We’re talking about two possible reasons the Church is such a mess. Here’s point 2:
Bad Teaching. Another area where the church has “blown it” is in teaching. So often we don’t make disciples of Jesus, rather we make disciples of some ideological or political or denominational agenda. (And it happens on both sides of the political spectrum). So our people grow up in the faith to be “one dimensional.” They don’t get that Jesus is about more than one issue and that Jesus wants you to follow him and learn from him to be prepared for any and all circumstances and to make disciples for him as well.
For example, let’s talk about social justice. I know a lot of kids who grew up in our system and they got the message: “Jesus loves the poor and you should too; Jesus wants you to do things to help the poor.” So they all grew up to work for non-profits but they don’t go to church and they don’t follow Jesus‘ other teachings. It’s not that the message is entirely wrong. Jesus does love the poor and we should help people in need. It’s just that without the corresponding pieces of Jesus’ teaching, (be devoted to Jesus and pray and read Scripture and go to church and tell others about Jesus, for example) that single focused message comes off as a form of works righteousness that elevates serving over worship and that doesn’t square with what Jesus says is the Greatest Commandment (Mk 12). We need to both love God (worship) and love people (service). If you only love God and don’t love people you wind up shutting yourself up like a monk away from the world that needs to hear what God says. If you only serve and don’t worship, you wind up being simply another of the world’s social service agencies. We are called to both worship and serve.
This over-emphasis on social justice leads to accepting sinners to the point where we tell them they don’t have to change. And churches without life change and transformation are dead. Jesus accepted and loved sinners but he always left them changed by the experience. The most famous verse in Christianity, John 3:16: For God so loved the world that he gave His only Son.... It describes how God wants to save the world through Jesus. He loves the world so he provided a way for it to be saved. But a social works philosophy that de-emphasizes the necessity of Jesus for salvation merely loves the world the way the world wants to be loved: without any commitment or repentance. And that’s not the Christian message.
Now I’m not just picking on social justice. I could say the same for other churches about various lifestyle issues that get communicated as the entire Gospel when they are really just different foci of Jesus’ larger teaching. More examples of “blown it” teaching:
We fail to teach our young people especially, and any of our members in general, how to share their faith. Jesus commanded the church to go and make disciples. We don’t know how to do it and we don’t teach our people how to do it so we wind up merely making more church members. We aren’t to make disciples of the church, we’re to make disciples of Jesus. It’s much more involved.
We have developed educational programs that teach denominational identity instead of identity in Christ. We spend hours going over the ins and outs of our view of theology and our own history but we don’t spend nearly enough time teaching people about Jesus and how following him might look in their daily lives.
With children and young adults, we emphasize catechesis (the teaching of the catechism/doctrine) over evangelism. And what happens is that we teach them things that mean little or nothing to them because they haven’t been invited or challenged to give their life to Christ or to struggle with what it means to live out their faith in Christ in their own lives. So they may learn a lot about what they are supposed to believe but may never believe in the One who gives everything and who can teach them how to live.
We don’t do near enough teaching on what the Church is and isn’t. Our people have preconceived notions of what church is that may not even be biblical. We seldom talk about how the Bible says churches are to be organized or about what it means to be a leader or elder. We don’t talk enough about Spiritual Gifts and how the Holy Spirit provides the necessary structure for every church by giving them. We don’t talk about how to treat one another or how to speak the truth in love or about how to hold people accountable or about how to disagree or how to bear another’s burden. And we certainly never talk about the importance or responsibilities of leaders and members. Instead, we prefer to organize like corporations and simply try to “get people involved.” Instead of finding out what God wired them to do we try to stick them into our existing programming which we consider “necessary.” After a while, one church looks and feels just like any other. And the home office asks us to send them money so they can do ministry for us. I believe that if you polled most Christians they wouldn’t see how their church played a role in mission or in reaching the lost or changing lives. I think most Christians (certainly those of us in the mainline) have come to believe that what we do on Sunday morning is for us and for our kids and not for Jesus to use to reach the world.
So lacking a clear understanding ourselves of our own role in God’s plan, we make our ministries all about ourselves and when “outsiders” do come we don’t know what to do with them except to ask them, “Who do you know here?” and “Why are you here?”
We’ve also failed to teach the Bible effectively. We don’t seem to know how to give people “the big picture” of God’s Word nor do we seem about to preach or teach about it in a way that leads people into daily Bible study. I think it’s because we don’t necessarily know how to preach for life change or, as my old professor put it, “for a verdict.” We don’t know how to reach people where they are so we can show them Jesus has a better plan and inspire them to follow him and be changed.
Finally (for now), I’m not sure we in the Church have figured out how to teach the Bible in a way that people will apply to their own life on a daily basis. One of our members was telling me today after the service that Pliny the younger apparently wrote to Pliny the elder describing what Christians do: “They meet down by the river on the first day of the week and sing hymns and make oaths to be good and not to do bad things.” The point of this remark is that not much has changed in the Church. We promise to do better on Sunday and by Monday we’re out there out-paganing the pagans.
For instance, I was told a story recently by one of our guys. He said his son works with several people who attend another church here in town. The son told his father, “If that’s what Christians are, I don’t want any part of it.” Why? Because these church members behave in deplorable ways at their work place. We don’t teach or preach in a way that causes people to live differently than the world lives. We aren’t very good about putting into practice what we believe. We’d rather hire professional religious people and pay them to do it for us.
Thanks for reading. This concludes part 3. God bless you. Next time: Blowing It: Part 4 PJ