure your OWN lack of maturity or even willingness to stay married, get married, be part of a band, local church or even amateur sports team!
Another essence is that when individual people decline spiritually within a church, then the church declines. Yet- the gates of hell will never prevail against the true Church -remember it is Jesus Who makes that claim.
I and those in the community I live and serve with have been SO graced to actually work with, be taught from and recognize the wisdom of the Lord among an incredibly wide group of professing Christ followers from day one.
A healthy and I believe authentic, scriptural ecumenism where I engaged with mature and also immature believers in several very different churches was part of my own earliest pilgrimage as a young, fresh Christian.
It seemed clear to me that there were deep, shallow, real, fake, first-grade and seminary graduates, deeply experienced and quite inexperienced people all over the map. I met (and meet) in tiny fellowships and mega churches deeply loving people as well as troubled, self-centered louts – in every sort of Christian gathering I’ve experienced- and after a lifetime of travel I can tell you that’s a LOT of folks in a lot of places.
From the earliest days of creation until now things have not changed in this very important regard: God is God and will not change, His Word is dependable but we cannot cause it to change yet He and it will change US if we will in love and faith, obey Him and live it out in our relationships regardless of preferred style.
In the end, either we focus on Him and loving others in and outside our favored group, or we simply act as our own god, source and center of things.
On this basis, none of the current concerns is for me, as much a fresh or freaking out worry as it is a norm that has existed through the ages.
We grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ or we do not.
It indeed begins and ends with personal integrity, relationshipS with Him and others. Or not.
As it has always been, it’s your move.
God LOVES you and me but He surely does not always love our choices nor the way we treat one another. He will move with or without us but His love will not allow Him to change. The Church? We deeply need one another whether we’re willing to grow up or not, but in the end, the church is only as mature as it’s people in any particular time and place.
Nothing new under the sun.
As always, thanks for stopping by. -Glenn