Redefining Church for the Culture

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Is Church That Important? Surveys by Gallup and others have shown that on an average Sunday 40% of Americans say they attend services. When compared to actual attendance records, that number may be half was pollsters reported. That’s right – as few as 20% of Americans may be in a church service on a typical Sunday.  

What’s more, it is not uncommon for churches to have membership roles that are twice, three times, four times or even more their actual attendance. A church of 500 may have a weekly attendance of 150. What does that say about the importance of membership – both to the missing members and to the church leadership?

Perhaps church leaders have not done such a good job at defining what the church is and why it is important. Perhaps we have allowed the culture to define “church” for us. If so, then the world and our fellow church members have a pretty mixed up idea of just what it means to be part of a church.

I remember watching Dana Carvey perform as the Church Lady on Saturday Night Live. I’ll admit that Carvey is a funny guy, but his humor was based on a judgmental, out of touch, prudish, and hypocritical stereotype of what a church member looks like. Admittedly, this stereotype was derived from the fact that there are people like this sprinkled throughout churches, but the vast, vast majority of faithful church members are nothing like this – nothing at all!

Add to this the fact that church members, Christians, and ministers in particular are overwhelmingly depicted as bigots and/or idiots. Again, the entertainment culture not only attempts to get a laugh at the expense of Christians but intentionally or unintentionally portrays followers of Jesus in a negative light – effectively defining for the viewers what they should think about church people.

Then, of course, there are the yahoos from the hate-spewing Westboro Baptist Church who routinely line up to protest the funeral processions of soldiers killed in the line of duty. Their signs paint a one-sided view of God, of God’s people, and of the church. We cannot stop them from using the term “church,” but we cannot ignore that even though their depiction of church bears little resemblance to what we see in the New Testament it does affect how people outside the church define it.

Admittedly it’s not always those outside the church that can give us all a black eye. Some of you well remember the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart episodes. And there are the scandals in the Catholic Church involving improper behavior from priests. There is no shortage of stories of failure that we could site. We know about them; the world is fully aware of them. And there is not excuse for them.

Now here’s the crux of the matter – are we content to allow “church” to be defined by the non-Christian culture or by believers who have fallen? Should not those who love Jesus and love His church not do everything possible to redefine “church”? To proclaim a biblical definition of who the people of God are? To live in such a way as to push against the image our culture has of Jesus’ church? I hope you answer to those questions if “yes.” If so , we who value the church must be intentional and determined to both understand what it means to be in the body of Christ and do all we can to redefine it for our culture.

Why Can’t I Stay Home and Watch Joel Osteen?

ImageI just spent a few moments today channel surfing. I wasn’t looking for any particular program; I was merely seeing what was on (in case you’re wondering, there wasn’t much on). As I hit a certain region of the station numbers I entered what is referred to as the “religious programming.” I slowly click from station to station and thus from preacher to preacher. I encountered some familiar names and some not so familiar. All, however, had bright smiles, perfectly coiffed hair, and clothing that was quite nice.

As I watched for a bit, I was reminded of some people I have invited to visit the church I pastor. More than once, the invited person has told me that they believed in Jesus but didn’t see much need for the church. They could get all the “good preaching” they needed from Charles Stanley, Joel Osteen, or Joyce Meyers. It was always high quality and could be recorded for viewing when it was most convenient.

It’s hard to argue with such a pragmatic argument. If you’re looking for good preaching, there are plenty of preachers on television to watch. In the past few years, they have even become available and easily accessible on the Internet, too. These preachers are typically a bit more polished and exciting that the ones found in most pulpits – plus they always start on time and end on time.  Add to that the fact that you can stay in your pajamas, don’t have to bath, and can eat a bowl of Cap’n Crunch while you’re hearing the Word – what’s not to like! Oh, and there is no offering plate and no one asks you to serve anywhere.   

Perhaps some of you are reconsidering your regular attendance at your local church, but hang on a moment. When your toddler is preparing to go into surgery, will Joel Osteen be there to pray with you? When your mother passes away, will Joyce Meyers bring a casserole and give you a hug? When your marriage is falling apart, will Charles Stanley sit down and counsel with you? Where are the fellowship, the encouraging words, and the warm smiles and hugs? You need more than a TV preacher; you need a church family. You need more than first-rate sermon; you need a church family. You need more than a thirty-minute spiritual fix; you need a church family.

A local church is more than just a place to hear a message each week; it is a people to whom you can belong. The Bible depicts the church as the Body of Christ. Each part of that body is important if the body is the function well. You not only need the church; the church needs you. So turn off the TV, put down the remote, and you might want to change out of those pajamas. I’ll see you Sunday.

The Church of the Least Common Denominator

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When Jesus called people to follow Him, He pulled no punches.  “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) That’s a pretty intense calling and way out of synch with the way many people view church and following Jesus in our day.

It is likely that you do not have a stone or wooden idol in your home or yard to which you bow down each day. That does not mean, however, that you do not have idols. Two of the most prevalent idols we have in the United States are Comfort and Convenience. We evaluate what comes into our lives by these two pragmatic gods. Does it make me more or less comfortable? Is it convenient or inconvenient? We carry these idols with us when we enter the church.

Church is fine when it is convenient. Church is great if it doesn’t move me out of my comfort zone. But to ask me to give or to serve or (God forbid) to share my faith with someone – that’s just taking this following Jesus thing a bit too far. I want a church that is there when I need it and leaves me alone when I don’t. I want a church that doesn’t expect much of me, doesn’t ask anything of me, and is just happy I show up from time to time. I’m looking for the Church of the Least Common Denominator.

Maybe it is what you think you want, but is it what you need? And is it what you want deep down? Wouldn’t you rather have a church that embraced eternal, unchanging truth? Wouldn’t you rather have a real connection with people who know you and love you anyway? Wouldn’t you rather serve alongside people who weren’t in it just to make themselves look good? Wouldn’t you rather invest yourself and your resources in something that would last beyond your lifetime and make a real difference in the people around you? That will not be found at the Church of the Least Common Denominator.

Being a part of a church is more than just having your name on the church role. It is being intimately connected with people who share your faith and share your life. It is costly and rewarding. And you may discover that Convenience and Comfort aren’t worthy of your devotion.