The Beaten Yet Victorious Church: My Hope!

church-1The churches of the Southern Baptist Convention are in sad shape. SBC pastors and leaders rejoiced last year when Tom Rainer, the President of Lifeway, released new statistics that implied that only 65% of evangelical churches were in decline. Previously, church growth experts had estimated that approximately 80% of churches were either plateaued of declining. The Department of Defense becomes uneasy when 14% of its forces are unfit for battle. The Church rejoices to discover that 45% her units are ready for the kingdom fight.

When we dig into the statics a little more, we discover why churches consider less bad news good news. According to the SBC annual report only 1 out of every 3 Southern Baptists attends church each Sunday. Two-thirds of our church members skip church every Sunday. And only 39% of those who regularly attend church read their Bibles every day. Because of the lack of Church attendance and because of their lack of biblical knowledge, most Christians more closely resemble their culture than the Scriptures. Seventy-six percent of Christians believe that the best way to find yourself is to look within; 72% believe that joy and fulfillment come through pursuing their desires; and, 40% believe that all sexual expression are permitted. Another study revealed that Christians where just as likely as their neighbors to buy lottery tickets, to have affairs, to lie, to seek revenge, and to steal. The main benefit of Christendom consists in the reduction of alcohol and swearing. Though 84% of Americans know someone who claims to be a Christian. Only 15% of Americans know a Christian who has been radically transformed by the gospel. The church is a mess.

But that is not all. The American culture has fixed her sights upon the church and has been firing salvo after salvo at our rickety vessel. The American culture which has embraced the religion of self has little patience for a religion that calls people to die to themselves. Ninety-one percent of Americans belief self-revelation is the key to happiness, and 89% believe that those who criticize the choices of others have gone against the moral code. Consequently, 60% of Americans view evangelism to be as extreme conducting a religious war. Preaching the morality of the Bible is deemed to be as dangerous as attempting to blow up Time Square according to a majority of Americans. They view the Bible as being outdated, irrelevant, and dangerous. Those who affirm the Scriptures, stand on the Word of God, and teach the Bible are said to be on the wrong side of history, standing with the bigoted backwards men and women of yesteryear. The number of Americans who identify with evangelical church continues to decline, and the fastest growing religious group in America continues to be the Nones, those who have no religious affiliation. The cry of Nitcheze is increasingly the cry of America, “God is dead.”

The church is both eroding from within and collapsing from without.

Though the evangelical church in America has been battered and bruised, she possesses great hope! In Matthew 16:18, Jesus says,

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The church has great hope, because Jesus builds the Church.

The Church exists not because of our church growth plans and not because of our welcome packets. Those things aren’t bad, but they do not make the church go. Nor will they save the church. As Lloyd-Jones noted years ago,

The problem confronting us is not a problem of methods, or of organization, or of making a slight adjustment here and there, or improving things a little bit, or keeping them up-to-date, or anything like that.

A recent Lifeway study of church planters revealed that the church does not grow through human means. Three percent or less of the new congregations came to their churches because they Newspaper adds, billboards, or fliers. Another 6% came to church because of the church’s social media presence. The overwhelming majority of people attending the church,  77%, came because they had relationship with someone in the church.

Jesus builds the Church through the proclamation of the Gospel.  As Lloyd-Jones notes,

Men can produce evangelistic campaigns, but they cannot and never produce a revival…A revival by definition, is the mighty act of God and it is a sovereign act of God…Man can do nothing. God, and God alone, does it.

God does it alone and he does it. He works. He builds the church. And the gates of hell will not prevail against it!

Nitcheze is dead.  The church is not. God builds the church. God defends the church against the attacks of Satan and the world. From the get go the church has faced daunting odds both from without and from within. Men and women like Simeon the magician join the church and try to buy their way into leadership (Acts 8:9-24). The church at Corinth tolerates a man having an affair with his step mom (1 Cor. 5).  False teachers come in and twist the gospel at Galatia (Gal. 1:6-10). Jude and 3 John demonstratively warn to the church to be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing. Paul and the Jews imprison and murder Christians (Acts 8:1-3). Nero, Diocletian, Julian and other Roman leaders abused and murder Christians for political gain and for sport. The church has always been under attack.

The reformer, Martin Luther lamented the state of the church which was overrun with sin, sexual immorality and pride because the gospel was seldom preached. J.C. Ryle stood for the gospel in the 1800’s as British society abandoned the gospel viewing it to be old and antiquated. In the 1930’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer lamented that many in the church were preaching salvation without requiring “repentance.” And in the 1980’s D. Martin Lloyd-Jones was already defended the church from modern thinkers who believed humanity had evolved beyond abilities of the Bible. But despite all the corrosion from within and the attacks from without. The church remains. Rome is gone. The political power of the Vatican is at an end. The Holy Roman Empire is gone. But the church remains because she is God’s and God builds his church!

As I prepare to leave First Baptist Church Eastman and begin to serve at Amissville Baptist Church, I find great hope and encouragement from the words of Christ. I leave a church with problems and go to a church with problems. But none of them are too great for God. If we the people of God will stand upon his Word if we will faithfully preach the gospel and regularly repent, we have every reason to be hopeful! God builds his church on Christ through the proclamation of the Scriptures. The success of the Church does not depend on my ingenuity or yours. It depends on God. And the God who created the universe and who redeemed a lost and sinful people is more than up to the task. He has built his church and will continue to build it! I will shortly embark to become the senior pastor of ABC because I know God builds and defends his church! To God be the glory!

Irrelevant: Pastors Don’t Matter?

irrelevantPastors do not matter. Seventy-five percent of Americans turn to resources other than their pastors when seeking to live out the Christian life. Only one in four Americans think their pastors have something relevant to offer when facing life’s problems. Commenting on these findings, David Kinnnamin and Gabe Lyons said,

You might say Christians leaders are viewed like a smiling greeter at Walmart: they might point you in the right direction, but after that you’re on your own.

I believe Christendom arrived at this troubling point by encouraging pastors to be professionals.

Pastors devote their time to preaching, developing programs, to sitting on committees and to a ton of other administrative duties. Because they are so busy with the ‘work’ of the church, they do not have time for the people of the church.

Well known, Baptists’ leadership groups encourage pastors to only briefly counsel with the people before passing those time consuming sheep off to the local psychologists. As Jared Wilson noted, “A sheep who wants to be feed is seen as someone in the way of the vision.” The pastor who goes beyond the occasional hospital visit and actually cares for his sheep is deemed by many church cultures to be a pastor out of focus. He is a pastor that has abandoned the growth of the church for people.

This sentiment is bizarre and yet very real. It is also grossly unbiblical. Christ was all about people. Paul was all about people. They were not all about programs and church growth models. Yet, most pastors today are all about creating programs and filling pews.

In their rush to grow the kingdom of God, many modern pastors have made the kingdom irrelevant to the very world they are trying to reach. These men have declared themselves too busy to deal with the messiness of people’s lives. As a result, they have communicated that the church and the gospel have no real solutions for divorces, embezzlement, abuse, pornography, and the many other sins that weigh down local church members.

Such an attitude of professionalism is deeply troubling because pastors have access to the most powerfully truth. They have access to the power of Christ which both saves and liberates men and women from their sin. When pastors bounce their church members out of their offices and into the sofa of the local, secular counselor, they are pointing their people away from truth to hopelessness.

As Dietrich Bonoffer wrote,

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. 

He goes on to say,

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness.

The world has no power to liberate the drug-addict from sin. The secular counselor has no power to restore a broken marriage. The psychologist has no power to heal the depressed. The power to change, to power to have abundant life and hope is found in Christ.  2 Timothy 3:16 makes this reality abundantly clear,

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

I think many people do not value pastoral insight into their lives because their pastors have boldly declared for years that they have nothing to offer. In so doing, they have done great harm to their churches, to the body of Christ, and to our nation.

irrelevant-2The American church needs revival. It needs pastors who are not hooked on pornography and enraptured by their own self-aggrandizement. The church needs pastors committed to holiness. But the need even more than that. It needs pastors who are willing to shepherd their people. As Jared Wilson says, “we are not managers of spiritual enterprises: we are shepherds. And shepherds feed their sheep.”

At the end of the day, the pastor who will not counsel does not have an education problem. He has a gospel problem. As Bonhoeffer rightfully noted, “It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession.” Pastors are poor counselors because they have a poor grasp of the gospel. If pastors believed the gospel was radically changing their lives, they would boldly offer that same power to their church members.

The solution is simple. Pastors need to get serious about the gospel.  They need to love God so much that they cannot help but daily seek to repent and change of their sins. They need to be men who regularly confess their sins to others and invite others to speak into their lives. “Every person should refrain from listening to confession who does not himself practice it.” As the power of Christ takes control of their hearts, they will have something to offer to their congregations. They will be able to put the power of Christ on display. They will become relevant again.

My dear friend, the test of the Christian is not his busyness and his activity, it is his knowledge of God, it is his knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. –Martin Lloyd-Jones. 

Pastors, how are you doing?