10 August, 2008

The Church's Biggest Problem

KB put together a great post on the evolution of the church, tracking it from the fellowship it was in the 1st century to the enterprise it is now. His take is fascinating, and as usual I cannot comment on it due to technical bugaboos. I cannot even go back and reread it before I pen this knock-on post. Ah the joy of technological limitations.

Way back when I was able to read KB's post that once through bloglines, I agreed and disagreed with it. I agreed that an ideal 21st century church would look different from an ideal 1st century church, and that the differences would be gains for the church overall. I disagreed that the paradigm of an enterprise could ever be a profitable one for any church, ever. I was tongue-tied, though, because I am not sure exactly what KB meant by "enterprise." I know what enterprise means to me, and I don't support that. I just don't know what it means to KB, and I'm sure if I did I would support whatever he means.

I think maybe the biggest problem facing the church today is our obsession with finding and fixing the biggest problem in the church today.

Along those lines, KB's post brought to mind an email I wrote a month or so ago (while I was busy not blogging.) It was about a book review I'm currently not writing while I'm not blogging. In the book, the author relates a life-changing experience he had doing a particular spiritual discipline, and proceeds to sell that discipline as the "one thing" missing in the lives of all Christians and the one thing that, if it were present, would change everything.

Here's what I wrote in that email:

The answer to fixing Christianity has to lie somewhere else than finding 99% of it's best and brightest certifiably insane.

The author tells persuasively of his experience learning how to do this method on a 6 week retreat. He gives ample evidence of changed lives in everyone learning it and of the lasting, beneficial effect the experience had on people from very different walks of life.

But is that proof of the method? I doubt it.

As I was reading his story, it occurred to me that the Navigators, the Promise Keepers, the Holiness Movements, the Charismatics, the Legalists, the Missionaries, and Everyone Else can produce equally stirring anecdotal evidence.

Maybe that's proof that all anecdotal evidence should be rejected? It probably should, but I doubt that's the lesson here too.

Instead, I think this is proof of overly narrow root cause analysis.

Each of these groups was doing a different thing, but they were all doing it "together" with other believers. The common factor in each of these widely varied stories is that a group of Christians was wholly committed to really connecting with each other to do something profitable.

Given any silly excuse, if Christians get together with love in our hearts, we will touch each other and the Lord in life-changing ways. It takes a little excitement, a little leadership, a little hope, and a little focus to start that flow of love between brothers and sisters that bonds us together.

It's those bonds that change our lives.

It's like being in a family. Which is most important? Financial security? Emotional security? Passion? Purpose?

Just try living without any one of those things.

The church needs doctrine. She needs connection. She needs worship. She needs purpose.

I think I still believe a little bit in the house church movement. It's hard to say, though, because there are other needs that are more important. When a man is out of oxygen, he doesn't care so much that he's sleep-deprived. I wish I might see the church organized differently, but before I spend energy there it seems there are other things that might be more important.

The need to find and fix the most important crisis facing the church today seems universal, and it seems to be driving us further and further apart. I'm tempted to name this tendency to obsess over the church's biggest fault, "The tree-trunk of division springing from the taproot of Laodicean Pride." We proclaim that we see when really we're blinded by the lumber in our own eyes. I know I blew 10 years of my life chasing that wild goose.

I think I know what to do about the tree-trunk.

Quit trying to fix the church.

Our worst problem is trying to fix every problem. Maybe it's because we imagine we're wise enough to know every problem. Or maybe it's that we like fixing big things instead of doing little things. Or maybe everything's pretty much OK and we need to get on with the business of doing that which God's been preparing us to do for all these centuries.

Whatever it is, we need to put 80% of our energies into loving the Christians to whom we are closest. Maybe with whatever's left over we can tinker with trying to revolutionize the church in our generation. I don't know, but I know I really need to pour my life out for brothers and sisters whom I can touch. I need to form bonds with my brothers and sisters that can survive the fires of disagreement, repentance, and boredom. I need to commit to people with all their messy needs, rather than ideas or disciplines or quests with all their manageable sterility.

And if that means learning to bond with emergent Christians, then show me the way to Starbucks. I can always buy a lemonade smoothie. :-)


Weekend Fisher said...

The obsession over what's wrong with the church is so inward-gazing, and sometimes so hostile that I suspect it does more harm than good. I know we need a little self-evaluation, but that doesn't make self-evaluation a full-time job ...

Take care & God bless
Anne / WF

Lynne said...

there's so much I agree with here, I hardly know where to start. I gave up on "magic remedies" quite some time. To think there's a secret solution that God has kept hidden from us is rather dishonouring to God I think. His plain commands are to love Him with everything we've got, and love each other as much as we love ourselves. If we want to exegete them further there are plenty of clear descriptions in the NT..

I also think a lot of this obsessive self-diagnosis has a whiff of self-righteousness about it .. ie the assumption that when WE solve the problem, WE will somehow make the church work properly. Oh dear! Probably time for some new shoelaces, since the ones we're trying to pull ourselves up by keep breaking ..

Milly said...

here's a quick quote

Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, and what arrived was the Church.

-Alfred Loisy

Kansas Bob said...

Just for the record :)

The idea of the American church being an enterprise was from a quote by Richard Halverson (former Chaplain of the United States Senate).

One of the comments on that post said it well:

"I love when people say that the 1st century church is the ideal model! Ummm, have you read Galtians, Colossians, Corinthians, those churches had the same problems that we had today. The goal of our assemblies together should be to become what Christ wants, not what we want, or to be like some other church. It's time for the Body of Christ to ask, What Does Jesus Christ, our Head, want for us!

I agree with weekend fisher about our obsession with introspection.

Also agree with Milly.. the message is about the kingdom and not the church.

Happy Monday!

Anonymous said...

Unlike you CP, I never believed that I could 'fix' the church. A church can't meet every need, so I accept that.

It could be that I feel a little adrift, but I don't see most churches today having a purpose. Most of us churchgoers see each other an hour or so a week and we are supposed to care for one another and show Christ to each other. Please.

I spend 40 plus hours a week with people that might have a 2% Christian population. I'm trying to stay afloat, and on a good day be an example.

I do read my Bible every day, but the 1 hour a week I spend in church hardly compensates for the 40 spent with non-Christians. There needs to be a better sense of community and caring. That probably means that it starts with me, but that's what I'm looking for.


Milly said...

As Codepoke knows I was ready to walk from my church last year. I felt that things needed to be fixed. The thing is that you need to find the right group of people to love and will love you. I’m in the middle of a divorce, this could have been a scandal. I could have been whispered about as I walked past people but I haven’t found that at all. In fact I told the worship minister last Sunday. He looked upset and said he didn’t know but he would pray for me. I’ve chosen to be rather quiet about it because it also affects another family. I’ve been given nothing but love from those folks and I can say that I’ve been in need of them.

Have I fixed the church? No not at all but I have shown them with words how wrong I felt that they are. One of the elders went on sabbatical after the incident. I have given them grace and show them grace.

I think our church folks need some grace.

As for the quote from above you can spin it both ways.

Join me at Starbucks and I'll buy

tye-dye trinity said...

The Church's Biggest Problem. My, my, what a title. Yes indeed, the Church does have problems, but then again, the Church is made up of us...human beings, of course it's going to have problems.

Church is not about the one hour or so a week that we as churchgoers spend with each other in a worship service, whatever. It's about the rest of the week. It's about how we treat those we work, live, play with. Those we come into contact with on a day to day business.

Yes, we need to not be so concerned about "us" fixing the problem. Yes, God's basic commandments are to love Him with all our hearts and love each other as ourselves. But, it's also about being willing to do what God is calling us, individually, to do that is important. We are to live in His will, in His love, in His direction.

I think Church is and should be so much more than just that Sunday morning Worship service and that we as Christians are missing out on that because we don't want to care or come out of our comfort zones. Shame on us. Let's listen to God for a change and not look so hard at what we as humans can do. Let's look and listen to see what God can do and is doing.

codepoke said...

Hmmm. Great thoughts here.

I wonder, as I read them, how many Christians want to fix the church? Lowcrawl never thought he could fix the church, but I sure did. And Lynne gave up on magic fixes, but I never believed in them. I just thought there were places to apply copious amounts of elbow grease to change things for the better.

I've had a couple home-church lovers writing me this last couple weeks, and this post was an outflow from some of our discussions, but I forget sometimes that others don't share that background.

How many of you ever thought there was something importantly, fundamentally flawed in the church the way it is today? And how many of you thought it could/should be fixed?

karen said...

I miss church. But, I can't seem to find one that is more about Christ than its next "event" that has little to do with ministry and more to do with having fun.
I have "church" every day; we have to make it a point to make someone else's day better.
But I miss the fellowship. Will try a new one next week.

Missy said...

Isn't this the church? I had lunch with my friends Dottie, Ann Marie and Rhonda while our kids watched the Pink Panther today - I thought that might be church. I prayed on the couch with my husband - you know that's church. I got angry at some worship songs last Sunday - church. What's to fix?

Usually, my heart - before, during and after church. :)

codepoke said...

So thought provoking! Karen and Missy, you both head in the same direction and get there in different ways.

But I cannot go with you. It sounds like a whole 'nother discussion. Is the church more than relationship and relating? I have to believe it is.

A friend of mine from Australia who shares my given name is fond of calling the church, "The Mob." But I cannot go there. The church is more than random associations of individuals. It has to be, inasmuch as a body is more than random cells forming and dispersing.

Not that my heart is not in need of fixing before, during, and after the church gathers. ;-)

Kansas Bob said...

I think that you hit it CP.. the church is a body not an organization.. sometimes the body is represented in individual relationships (cells) and sometimes in corporate relationships (organs/body parts).

Missy said...

That lunch the other day made a non-believing mom ask some interesting questions. That prayer may lead to a decision to take in a child in need. That difficult worship service saved many brothers and sisters from starvation.

I am not understanding your disagreement that the Church is more. You seem to imply an "only" when referring to something truly amazing that can only be attributed to God and His method of creation.

Is a body "more" than random cells merging and dispersing? Embryos of all living creatures all start as one cell - and each cell that forms is exactly the same - then random cells that clump together begin to change and differentiate from the other cells. These cells all rely on what the other cells become. The grow and mature, do their jobs, and soon begin to die - some cells faster than others - some in larger quantities than others. Then one day they all die. Until then, every cell outside that body, in some way is affected or influenced by the function or disfunction of that body. Some of those cells enter that body and affect and influence that body as well. There are other lifes that form from and depend on that body - there are lifes of no distinct connection that depend on that body...

I could go on. But I have yet to see that life in any way shape or form as created by God is anything more than relational. Whether it is personal or corporate - it's always relational. Maybe you have a more light-hearted opinion of relational associations - but to me it is the language of God and seems only fitting to be the form and function of His Church.

codepoke said...


Praise the Lord, and accept my deepest respect for the beauty of relationships. As you beautifully point our, every body starts with a single random relationship of cells.

My "only" is that a cell of my heart will be with me until it dies. The relationships in cells in a body are for life. Every relationship in my body is, "'til death do us part."

I'm not fighting for neighborhood organizations and the life-giving power of liturgy. Organizations and liturgy are sterile.

My point in this post was how amazed I am that I've learned organizations and liturgy aren't poison. 10 years ago I was passively in favor of burning down every church and starting over. I thought it would save the Christians they'd entombed.

Today I see that the organization is just where the Christians are. It's a great place to find brothers and sister to whom I can relate in Christ. As a rule, I find a much higher density of believers per warm body in a church than I do in a coffee shop. So, I spend more time in a place where the believers are than in the place that the coffee is. Your mileage may vary, and praise the Lord when it does. :-)

The coffee house Christianity I've known has been highly transient. It more resembles the free-love of the 60's than the "'til death do us part" of the 40's. And my experience of home churches has been very much the same. The home churches I've known have been more like "living together" than marrying. We've declared life-long love, and gone our separate ways after a couple years.

So I'm seeing the value of the stuffy, old convention of church.

This is all new water for me, so if I seem to say things offensively, please forgive me. It seems like I too often say things in an offensive way after one of your comments, and I sincerely apologize for stumbling repeatedly over things you share. I promise I value your additions, every one, for their insight and honesty.

Missy said...

CP, I am sorry. I had just returned from an exhausting Bible study (in which I am rarely understood) that had followed a 7 mile bike ride with my kids. I was tired and feeling misunderstood and jumped into action. I was not offended - just deparate to be understood. Sorry for my offensive retort!

I think we are essentially saying the same thing. Your thoughts describe what I was envisioning with my body of cells analogy; different clusters of cells with different purposes - varying longevity and degrees of complicated connections. I completely agree with what you just said about having a committed relationship to a corporate body. It does work very much like a marriage. I have always envisioned church-hoppers as adulterous, always after that new "falling in love" feeling.

Marriage is a relationship - but yes, a committed relationship is "more."

Are you talking about committing yourself to the corporate entity (The Creed) - or the people within it?

Kansas Bob said...

My perspective is a bit different CP because most of my lasting relationships are with people that I do not currently do church with. If your paradigm of church is marriage (which mine was for years) you might stay in a cultic or spiritual abusive environment because you don't want to be unfaithful to the local church or it's leaders.

To me our faithfulness is to be towards the Lord, His kingdom and His people. How that faithfulness unfolds is not dependent on what building you fnd yourself in on Sunday morning.

Just an alternate view.. we may be thinking the same though..

karen said...

I'm more in line with Missy's original "retort" (heehee) and have a hard time seeing a church as much more than relational.
Anyway, the original thought I had was, yes...the church needs to be fixed, but it always has, according to Paul's letters, because, we as humans need to be fixed. Thank God for God--we'll get there.
We visited a new church on Sunday. It took me 3 minutes to stop hyperventilating before I could get out of the car. We were greeted (overly greeted...bordering on assault) from 3 streets from the church to the time we sat down.
Don't get me wrong. Not just the building churches. We did a home church that was really sweet, but there's always one person who turns their nose up at the way things are being done. It's usually those who don't do the work.
That's people, and it will never change. Being the Body requires effort and nurturing.

Brother Lazarus said...

I am a new blogger and would like to comment on the church's biggest problem. Has it occurred to you that you put your finger on the the church's biggest solution? When you pointed out the common factor in these successful enterprises was "they were all doing it together" and these groups of Christians "were wholly committed to connecting with each other."

We Americans are nothing if not individualists. Togetherness and wholly committed to connecting are not qualities we grasp easily as the early Christians did. But these were her secret weapons, and with them they won a hearing for the gospel. Luke records they devoted themselves to koinonia and were "in one accord," precisely the strategy Jesus Christ left His church.

You want to reach the world with His gospel of redemptive love and power? Follow His agape principle. "Love one another as I have loved you, that the world may believe". Later, He restates the principle in His last recorded prayer: "May they be one, Father….that the world may believe."

When Christians have banded together in unity and teamwork, the Holy Spirit tends to show up to make them fruitful. It's a costly affair. I prefer "doing my own thing." The agape principle will probably require sacrificing my pet traditions and doctrines—not necessary ones, just divisive ones.

When we place our preferences on the altar of His love, miracles can happen. That was His promise to his disciples and if you believe in the inspiration of Scripture, that principle still works. For the young church the miracle was what the modern church prays for, "O Lord, add daily to our number."

This new way of doing church requires a journey inward to discover and love one another, then a journey outward to include our neighbors in this love.
What is so cool is that this Christ-first, Kingdom-first, team-first discipleship legitimizes our witness and bears fruit.