Caveat: This is the work of a flawed human being who fully recognizes that this will probably tick a lot of people off. I’m not offering it as an angry diatribe but rather as a “what happened to the church on the way to the second coming?” Knowing the church is flawed, human and imperfect I offer what I see with my own human, flawed and imperfect eyes. And, yes, there is an element of “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to be silent any longer” to this as well.
Would you categorize your church as simply irresistible? Is it the kind of church that once visitors attend, they come back wanting more? If the answer is yes, stop reading now and carry on with what you are doing. If your answer is no or probably not, then perhaps this blog contains something for you.
Today I heard a preacher say: “Jesus is an irresistible God. Everywhere he went he drew people to him. They couldn’t get enough of him or his message.” And except for those pesky Pharisees and other religious leaders, he was right. Jesus was hard for people to resist.
At that point, I started musing and stopped listening to the preacher thinking why is it that the church of Jesus Christ seems, for the most part, to be totally resistible to so many today? At least the churches in the mainline community where I hang out and with whom I consult…they are struggling with their inability to draw crowds or bring visitors back. Simply irresistible is not the tag line for those churches.
And with apologies to the pastor to whom I was “listening”, I went off on my own mini sermon stream of consciousness. Without much contemplation five reasons presented themselves to me and I share them with you.
5 Reasons Why the Mainline Christian Church Has Become Resistible
In the last few years I have had the opportunity to travel to many churches to hear pastors on Sunday mornings. And I will be the first to admit that preaching was not my favorite part of pastoral ministry but I do love to hear a good sermon. I’m not hearing many these days, and the good ones I hear lift me out of my seat but unfortunately they are few and far between. Ouch…sorry, I do know how hard it is to prepare a weekly sermon along with everything else you have to do.
However, I also remember what my mentor pastor told me early in my ministry. She said that a hospital visit is important to one person and the sermon is important to the entire congregation. Prepare as if you are going to touch every soul out there and make an impact for Jesus Christ. Do not skimp on preparation time. You are reaching many people with those 15-20 minutes. I took that advice to heart.
I now go into services expecting (hoping) to be touched, inspired and recharged for the week ahead. What I am finding are preachers who clearly have not prepared adequately. I doubt if some have even looked at their manuscript after they wrote it or if those who preach without notes even practiced it once. The “ums” and lost places speak volumes to the listeners. Furthermore, I have heard on more than one occasion a pastor just get up and read 2-3 chapters of scripture and that is “their” sermon. No interpretation, no application to daily life, no wrestling with it at all.
And perhaps my biggest complaint about how the church is becoming so resistible is the sermon that does not deliver the good news or any word of hope and inspiration. Instead, the sermon is used to deliver a sociologic or demographic or political argument presented as a lecture complete with power point charts and cute cartoons as if trying to please a seminary professor rather than a God with unimaginable transformative powers.
How inspiring are your sermons and do they paint a picture of an irresistible God who loves us unconditionally and who pulls us out of the graves we dig for ourselves?
2. Lack of Impact – If your church were to close its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community miss it? What is the impact of your church on the corner where it sits? In consulting with church boards and from my own pastoral experience the agendas for most church meetings never change in content. Ideas get tabled over and over until they die from neglect and those for whom this ideas were a passion have left or given up on anything happening. When was the last time your church spent a board meeting dreaming, praying and studying the scriptures together to hear a new word from the Lord as to what God is calling them to do? Or, is that left for a once a year board retreat and then it is back to business balancing the budget and cutting corners at the next meeting? How many of your ministries reach outside the walls of your church? What is your impact in the name of Jesus Christ? Is it as irresistible as Jesus?
3. “No” faces – I once heard a person described as having a “yes” face. By that she meant that this person sent off positive energy and invited people to share, discuss and create with her. Does your church have a “yes” face? A “yes” face is irresistible.
However, most faces of those I see in pews and on pastors these days don’t look very happy let alone say “yes”. There is “no” written all over them. No, don’t come close to me. No I don’t talk to strangers. No, I have no time for you. No, your ideas aren’t as good as mine. And one thing I have learned is that no can be as contagious as yes. Pastor, what does your face say to those in your presence? Are you setting a “Yes” face or a “No” face example for your congregation? Here is a simple test. Do you smile when you go into the pulpit and welcome people to worship? You would be surprised at how many pastors do not.
4. Fights – Tied closely to number 3 is church infighting. Do I need to say more? One of the most stressful aspects of a pastor’s job is managing all the conflicts within the congregation and/or fending off personal attacks. Jesus did not draw crowds because they wanted to see a fight – although fights do seem to draw crowds. The problem with a fight drawing crowd is that it doesn’t stick around. Once it is clear the fight is over or who is going to win, the crowd dissipates. Jesus drew crowds to him like a moth to a flame. After all he did say he was the light of the world. How does your congregation shine like a light, a beacon in your community, drawing people to them with an irresistible brilliance? The interpersonal attacks and in fighting of today’s churches casts a shadow that obliterates the light of the one who came telling us to love one another.
5. Withdrawing – Jesus withdrew to quiet places to pray and recoup his energy before spending time with crowds healing, teaching and preaching. The church today withdraws behind its four walls to preach, pray and teach its own before going back to their real lives. Jesus was accessible. He didn’t hold office hours or sit in his office behind his computer. He was out among the people. He knew what was happening in their lives because he was eating with people and staying with them. Would Jesus be as irresistible if he spent all his time in meetings or in his carpenter’s shop? The 80/20 rule for churches should be 80% of their time outside in the community and 20% in the sanctuary.
Jesus was irresistible because he lived out his self-description: I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. If the one we follow is the one we profess to believe in and these are more than words to us, then why, oh why, have so many well-intentioned, well-trained church folks turned this irresistible God with us into an irrelevant symbol?
Please hear this as a passionate portrayal of my own heart and mind at the moment when I heard the pastor’s words in the sermon. I am passionate about the body of Christ and those who serve in it. It breaks my heart to see so many established churches struggle with attracting people to the one we find irresistible. And I know it breaks yours too. We are in this together those of us who serve both the divine and human aspects of the church.
Interesting now that I think about it…the sermon title for today, the one that spawned this blog, was entitled “What Breaks Your Heart?” Now, I’m going to go back to listen to the rest of it.
Blessings on your work