If God wrote the biography of you, or your church, what would He write? Would He say that you were rooted deep in Christ, or that control, guilt, and good deeds were the major themes of your existence?
About this series
For more about why this series was written, please see the first post.
Chapter Three: If God Wrote Your Biography
I have had many conversations with Christians about the problems the American Church faces as membership has steadily declined over the last decades. A phrase continues to recur, “If only we could get more people to come to our church!”
It is a statement often made in desperation, and from a belief that if only people would come they would see how great and wonderful our community is and would stay. Unfortunately, often the next step is for church leaders to take a next step without having sufficient knowledge of the problem as to why people are not coming to church in the first place.
In Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby describes God as saying to us, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” And in Henri Nouwen’s book Spiritual Direction he says that any activity that causes us to slow down and be intentional is a spiritual discipline.
Is it possible that the American Church is so busy being worried about the storm surrounding the ship that it has forgotten that Jesus is also on board? That Christ is at the helm? Yes, in many cases I think so.
I had the privilege of attending the regional conference of a major American denomination annually from 2007-2010. One year it was decided that each church in the conference would find a way of recording the number of members who had been engaged in acts of service to the community each week. A system of cards was devised and placed in the pews for people to drop into the collection plates or leave on the alter to signify their weekly service activities.
This metric was devised for well-intentioned reasons to try and gauge the level of service, thinking that service was one of the ways to make the Church more attractive and that one of the reasons attendance was declining was because community service was declining also. Upon further reflection I eventually came to the conclusion that such a plan was flawed from the beginning.
I don’t think this is an expression of legalism, but it is a form of control. It’s slightly passive aggressive to encourage more random acts of kindness by trying to get people to place a token card in the offering plate each Sunday. This particular example is not sinister in nature.
There are more sinister methods of control: the use of guilt for example. Some churches preach and teach rules and regulations to try and control peoples behavior. Jesus did not use this tactic. From Jesus Manifesto we read:
…why such an emphasis on “works”? Good works are simply fruit falling off a tree. If you sink your roots deep into Christ, who is your life, you will not be able to stop the fruit from coming forth… The engine of being “missional,” therefore, ought never to be religious duty. Neither should it be guilt, condemnation, or ambition. The engine should be blindly and singularly a revelation of Jesus Christ.
The decline in the church is not because we are serving less in the community. We don’t need to put cards in the offering plate, we don’t need judgmental or ostracizing church communities to “control” the behavior of others.
If all that is necessary to live and be a Christian is to have a revelation of Christ then all the other stuff we place an importance on is irrelevant. “Christian leadership” and other spiritual gifts assessments and training are nothing.
Phrases like “personal relationship with Christ” or “knowing/following Jesus” have become so loaded they no longer carry the meaning they should. Instead they have become synonyms for “believing” or “having faith” or whether or not someone has said the sinner’s prayer or been baptized.
I submit that if we simply stuck to Jesus’ examples about how to reach people and show them that being a Christian is about a spiritual journey (and not about following a set of rules, or doing a list of good deeds) and encouraged people to seek revelations of God then we would be moving towards a fuller more vibrant expression of Church. May we learn to be still and know that he is God, and receive fresh discoveries of his nature and character.
Read the other posts in this series:
Jesus Manifesto: Biography (Chapter 3)