The Wrong Focus Of The Church

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we seek to dive into the ocean of truth! I’m back from my trip with my wife and would like to write about an experience that has been particularly troubling for us. I will not be mentioning names in this, for I fear the problem I am seeing is a problem with many churches.

While we were in my town with my parents, we decided to go to my old church to see if we could drum up financial support. As readers could know, as of this writing, I have been nearly unemployed for five months and unable to find work despite sending out numerous resumes. I lost my job just a few months before my scheduled wedding and donations from my church in my town here as well as numerous friends, some on the internet, helped keep us going.

Our goal is to start our own ministry and we need good finances to do that. We would like it to where enough could come in someday that we can devote ourselves full-time to writing, speaking, teaching, and debating. Right now, tax-deductible donations can be made for us through (And if you wish to do so, make sure it is stated that this donation is for us. That’s the only way it will reach us)

We talked to my old associate pastor and he said he just didn’t think they could find the time. There was too much going on. Now I have talked to him before and asked for help numerous times, but there hasn’t been any. It has been as if we were wasting our breath. We were told we would be acknowledged during the service.

So we figure we’ll go to the service and see what happens.

What happened was the whole service was celebrating how the church had raised so much money to build up a “ministry center” and how that included raising up $2.1 million that did not even include the offerings every Sunday. Now there is no debt and the church can go out and celebrate what has been done!

Getting out of debt? Good thing I’ll grant, but my wife and I were wondering where the support was for one of their own, particularly one of their own who went off to ministry (Even though another Seminary student was mentioned and how a band was going to where he was to support him).

Also, there was special music with someone singing “Everything’s fine! I just talked to Jesus! Help is on its way!” While some might find some statements to be biblical, there is a time that people need to see love demonstrated instead of merely just spoken. My marriage would not be good if I just told my wife “I love you” and never did anything to show it.

Did we get acknowledged? Yes we did. At one point, it was announced that we were visiting and it was the first time we had been there since the wedding. Absent however was any mention of our financial situation and how we would appreciate the people to be praying for us at least.

Instead, every aspect of the service, including the sermon, was about how great it was that this building was finally here. Then the minister ended the sermon with a prayer and gave thanks to God that the building was finally there so that they could continue the ministry of basketball.

Yes. The ministry of basketball.

That was not a slip-up. It was said twice.

Meanwhile, here’s a hurting member of the church in a tough bind and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

So we went later to speak to the associate pastor. He asked my wife how she liked living in a new city to which she said she liked it but wasn’t sure how much longer we’d be living there since we could be homeless soon. No response given. It was more of an “Oh.” No empathy was shown at all. Instead a question was asked to me.

“Do you have your semester paid off yet?”

“Not even close.”

I got a similar response.

The associate pastor said we could talk to him in about fifteen minutes after we said we wanted to talk. My wife went outside and I went with her and she told me it would probably be best for us to just leave. I agreed. If this situation involved just me, I’d be concerned, but since it involved my wife as well and my desire to provide for her, I was fuming. Lunch with my family consisted of us discussing the event.

The contrast was incredible. Their pastor has a son who had a birthday that day. It was ironic that my birthday was that same day (A fact the church I attended also failed to acknowledge). My Dad raised his hand as the pastor was gathering prayer requests to which he was told “I believe your son also has a birthday today doesn’t he?” The pastor then asked us to please keep praying for my wife and I in our job situation. Some members of this church attended our wedding even and brought gifts.

And this is a church I hadn’t attended in over a decade.

Lest you wonder, it’s because I’m a different denomination from my folks and I wanted to join a church that matched my doctrinal beliefs more. I have nothing against this church on essential matters. They are a fine group and I would gladly worship with them despite minor differences, but I wanted to find a home in the faith tradition I chose to align myself with.

My wife and I discussed the event which led to a number of thoughts on my part.

First, churches are talking about growing in ministry and basing that on conversions. Jesus did not once tell us to go out and make converts. He told us to go and make disciples. Church is not meant to be a numbers game. My current church is a small church with no more than thirty people usually on a Sunday, but this church has surrounded my wife and I with their love and support. We have serious discipling going on with an educational hour instead of Sunday School where we play videos of speakers like Ravi Zacharias and speak on apologetics-related topics.

Instead, the church often believes that if you get someone in the door and get them to walk down the aisle, say a prayer, and then be baptized, that you have them for life. There is no growth that is going on. Instead, messages are often given with the goal of making people feel good about themselves. Frankly, we need some messages that will show us how bad we really are and get our lives right.

While the church I attended this Sunday said they were growing in ministry, a number of questions came to my mind.

“Are your members more aware of the importance of holiness in their lives?”

“Do they understand better the doctrine of the Trinity?”

“Can they make a defense for the physical resurrection of Jesus?”

“Can they answer a cultist?”

“Are they prepared for when the new atheists come who want to destroy religion?”

“Do they know the problem with homosexual marriage and why traditional marriage is so important?”

“Do they know how to demonstrate the Bible is the Word of God and to rightly interpret it?”

If they don’t, then they may be growing in something, but it is not ministry.

Sermons today in churches tend to skip past the doctrine and go straight to application. The sermon we heard was from Joshua 3-4 and about the children of Israel leaving stones as milestones and how this building was to be the church’s milestone. Gone was any mention of why the Israelites were passing over. Absent was the historical context of Joshua. Without mention were who people like the Jebusites were. Absent was any mention of the role family tradition played in a society like that of the ancient Israelites.

Instead, there was just application. The text in this case becomes not “What does it mean?” but “What does it mean for me?” I’m not against application of all. We should eventually get to “What does it mean for me?” However, the first place to start is with “What does it mean?”

Also, churches are going into building plans for buildings that frankly, I think are a waste. I have yet to see real ministry going on in these buildings. Instead, these are places for social gatherings that are simply creating a feel-good mentality. It is the idea that we are all right and we just need to huddle up together. You want to talk about doing ministry? Go toe to toe with an atheist or go into prisons or actually dialogue with those Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses that come to your door. Go out on the streets and work with the homeless. Go to a foreign country sometime. Do something that will get you out of your comfort zone.

In the past, buildings were made that were expensive, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but the buildings were made in the context of worship. When you entered a medieval cathedral, you were to know you were entering into the presence of the holy. Today, churches are designed often to look like hotel lobbies where you can go and have social gatherings. Any appearance of the holy is absent. Now some churches I know are like this through no fault of their own. That would include my own. We are a small body and had to rent out the only building we could, a building that used to be a bank. If this is your church, that’s understandable.

However, we cannot go on building projects that aren’t worth what’s put in them while there’s ministry to do. Instead of building a family life center, which will be nothing but a gym usually, go out and start talking about donating that money to a Seminary or Bible College that upholds the Bible as the Word of God. Better yet, start your own Bible College or Seminary. For too many Christians, Seminary is a dirty word and their idea of Bible Study is reading a Beth Moore book.

As I think about the basketball situation, I do admit that I have no problem with pleasure to an extent. Pleasure is God’s gift. However, I recall in the past that all I needed for a good game of basketball was a parking lot and a basketball net and just a bunch of guys together. Now if you want to play more, you need to build more. That’s fine, but is $2.1 million really needed for that? You can imply set up an asphalt area and have two basketball hoops.

The idea is that family life centers will draw people to the church and when they come in eventually, they will get hooked and then they will be Christians for life and that will be a victory. This despite the fact that most kids leaving the church leave and never come back as a professor in the college is happy to kill their faith, as a Sunday school faith is not enough to deal with a professor who has twenty-five years of atheism.

Could we try another technique to get people into the church? I don’t know. Maybe we could try something truly innovative like talking to them. When we talk, we need more than just tracts also. Personally, I have never cared much for the medium of tracts. I prefer real dialogue and I suspect I’m not alone.

While there’s nothing wrong with creating gateways that are entertaining, we have this idea that we must make the gospel entertaining. We must make our presentation entertaining to an extent I believe, but we must not make the gospel that way. The gospel should be joy enough as it is. It should provide its own listeners if we present it rightly.

I do believe Jesus used humor when he spoke, but he did not make that the focus. The gospel is interesting enough as it is and we do not need to make it interesting. We do not need to make God exciting for people. God is already exciting. The reason we do not often see God that way is not because of a problem with God but a problem with ourselves in a culture that thrives on the notion that we have to be constantly entertained, a problem even I still contend with in my own life to this day.

The end result will be a generation that only responds to something if they find it amusing to them, instead of realizing that they need to change their way of thinking for God. God does not need to make Himself interesting for our culture. We need to find out why he’s not interesting to our culture. The problem is certainly not with Him but with us and whatever it is, we need to change it.

Hearing about the ministry of basketball was particularly insulting as one who is on the front lines of the battle and taking the bullets from the opposition so that most Christians can go to bed at night and rest with ease. I realize not everyone is to be an intellectual, and that’s fine. My wife is an artist for instance. She does know the importance of ministry however and supports me in it. Those who aren’t in this field can support those who are. These ministries are the ones keeping the new atheists and other idealogical forces at bay.

Instead, apologetics is being made more and more irrelevant as well as those who do apologetics.

Not only that, there are people like myself who are hurting, and the church is too busy celebrating themselves often instead of getting out in the trenches and helping those who are hurting. I am sure I was not the only one that day hurting and for a hurting person who is wondering how the next bill will be paid, it is no help to see others celebrating like that, especially when you’ve asked for help numerous times.

There is a reason people don’t often go to the church for help and this Sunday was a prime example.

I am one who believes that if the American church does not renew its intellectual battleground soon, it will die. Playing basketball will not compete with the new atheists. Now I do not believe for a second that the church will die. The church will live. It will just live and thrive somewhere else, maybe even China. The gospel does not need America to survive, but America needs the gospel.

I pray that we will be what we were meant to be again soon. We cannot be playing games while the world dies.

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