Friday, January 20, 2017

The Church on Earth: What's wrong with the church?

How many times have you listened to sermons, read articles, or read books which inevitably point to the "failings of the church?"  It seems like a constant theme.  The church isn't doing this, the  church isn't doing that!  The church is failing because of this; the church sucks because of that.  Is the church of Christ on Earth really so flawed and terrible?

I don't think so.  Now I've personally used my little megaphone to trash the church, and point to it's failings.  It's an easy thing to do.  But I've also tried to be intentional about indicating areas of growth, while including encouragement for change.  Many times people trash the church without pointing to pathways of change and growth.  

I'm a young minister in the field.  And yes I certainly see the areas where the church falls short and misses people.  But my goodness, I've seen so much good that the church does!  

It seems like we only ever hear about the terrible failings of the church.  People tear the church up and down for all it fails to do.  But honestly, the people that are listening who are true followers of Christ don't need to be yelled at, they are already inexorably drawn to do the work of God.  And the non-believers who may be hearing the message, the tares mixed with the wheat, aren't going to do anything differently anyway.  So why trash the church constantly?  The church does so much good in the world! 

Right in my own community, here in upper Michigan, in Escanaba, there are dozens of churches.  They serve the community in beautiful ways.  And that work is hard.  It isn't ever easy.  I know that from experience.  I went into ministry very fresh faced and bushy tailed.  

Within the first year I became some might say slightly jaded, not in the failings of the church per se, but simply in the difficulty of the work.  You move into a level of spiritual warfare where it feels as if you've gone from jogging a wind swept road to trudging through a swamp.  I'm certain this battle and struggle is spiritual in nature.  Another contributing factor is simply the nature of the constant, week in and week out lifestyle of ministry.  It isn't easy.  But of course it can be done.  And you don't have to become jaded, you really don't.  It takes determination, and donning a suit of spiritual armor, but it's quite reasonable to be temperate, yet full of zeal, cautious yet willing to call from the rooftops.  

I've seen this kind of focused, loving service in my own area.  One of the most beautiful things I've seen is when churches of different denominations work together.  Many of the churches in my area banded together to provide a rotating homeless shelter for those with housing concerns during winter.  It's a beautiful thing to see fifteen different churches, Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Non-denominational, Apostolic, and all the rest working together to love those in need.  Their story is never sung though.  They never get mentioned in long winded sermons by those denouncing the failures of the church.  Their achievements don't appear in secular newspapers.  

On a national scale I think of ministries like Intervarsity and Cru.  They operate on thousands of college campuses.  They share the gospel with millions of students.  I've personally encountered their ministry at a tiny college in Wausau called UWMC.  They meet faithfully, speak about the truth, and sing songs of worship.  It's beautiful.

I think of Compassion International, literally millions of starving children in 3rd world countries are served.  I think of voice of the martyrs, serving the persecuted church.  These ministries are generally well funded by people giving their own hard earned money.  But their song is never sung, and all we hear about are the failures of the church.  But in so many ways, the church rocks!

I think of the Salvation Army, the church organization I work for, operating thousands of homeless shelters, adult rehabs, and Croc centers.  Not to mention all the tens of thousands of soup kitchens, meal programs, social services programs, evangelism events, church services, and conferences. 

Recently in my area I made contact with the Gideons.  Think of all the Gideons have accomplished!  They've placed millions upon millions of Bibles in hotel rooms.  In fact many a time during my wayward days I would pull that Bible out and read from it.  Such a blessing, such unsung heroes. 

I could go on and on, Converge International plants some of the best biblical churches I've ever seen, capable of leading young people to Christ in droves.  Calvinist churches have a knack for reaching a wide audience via podcasts, books, and social media.  Increasingly the Southern Baptist convention is doing great things to stand for truth in our culture in America.  

Consider all of these amazing Christian institutions: Catholic charities, Lutheran social services, Samaritan's purse, Wycliffe Bible translators, Liberty university, Gospel for Asia, Geeks under grace, intellectual takeout, CBN, RZIM, Reasonable Faith, Cross Examined, Sermon Index, Biola university, and Ligonier ministries.  Just to name a few!  

Do all these groups get it perfectly?  Nope.  But they work hard and serve God.  And it's a beautiful thing.

Of course we rarely get to hear about all the good these organizations do on behalf of Christian society.  Think about it, what do we always hear about on the news: Westboro Baptist church picketing funerals of soldiers, megachurch pastor asking his congregation to help fund a new jet, Joel Osteen's net worth, sexual infidelity by prominent pastors, Priest-child sex scandals, and on and on the list goes.  

Often it's the same thing in the pulpit.  A sermon talking about all the great achievements of the church isn't going to garner tens of thousands of views on YouTube and podcast.  But a sermon decrying the flaws of the church might! 

So the next time someone starts complaining about the infinite failures of the church, remind them of all the good the church has done throughout history and today!  The church is the hands and feet of Christ.  Of course non-believers are going to see that and find ways to make money off the message.  Of course the wheat and the tares will grow together, as the word says, and it will seem like much of the "church" looks just like the world.  But that was to be expected, we're told to not try to uproot the tares because we might accidentally pull out the wheat.  So I don't understand trashing the church.  The church is doing just fine across the world.  And we need to keep doing the mission of carrying the gospel.  And we will.  All will happen according to God's will.  Should we encourage the church to expand and reach more?  Of course!  But taking pot shots at the church doesn't really help anything.  

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