We might as well rename the churches “MacChurch, Burger-Church, Wendy’s Church, In and Out Church, Colonel Sanders Church, ad infinitum. Different buildings, same menu. Open the phone book to find a church and every one will offer you the same items – “Contemporary Music, relevant sermons, connecting with God, great Youth group, small groups, missions trips, stewardship classes, How to join the Church,” and on and on. Take a look at the ads in your local yellow pages and count the number of times you see the name of Jesus mentioned in the ad copy or even in the name of the church. So we have dozens of churches in each city, all offering the same “menu,” all competing with each other for “tithing units.” (De-Evolving the MacChurch – Part I)
When we look at the contemporary American church, it is very easy to draw a comparison with fast food restaurants. Whether it’s a “Whopper,” a “Jumbo Jack”, or a “Big Mac”, the reality is that what the fast-food places are really selling is a slab of beef between two pieces of bread. There is no discernible difference, except in the external packaging, and special additions to the menu that characterize that particular eatery. One burger is square, one is round, one comes with special sauce, but they basically taste the same and have the same nutritional content (which is usually nothing.) So it is with the contemporary church – same current popular christian rock songs, same youth programs, same VBS, same Awana program, same teaching, all flavored with that particular denomination’s take on the essential truth’s of the Bible. And now we have entered the era of the Mega-church, where charismatic leaders build a huge following apart from a denomination, and then “franchise” their movement to thousands of smaller churches that are desperate for growth and recognition. We have the Purpose Driven Church, Willow Creek, Emergent Church, Contemplative, Dream Center, Joel Osteen, Word of Faith – all with their own group of pastors that download the weekly “Pastor’s Toolbox” and follow blithely along with their leader’s teaching, even if it is heretical, or makes no biblical sense. So what is to be done? Let me share something from my pastoral experience that may throw a little light on the problem.
When I was associate pastor at a smaller church in Northern California, our senior pastor announced that he was leaving to go into missions full-time. So I was asked to be on an interim leadership team while the Deacon Board started a “Pastor Search.” While we were preparing with fasting and prayer, we studied the history of the church. What we discovered was that the church had 13 different pastors in a 40 year period. Wanting to get to the root of the problem – why so many pastors? – we decided to spend some time trying to find out who we were as a church body and what our calling in that particular city was. In that process, we uncovered many of our weaknesses as a church and some strengths. It occurred to us that we were wasting a lot of our resources duplicating programs that were being done on a higher level by other churches around the city. Digging deeper, we found that the churches who offered better programs than ours in certain areas also offered programs that we, or another church were doing better. The outcome was a radical idea. Maybe as a church, we should find our strengths and concentrate on them, and let the congregations who excelled in different areas handle those. We happened to have an excellent worship program and a thriving preschool. Another church down the street had good teaching but no real youth program. Our proposal was to share the work instead of duplicating efforts. What we didn’t know was that a certain element on the board had already decided who the next pastor was to be, and had no interest in a radical departure from “church as usual.” Needless to say there was a minor church split and many of the regular and old-time members of that church left for greener pastures.
Suppose we had actually implemented that plan – what would it have looked like? Let me show you, radical as it may seem:
1. All senior pastors in the city would resign and become simply a member of their flock
2. Set non-salaried teams of elders – and I mean elders – older wiser solid christian men in place in each small group to guide and direct the flock.
3. Congregations in the city would meet and decide what their strengths and weaknesses are.
4. Assign each congregation a particular program to carry out – be it worship, teaching, youth group, pre-school. Christian Education, Missions, small groups, Sunday School. etc.
5. Shift the teaching and preaching from topical to Expository – in other words, here’s what the Bible says, here’s what it means, here’s how we apply it to our lives.
5. Give the members of each church the opportunity to move to another body more aligned with their personal gifting.
6. During the week, all members of the city-wide church go to different locations for the different expressions of each body, be it worship, teaching, youth etc.
7. Elders and leaders gifted in specific areas such as preaching and teaching should organize city-wide teams with other leaders and share the teaching. i.e. one teacher takes a series on a particular book and then another teacher follows along.
8. Meet together as a corporate city-wide body. Church membership determined by the administrative boundaries of each city i.e. the church at Ephesus, the church at Philadelphia, etc.
9. Get rid of the tax-free 501c3 non-profit status. Render unto Cesar what is Cesar’s and get out from under the controlling thumb of the IRS.
10. Stop demanding tithe of Christians – it’s an Old Testament practice detailed in the law of Moses that has to do with taking care of the tribe of Levi under the inheritance laws of the OT and is never, never mentioned in the new testament except in reference to the Jews and their obedience to the Mosaic law. Present needs to the city-wide body and let members give as the Lord leads.
11. Raise up elders and teachers from local congregations. Stop doing “pastor searches” and bringing in hirelings from Alabama or New York that have no relationship to the flock in Washington state.
12. Limit congregation size to around 50 members – any group larger than that cannot be effectively shepherded by an elder team. If a congregation grows larger, break it up and start two new ones.
13. Stop claiming the promises made to Israel by God and the prophets and attempting to apply them to the Gentile church. Learn what Paul has to say in his thirteen epistles to the churches and follow those guidelines.
14. Teach members how to share the simple gospel of grace –
- You are born dead in your sins and separated from God;
- This separation is called death;
- This condition was caused by Adam’s rebellion in the Garden of Eden; spurred on by the fallen spiritual being once called Lucifer and now known as ha Satan – the accuser;
- There is nothing you can do to resolve this separation;
- God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die as a substitute for you so you could be free to choose reconciliation to God;
- Jesus died on the cross – it was not the terrible beating and torture that he endured that saves us, but the fact that He actually died – physically and Spiritually in our place;
- Jesus rose from the dead and defeated the power of death over your life;
- Jesus returned to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit into the world to live in you and work through you:
- If you believe this and turn from following your own will, and place your faith and trust in Jesus, He will restore you to relationship with God and you will have eternal life.
15. Set the members of the church about the business of leading family, friends, neighbors and co-workers to a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Forget about conquering the world for Christ – He has that well in hand and doesn’t need the help of the church.
16. Prepare the church for the imminent return of Jesus Christ – first to take His church out of the world to a place of safety, and then to deal with the apostate nation of Israel and all those who hate God.
If these “suggestions” strike you as having some potential, please leave a comment. If you have other ideas to add, feel free.
And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write; These things saith he that is holy, he that is true, he that hath the key of David, he that openeth, and no man shutteth; and shutteth, and no man openeth; I know thy works: behold, I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it: for thou hast a little strength, and hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name. Behold, I will make them of the synagogue of Satan, which say they are Jews, and are not, but do lie; behold, I will make them to come and worship before thy feet, and to know that I have loved thee. Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation, which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth. Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. Revelation 3:8-11