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?

Marks of a Good Pastor (Part 1: Gospel Preacher)

marks-of-a-pastor-1Who is a good pastor? How do we know if the guy in the pulpit is doing his job? Do we measure him by his appearance: suit and tie, kakis or jeans? Do we measure him by checking the church’s financial, attendance, or baptism numbers? Do we measure him by his stories and his ability to hold our attention on Sunday? Do we measure him by his ability to reach young families, to care for senior adults, or to connect with millennials? What makes a good pastor a good pastor?

And as those who belief in church elder lead and congregation ruled church polity should be heavily invested in this question. Church members should not assemble to discuss the color of the pastor’s office, the location of the projector, or the pros and cons of pews. The church members should assemble to ensure that their pastor’s follow the gospel, to verify that their worship is God centered, and to protect their congregation from theological error. The people of God have been appointed by God to fight for and promote the spiritual well-being of their congregation. Church members regularly exercise this authority through picking, vetting, and encouraging their elders and pastors. So what makes a good pastor?

Paul helps answer this question for Timothy, his mentee in the faith, and us in 2 Timothy 2:14-19. He tells us that the faithful pastor is one who faithful reminds others of the gospel, who charges others not to quarrel about words, who is approved as a faithful worker, and who avoids irreverent babble.

 He Reminds Others of the Gospel

Paul tells Timothy in verse 14 to “Remind them of these things.” Anytime, we encounter pronouns not directly tied to a noun, we must hunt to find what “these things” is referring to.  A quick survey of chapters 2:1-13 indicates that Paul is referring to the gospel. Paul is telling Timothy in strong words to regularly expose his people to the gospel. Remind them of the truth that God created the word, the man fell through sin, that Christ saves through his death on the cross and his resurrection, and that we all must respond to the gospel. As Greg Gilbert notes in his book, What is the Gospel, that the gospel can be summarized in four words: “God. Man. Christ. Response.” The faithful pastor is the pastor who regularly shares the gospel in all of their public messages and in all of their private counseling. The faithful pastor is not someone who simply recounts their testimony nor someone who can tell moving stories. The faithful pastor is the man who recounts the gospel day-in and day-out.

The pastor must be tied to the gospel because the gospel is the only power, source, and resource available to the Christian. There is no deeper truth. We do not get saved by the gospel so that we can reach some greater, some more powerful, or some more glorious reality. Paul notes in Colossians 2:6-7

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

The Christian grows down. The Christian grows by meditating on the gospel and by applying the gospel to their everyday life. C.J. Mahaney noted,

The Key to joy, growth, to passion isn’t hiding from you. It’s right before your eyes. It’s the gospel.

The faithful pastor is the pastor who faithful shares the gospel. And we all need to hear the gospel day-in and day-out because we all regularly suffer from gospel amnesia.

We give into to sexual sin because we think God has withheld good things from us forgetting that God has given us his son. We dive into debt because we buy into the lie that life in found in experiences, vacations, and stuff, forgetting that meaning in found in Christ who liberated us from ungodliness and troubled consciences. We get angry and snap out our kids because we forget that God is the perfect ruler of the universe and has ordain even our craziness that comes with our kids. And when we sin, we tend to stumble into depression because we forget that God has covered all our sins on the cross. We ultimately sin because we forget, twist, or misuse the gospel. We all need to be reminded of the gospel if we hope to live faithfully for Christ. We all need faithful pastors to direct us back to the gospel.

The faithful pastor will regularly declare the good news of the gospel in all that he does. Dr. Albert Mohler, The President of Southern Seminary rightly noted that,

We [Christian Leaders and Pastors] are to find our identity and meaning in this story and in no other story. It is to be the story that frames our thinking, our living, and our leading. This is the story that tell us who we are, how we got here, and where we are going.

The gospel is all we need and all we have. Our pastors share this conviction if the hope to be faithful godly pastors.

Pray for your pastor, asking God to make him gospel focus. Pray that the gospel will dominate and control your pastor’s life. Pray that your pastor will faithfully declare the gospel in both his private and in his public ministry. Pray for God to give you a man who reminds you of the gospel!

When Kids Don’t Like Kids’ Ministry

kidsWords can be painful. The words that solidify the rejection of your ministry can be particularly piercing. I do not enjoying hearing kids, parents, and grandparents condemning my ministry as irrelevant, dull or worst of all…. boring. My heart does not rejoice when a kid walks in our church doors and then spins around to walk out a moment later declaring that, “I don’t like your church”

But as painful as those words and sentiments can be, they are necessary consequence of the gospel. When children walk into our churches, most of them have a worship problem. I am do not mean that the like the wrong type of worship music. I am not against baby rappers or baby washboard players. They do not have a Sunday morning worship problem or a Wednesday not issue. They have a heart worship problem. The little souls that come to our churches arrive fully in love with themselves and the world. They come wanting us, our programs, and our whole church structure to make much of them.

I John 2:15 says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

This is the condition of our kids. They are unregenerate little people who worship things other than God.

Consequently, they do not want to be reminded of their sin, of their need for a savior, and of their insignificance. They want fun children’s church programs that continue on until they are finished with college. They want to be entertained with great music and pool noodles. They want to leave having been made much of. If we give them a program centered around their desires, they will thank us and praise us.

But we will have not done our kids a favor. We will have harmed them. Instead of using Sunday to help our kids grasp the majesty and wonder of God and their insignificance, we have used Sunday to feed their fleshly desires. We have used Sunday to hide them from the truth that life is all about obeying and following God.

The point of worship on Sunday is not to make much of us. We gather together to make much of God. We should not pick songs and compose messages that reflect our kids. We need to pick songs that reflect who God is and what God has said. As one theologian said,

Men are never duly touched and impressed with a conviction of their insignificance until they have contrasted themselves against the majesty of God.”

Our goal should be to get kids to God through talking about who Jesus is. When we do so, we will not always be loved. Once a child rated our Sunday school program with the following remark, “I hate it here.” His one star review is not alone. We lost another child because a ministry across town had better snacks. And, another child will not even darken our doors because we encourage kids to attend boring big church.

At the end of the day, these kids do not have problem with our church. They have a worship problem. When they realize that the church will not funnel kindling onto their fire of their self-centered alter, they stay away. Those who worship themselves and the world cannot worship God at the same time.

How Should We Respond?

We keep preaching the gospel. We keep pointing kids to Christ. If Christ changes their hearts, those little souls will love those who make of God. They will love the things of God. And the best and only way to facilitate heart change in little sinners is to preach the gospel.

Second, we need to listen. We need to hear their story. In the story above, the little man hated Sunday school because he did not like listening to Bible stories. He disliked the very gospel that we are commanded to preach. His rejection was confirmation that his teacher was preaching truth.

Others may dislike our programs because another kid is picking on them when no one is looking. They may find our church boring because our teachers our unprepared. If these things are happening, we need to address them. We need to be certain that we have not offended them.

But if the gospel offends them, there is little we can do. Our allegiance is not to the kids that come to our church nor to their families. Our allegiance is to Christ. Our savior is a stumbling block and an unlikable conundrum to those who are perishing. Unregenerate kids our no different than unregenerate adults. They do not like the gospel.

While we should not welcome such opposition, we must realize it will come. And we must be willing to offend the sensibilities of these little souls for their eternity hangs in the balance. We must preach Jesus both in season and out of season. Are you ready?