I love the Church – but I don’t love how we ‘do church’ on Sundays. An hour of passive listening, often followed by everyone going their separate ways? You call that community that fosters spiritual maturity? Not me.
Here’s my outline of what is wrong with most churches. But let me first say this – almost all of the problems in a local church are the fault of the local leadership, not the congregation. So those of us in leadership need to make some decisions. May God help us to do ministry with effort and excellence.
1. Church Leadership Perpetuate Spiritual Infancy by Failing to Help Members Grow
This, IMHO, is the biggest problem with churches. They perpetuate spiritual infancy by:
Always Preaching to Sinners About Getting Saved
How many times can saved people hear the “everyone is a sinner and must repent” message before they get tired of being “beat down?” And who wants to bring their friends and neighbors to a hell fire and brimstone church anyway? I’m not saying we should shy away from the gospel. What I am saying is that it is the goodness of God that leads men to repentance, not the wagging finger of a shouting preacher. And Sunday services should be to teach Christians how to grow as spiritual people and disciples of Christ. I understand the danielg Sensitive idea, that Sundays should be for visitors, while you may have a “believers service” midweek for more indepth teaching – that’s cool, as long as your Sunday service isn’t just about SIN all the time.
Failure to Allow Lay Leadership to Share in the Work of the Church
Do they not know that their job is “equipping of the saints for the work of ministry?” This weird separation of “we are the ministers, you are the people” is unbiblical and keeps people from serving God with their gifts. Even in churches where they let lay members lead ministries, many of these churches have little infrastructure in place to train and support lay leaders.
Failure to Call People to Discipleship and Leadership
If leaders don’t tell people that Jesus calls them to follow, and to grow up into those who can teach others, they just don’t do it. My favorite passage with respect to this is Hebrews 5:12-14:
In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
2. They Have Song Leaders Instead of Worship Leaders
As a former Charismatic worship leader, and current member of the worship team at my current SBC church, I have to say that many churches think that if they just make their worship contemporary, and get some excitement going, that their worship is real and dynamic. So how come people exhibit such lame participation in such worship? Because it is song leading, not worship leading. The congregation doesn’t need good eye contact and smiles from the worship team, they need a group of people who get lost in worship, whose hearts and eyes are looking upwards. The congregation will then follow.
One small aside about non-charismatic churches doing contemporary worship. I think many, if not most of them have a tepid anointing on worship because their doctrines overemphasize everything being done “decently and in order,” but what they really mean is “we are afraid of emotionalism, and don’t believe in speaking in tongues or fainting because of the Holy Spirit in our church. In fact, even if the Holy Spirit does work in that way, we don’t want that here.” While I understand their fear of fanaticism, they would do well to remember that the charismatic movement birthed contemporary worship. They seem to want the fruit of this movement (reinvigorated worship) without the spirit that birthed it.
One further note about contemporary worship. Every time there is a true spiritual awakening, people without church backgrounds become Christians, and when they then start to worship, they worship using the musical language they know – they don’t start singing in the style of the 1800’s. This is why the Salvation Army was initially a pariah to the churches – their converts were playing brass band music, which was not church music. But they couldn’t deny the powerful spirit upon the converts. If we want real anointing on our worship, we just don’t need a new wineskin (contemporary music), we need new wine (revival in our spirits).
3. The Main Pastor / Teacher Is A Poor Teacher
I have left churches where the main teacher handled scripture sloppily, used trite aphorisms to make his point, and otherwise showed that he had not spent the time to really teach properly. I believe it was Chuck Swindoll, the excellent bible teacher, who said something like (my paraphrase, can’t find the reference):
The bible is like a tarnished brass rail that a man is hired to polish. The poor teacher is like the man who rubs the railing a few times and calls it polished. He reads the scriptures superficially, gets a good point, perhaps even a true point from his reading, and teaches that. However, he has not spent the time to determine what the true meaning of the passage is. You see, all scriptures has specific intended meaning. The good teacher is like the man who rubs the rail repeatedly until the true brilliance of the brass is revealed. The good teacher studies and meditates on a passage until the specific intended meaning shines forth.
4. The Main Pastor is only a Preacher and Not a Teacher
Someone once said that the difference between teachers and preachers is this: one is telling, the other is yelling. This is close to the truth – better said, teachers instruct, while preachers motivate. Some people are great motivators, but really do not do any systematic teaching very well. And that’s OK – but for a church to really be growing, you need someone who is a teacher, not just a preacher. Even better, someone who does both. If you have only a preacher, you’re motivated but have no instruction on how to do a good job at the tasks you are motivated to accomplish – if you only have a teacher, you probably are well educated but do little of what you are taught because you aren’t motivated to action.
5. The Church Leadership Has Bad or Unbalanced Doctrine
Nothing kills people like bad doctrine – be it religiously controlling or hopelessly humanistic and liberal. The former produces Pharisees, the latter nice people with none of God’s power to transform and save people.
6. The Leadership Isn’t Interested in Seeking God
Without an earnest desire to do God’s will, without regular prayer, fasting, study of God’s word, personal holiness and obedience, church leadership will never produce a vibrant spiritual community.
7. They Fail to Create True Community – Poor or No Small Groups
In small churches, there may be some community, but in a group larger than about 10 people, you are only going to get mostly superficial relationships. If a church only emphasizes church attendance, or emphasizes it over small group involvement, or has a poor network of small groups, they are fooling themselves if they think they are really helping people. And if the church is big, but lacks small group fellowship, you can bet that it means only one thing – cult of personality. Everyone comes to see the great preacher, or the great music, but they go home and hardly know anyone else in the church. Even in churches that have small groups, if they have a weak small group philosophy and follow-through on that philosophy, they will suck at creating true community.