Blockbuster and The Future of Your Church

Back in 2000, Anitoco and the Blockbuster board located in Dallas had heard the ambitious Reed Hastings suggest that Blockbuster, the king of movie rentals, should merge with Hasting’s fledgling mail-order DVD company. The Blockbuster executives laughed at the proposal, viewing  on-demand rentals to about as certain as Biff’s casino empire. The executives sent Hastings packing.

With little fanfare, John Antioco resigned as the CEO of Blockbuster in June of 2008. Though the official reports said Antioco left Blockbuster because of disagreement over his salary, something far more problematic had occurred.

Sadly for Blockbuster, Hasting’s financial delorean wasn’t as crazy as it first seemed. The businessman would go on to establish a quite profitable little company that now flashes an N every time it loads up on our screens. Yep, Hastings offered to sell Netflix to Blockbuster. In turned out that Americans do like watching movies and T.V. shows on demand. 

Anitoco did not need twenty years to realize his mistake. By 2006, Anitoco knew he and not Hastings had been the fool. To keep his company from disappearing from Wall Street like Marty’s family which appeared head for oblivion, Anitoco began searching for ways to charge Blockbuster’s flux capacitor. He eliminated late fees and invested $200 million in developing an on demand video platform. 

Though things seemed promising, not all of the Blockbuster board and shareholders were happy. The company lost an estimated 400 million dollars in 2006 because of the new ventures. Though the company still turned a profit that year, many around Anitoco thought their CEO was making about as much sense as Doc Brown. Were their kids really in trouble?

Jim Keyes, one of the Blockbuster’s executives, and Carl Ichan, a prominent board member, believed Anitoco’s warning were a bunch of nonsense. After a few months of secret campaigning, the two men convinced the board to kick Anitoco to the curb and to install Keyes as the new CEO. Unlike Marty McFly, Anitoco never got the chance to slug Biff.

Keyes took Blockbuster back to its original timeline. Blockbuster killed its digital platform and reinstated late fees. Revenues boomed in 2008. In December of that year Keyes would boast that “Neither RedBox nor Netflix are even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” Six years later, Hastings and his competitors would land the fatal punch. 

As we already noted, people liked getting DVD’s in the mail, driving to the local Redbox, and opening up streaming services. They also hated late fees. In 2014, Blockbuster who had bullied the movie-rental business for decades went bankrupt and sold its remaining holdings to DISH. Anitoco wasn’t so nuts after all and Keyes wasn’t such a knowitall.

Before the last Blockbuster store closes, churches should rewind the Blockbuster story and watch it one more time, seeking to learn from the company’s collapse.

What Churches Can Learn

Blockbuster stores aren’t the only thing disappearing these days. Churches are closing at a rapid rate. To regain their lost market share, evangelicals have begun popping out church plants in every available community space. Mark Dever has noted that church plants abound because many established churches refuse to change. I concur with this assessment.

When the Hastings of the evangelical world stop by the traditional church for a Sunday visit, they posses hearts loyal to the gospel and passionate about missions. Though the established may church grant the evangelical entrepreneurs an audience with their deacon board, the board has little time for their ideas. They laugh at the new pastor’s plan to divert the recreation budget to missions. They mock the thirty something guy for not understanding the glories of 1955 hymnity. And, they refuse to change the church’s schedule for the purpose of reaching young families. The established church rejects the hopes of gospel growth, preferring the familiar comforts of now. Discouraged and rejected, the evangelical leaders of tomorrow often take their worn leather satchels down the street to the local gym and form a church plant.

Thankfully, some churches tentatively embrace the next generation of church leaders, knowing it is ok to move on from that black cup of decaf coffee. Theses congregations know the Hastings of the world are onto something. Cultures change over time; vest-jackets become a thing. These churches recognize that the unchanging gospel can be shared with new music styles and applied with the help of Facebook.

These congregations welcome the new pastor pastor to their slightly dysfunctional family meals. For the first time in years, the man shares the gospel afresh, preaching faithful expository sermons. Other changes begin to follow. The church changes its schedule to increase attendance. The congregation votes to reallocate money from trips to the buffet to trips to India. The deacons freshens up the nursery that looked about as organized as Doc Brown’s workshop.

The result prove positive. The singing becomes more passionate, new members trickle in, and the budget stabilizes. Involvement in outreach projects grows. Excitement returns.

But the old power players, the Keyes of the local church, still remain doubtful that the present changes will lead to sustainable future gains. Moreover, they dislike sharing their influence with the new members; mourn the loss of their social outings, and find the focus on doctrine to be about as helpful as Marty’s guitar solo.  They long for success but for the success of yesteryear. 

Their angst leads them to action. The Keyes scheme and plot, calling through the directory, holding secret deacon meetings, and sending covert Facebook messages. Once they get the needed votes, they shoot off down the road at breakneck speed only coming to a stop after they have removed the pastor and turned back all the changes. 

At first all goes well. A few old faces pop back in for a few weeks. They sing all the typical songs. They forget the mission projects and start going on those lunches they loved. Everyone feels happy. The angst is gone.

But within a few weeks, the new members also disappear. The budget begins to shrink. They church stops being able to pay its pastor. Within 3-5 years, the church ceases to exists, becoming one of Marty’s forgotten memories. The actions that promised success through a return to yesteryear produced bankruptcy shrouded in the despair of Biff’s casino empire.

What should we do when we experience the angst of change?

We should trust our pastors and elders and talk with them.

The author of Hebrews writes:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you – Hebrews 13:17.

This is not a blank check of trust. Elders and pastors are to be men of character and men above reproach (1 Tim 3:2). Christians should not follow elders and pastors who bully the church members like a bunch of outlaws in the Wild West. Pastors who deny the Scriptures by their words and deeds should be removed through church discipline. 

But Christians should extend elders and pastors who walk faithfully with the Lord the benefit of the doubt as they lead their church towards the future. When members have insights that could help their pastors lead well, they should share those thoughts with their leaders. Like Doc Brown, good elders will read the notes that their members stuff in their pockets, knowing that the Holy Spirit empowers the whole church. But at the end of the day, members should trust godly leaders and submit to their authority even when they make secondary decisions that go against the member’s preference. 

Blockbuster imploded because it refused to follow its duly appointed leader who was taking steps for future success.

That’s all folks; it’s time to pop the video of of the VRC’. No late fees here.

What will you do? Will you and your church cling to the familiar and die? Or will you trust your leaders and reach 88 miles an hour so that you can reach the future? Or will your congregation disappear into oblivion? The future is waiting!

Why is the Church Such a Mess?

why-is-the-church-a-messThe evangelical church in America is a sad mess. Mega church pastors are being booted from their churches for undisclosed moral failures. Smaller churches are consumed with the with the temperature of the sanctuary, the color of the carpet, and the type of coffee being used. Church members repeatedly fill social media with a laundry list of complaints that reflect nothing other than petty selfishness.

And the moral dysfunction that stains and increasingly defines can easily be traced back to theological dysfunction. Most Christians know little to nothing about doctrine. They simply dress up the culture’s ideas in religious terminology. Seventy-six percent of practicing Christians believe that we find our selves from within and that we should not criticize the life choices of others. Seventy-two percent believe that happiness is found in pursing the things you desire most. And 61% believe that people can believe whatever they want as long as they do not try to influence society.  And those that do hold to some form of meaningful religious actions often resemble the works-based faith of the Pharisees more than the of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Though a majority of non-Christians know Christians, only 15% of non-Christians know Christians who have been positively changed by their faith.

Why is the church so messed up? Why is the church which follows the Bible which points to Jesus who came to cast out demons, to eat with sinners, to heal the sick, to calm storms, and to save the broken-hearted such a pathetic mess?

Many have heard the quote that, “The Church is not a resort for saints but a hospital for sinners.” While true in sentiment, the words do not fully explain why the church is such a wreck today. What does? The Scriptures!

In 2 Timothy, Paul seeks to encourage his son in the faith, Timothy, to preserver in his faith and in his ministry. The apostle reminds Timothy that a biblical ministry must be founded upon the gospel, upon avoiding worldly or false teaching, and upon correcting others in love. The more we read the words of Paul, the more encouraged we start to become. We begin to dream of church conferences based on 2 Timothy 2:14-22. We can do it! We can excel. And then we hit the “but” of 2 Timothy 3:1.

Often “but” is an encouraging word. Think of “But God” in Ephesians 2:4-5. But this “but” in 2 Timothy is not so encouraging. It shock us like those emergence service messages that briefly transform our phone into demonic. Warning! Warning! Paul writes,

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty.

Difficult times are coming; they are here!

Yes our churches may be faithfully preaching the Word; they may be offering good biblical counsel; and,’ they may be filled with lovely people. But assets do not guarantee peace and rest. The church is under attack. The last days will be times of difficulty.

Now some of you might have breathed a deep breathe. After all no one has found the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene living in France, the illuminati has not taken over the Vatican, and the world is not controlled by a twisted version of the United Nations. The ends times do not seem to have taken place…yet.

However when Paul speaks of the last days, he is not speaking of the last day. He is not speaking of the time when the anti-Christ will arise and proclaim himself to be God setting in motion the tribulation and the beginning of the end (2 Thess. 2:1-4). Paul is speaking of an age. He is saying that nothing else has to happen before Christ comes back. The Messiah has come and died and been raised after three days. The end times, the last day can begin and any moment. The time is now.

And we know Paul thinks that he, Timothy, and us are living in the last days because verse five is written in the present tense, “Avoid such people.” Those people are here. The last days are here.

What does this mean? It means, we will have difficulty. It means the church of God is under attack. We do not have time for arguments about who get to sit where or about who gets to light the candles. The church needs to be fighting for doctrine and truth. The church needs to be walking through the world with her eyes open. John Calvin rightfully noted in 1564 that,

Paul means here in the Gospel there will not be any such state of perfection in which all vices are banished and every kind of virtue flourishes. Therefore pastors of the Christian church will have to deal with the ungodly and the wicked just as much as the prophets and godly priests of old did. It follows from this that this is not a time for idle repose.

She is under attack. False Christians are seeking to gain entrance into the church by, “having the appearance of godliness but denying its power.”  Wicked men and women will claim Christ even though they live for anything and everything other than Christ. They are prideful, arrogant, greedy, unloving, and self-consumed.  And they are set on destroying the church. Paul commands the church to, “Avoid such people.”

Sadly the church in America has done the opposite. We have welcomed unrepentant sinners into our congregations. We have looked the other way when wives divorced their husbands to pursue happiness, when men boasted more about their cars than the Lord, and when families devoted more of their time to tennis than to church. We did not avoid sinners and the unrepentant. We embraced them because they promised to increase our budget and attendance stats. And then, we asked them to lead Sunday school classes, to help with the deacon ministry, and to serve as elders. We allowed the wicked to remain in the church unchallenged and uncorrected. Consequently, our churches find themselves overrun by evil and directed by men and women who do not love the Lord.

The words of 1 Corinthians 5:5-7 are proving true,

Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.

What do we do to correct to fix the church? We fight against evil. We avoid those who love themselves more than God. We avoid evil by defending the integrity of the Church.

First, we ask men and women to demonstrate their faith prior to joining the church. And we extend the loving embrace of fellowship only to those who can both articulate the gospel and point to the work of Christ in their life. We welcome the brother or sister who fights against drunkenness by confessing their sins and seeking accountability. We withhold membership from the woman who comes to church hungover every Sunday morning seeking to appease her conscience with some quality Jesus time. We do not offer cheap grace. Rather we call all to die to self and to embrace Christ as their Lord before entrance onto the membership roll.

Second, we call church members who sin to repent. We recognize that all believers struggle with sin. Paul is not telling us the weak or those battling sin. He is telling us to avoid those who are known for their sin and who cherish evil. He is telling us to avoid those who refuse to repent and who refuse to battle against pride, sexually immorality, and greed. We should discipline those who refuse to obey Christ. We warn them. We patiently call them to repentance. And then if all else has failed, we removed them from the church seeking to see them restored.

We are living in the last days. Evil men and women dressed in religiosity are coming your way? Will you avoid them?

Why Churches Need Church Discipine: This is Church 101

church-discipline.jpgChurch discipline. These two words seem to be an oxyomoron. Church and discipline belong together just as much as hot goes ice or happy with grief. Christians should love sinners, extend grace, and shower out love. Discipline, rebuke, and excommunication appear to be terms reserved for the religous dark ages when knights lived in candle-lit castles and bathed twice a year. As early as 1900, evangelicals had began to distance themselves from this ungracious practice. They said,  “[Church discipline] sounds punitive. Its savors of transgression, conflict and punishment.” Give us Jesus, love, and mercy. No discipline! Fastforward 115 years. Little has changed. Most churches never discuss or practice discipline. And those congregations that do occassionaly execumicate people often discipline those who recieved 25 year prison terms. Church discipline continues to be an evangelical oxyomoron.

But church and discipline do go together. The Greek word “παιδεία, discipline” is credited with producing righteousness in believers (Heb. 12:11; 2 Tim 3:16). To grow in Christ, believers must discipline themsselves. They must form their hearts into the image of Christ by studying the Word, by submitting to sound preaching, by attending Sunday school classes, and by joining a local church. As believers seeks after the things of God with the people of God, their minds will be filled with knowledge of God. This knowledge will shape their thoughts and desires which in turn will determine theirs actions, resulting in increased godliness and biblical living. The positive nature of church discipline could also be labeled formative discipline or discipleship.

But the process does not stop with instruction. As Jay Adams helpfully notes, Church discipline is, “education with teeth…that sees to it that the job gets done.” Discipleship, sanctification, and spiritual growth cannot happen apart from meaningful accountability… apart from discipline.

If the Christian who faithfully attends church and who regularly repents of sin is treated by his church in the same manner as the Christian who never attends church and who regularly gets drunk, the church indirectly promotes sinful living. Hiscox rightfully warns:

Let the school be controlled by strict, yet wise and kindly discipline, or the pupils will learn more of evil than of good.

Many churches are unmotivated, apathetic, and filled with vices because they neglect church discipline. They refuse to confront sin. They actually boast in their ability to tolerate sin as did the church in Corinthian. They claim that their failure to deal with the divorces in their congregation is a sign of wisdom. After all, who has the time or ability to discern who is right and wrong? These churches do not want to get sidetracked from the gospel, from evangelism, and from their growing kids ministry. We are so spiritual we ignore sin to pursue God. Talk about non-sensical thinking.

Yet the opposite is true. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:6,

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?

When we turn a blind eye to sin, the sin does not go away and the church does not grow in holines. Unconfront and unaddressed sin makes nest and  gives birth to new generations of sin, anguish, and controversy. If the church leadership winks at one divorce, more will come. If one example of greed is excused, the sin will grow and deplete the church’s budget. If the pastor refuses to address the members known gambling addiction and allows the man to gain influence in the church, to teach a Sunday schoo class, and to serve as a deacon, that gambler will sway the church towards error and foolish decisions. Unconfessed, unconfronted, and unrepented of sin destroys the local church.

Though church discipline seems counterintuitive to our human natures, the practice is needed.  J.L. Dagg has prophetically warned:

When discipline leaves the church, Christ goes with it.

How Do We Do It?

If we see that a brother is sinning or has sinned, we go to him privately and encourage him to repent. If he repents or clears up the misunderstanding, all is good. The brother has been restored and won back. Our relationship is no longer broken. The rebuked brother has grown in his faith by putting off his sin and embracing righteousness afresh. If we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we will confront them in love, seeking their spiritual well being.

But if he both admits to his sin and refuses to repent of it, we take another friend and go back to to the brother. We repeat the confrontation. If that confrontation does not bear the fruit of repentance, we take the matter to the church. Then the whole church should seek out the man and call him to repentance. If that does not work, then he is to be kicked out of the church. We expell the man desring him to  come to grips with and repent of his sin. Leviticus 19:17 says,

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

Do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? Go confront them!

Hopefully, most confrontation never moves beyond the first step of church discipline. The loving rebuke of a brother or sister should suffice a majority of the time. But when more actions is needed, the church must take it. The church must move forward with discipline.

Upon investigating and verification of the unrepentant sin, the church must be willing to excommunicate the former member, breaking off all familial, social contact with him. Paul tells the Corinthian believers to, “not even eat with such a one” (1 Cor. 5:11). God has already declared the believer to be worth of judgement. The church must follow suit and treat the unrepentant sinner as a sinner.

If she does not take actions, she allows the brother to wrongly believe that sin is tolerated in God’s eyes and acceptable in his kingdom. She encourages her other members to abandon the hard work of righteousness. And she proclaims to the world that redemption is a fraud, unnecessary, and unneeded. If believers never repent of sin, why should unbelievers?

The God of the Bible and of the church is a Holy God. He commands us, his people, to “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the Lord your God (Lev 20:7).” The true local church will strive for holiness and execomunicate all who love their sin more than Christ. Dr. Albert Mohler correctly concluded,

A church lacking these essential qualities, is biblically defined, not a true church.

Is your church a true church? Does it practice meaningful church discipline?

If you wish to explore the topic of Church Discipline more, I encourage you to grab copies of one of the books below: