A year and a half ago I wrote concerning some very bad trends or tendencies that are common in churches. I am even more convinced today than I was then that churches are spiritually handicapping themselves because they have taken their eyes off of Christ, Who is head of His church. The items I wrote about are not insignificant because they hinder, to one degree or another, the church from doing its work and reflecting the glory of Christ in this dark world. If the true identity of the church is clouded or hidden altogether, then the church can easily morph into something other than the true church of the Lord Jesus Christ. In many, many places that is exactly what has happened. Many churches are majoring on minors and making minors into majors.
Allen Raynor Weblog: “Some Bad Tendencies Common to Churches”
(June 30, 2016)
The church, in its purest sense, is the most wonderful entity or institution to ever exist. The desire of the Lord Jesus is “That He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:27) The ideally functioning body of Christ, spoken of in Acts 2:41-47, is something everyone should long to be a part of. But we know there is no such thing as the ideal church in the “here and now” because of us weak and frail, sinful, selfish and self-absorbed human beings that compose the local church.
There seems to be a handful of tendencies or traps into which churches are prone to fall. Each of these hurt the purpose and witness of the body of Christ in the world. They may seem minor, but they are far more major than we realize. The church is to reflect the light and glory of it’s Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but if it is not very careful, it takes on many unfortunate characteristics of the dark world in which it exists.
Churches have the tendency to become a “museum of saints.” The “saved” may be seen as, not unlike, a collection of “trophies” celebrating past programs, initiatives, or the tenure/ministry of a former pastor. The past may be elevated and glorified and there is little talk about the future. Past pastors, past staff members, past programs, past Sunday School attendance, past church attendance, past youth groups, past music programs, past building programs, past church planting efforts, etc. I once had a key leader, in the church in which I was serving at the time, brag to me about how active the church had been in church planting. He said it had started several mission churches. But, the most recent one had been more than 75 years earlier! Churches with longer histories have greater tendencies to become museums for saints where “the past” rules.
Churches have the tendency to become a “business.” There are easy-to-see reasons for why this often happens. Without becoming “incorporated” churches have been advised they are putting themselves at risk and most churches have done so. However, the downside of this is that it causes churches to claim a status that is actually “inconsistent” with its purpose for existence. Compliance with certain laws tend to contribute to a looming/hovering threat that the church might lose it’s “tax exempt” status. It is often portrayed, and even feared as being a worst-case-scenario perhaps even worse than disobedience to God! The body of Christ (the church) above all else, is to be separate from the world. It will never attract the world by being like the world. It will only attract it by being different. In a multitude of ways, the typical 21st -century church sadly functions far-too-much like a business. Issues related to insurance, payroll, copy machine contracts, utilities, office supplies, policies and procedures, profits and losses, contract negotiations, compliance issues, and much more are consistent with the business world. But, as much as possible those things have got to be seen as veritable tools to help with the real purpose of the church and not ever become a “driving” or “controlling” force. In this area, it is very easy to get the “horse” and “cart” reversed and indeed many churches have done so.
Churches have the tendency to become “banks.” When people give their tithes and offerings they are giving it out of obedience to God for the work of ministry. Some are doing so quite sacrificially. Some churches accumulate tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars, without using it for the work of ministry. The idea of “hoarding” is far from the minds of most churches, but it still happens. One church business meeting I was a part of several years ago had a lengthy discussion of banks and institutions and how the church could make the most interest off “their” money. It does not seem this is what God intended to be done with tithes and offerings, but it sounds a lot like the poor steward in Jesus’ parable of the talents (Mat. 25:14-30). There are two types of investment – one is in the world and the other is in kingdom work. The point Jesus stressed was the importance of investing “talents” in kingdom work, not burying it in the ground or in a bank account. What often happens is that churches see assets like property, buildings, bonds, CD’s, savings, large checking accounts, designated funds, etc. as “security.” But it gives a “false” sense of security at best. At worst it facilitates disobedience. Churches are to be “channels” whereby all money given is used for the work of ministry.
Churches have the tendency to become social clubs or country clubs. It is what Thom Rainer terms “churchianity” as opposed to “Christianity” in his book I Will: 9 Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian. Practicing “churchianity” is when I make it all about me – my likes and dislikes, my taste in music, my desired temperature for the building, my color for the new carpet, my method for doing youth ministry, my way to do Sunday School or small groups, my way to run the kitchen, my way to do children’s ministry, my style of preaching, my, my, my . . . Whether knowingly or unknowingly, many simply expect comfort and satisfaction with their church and if they are not receiving it, they will either stop coming or, take their “business” elsewhere to another church until they find what they are looking for and that which brings them the comfort and satisfaction they desire. This is NOT Christianity, but rather “churchianity. The church is the place where we, as the body, unite for worship and to sharpen our spiritual axes and then head back out to the work of ministry! In the early twentieth-century, evangelist Billy Sunday famously said “The church is not a dormitory for sleepers, it is an institution for workers; it is not a rest camp, it is a front line trench.” Sadly, local bodies have many members practicing “churchianity” and not “Christianity;” therefore, many churches much more closely resemble social clubs or country clubs than New Testament churches.
There are plenty of other tendencies that harm the church, but these are but a few I have observed in my years of service as a pastor. The best, and perhaps only way, to put these problems/tendencies to bed is to get back to God’s revealed Word. The Latin expression “Ad Fontes” which means “Back to the sources” was the battle cry of The Renaissance period where there was a sharply renewed interest in the first principles and sources of truth and knowledge. There was widespread belief that they had drifted away from their solid, and former, foundation. What we need in the church of the 21st Century is a “Renaissance” by getting back to the source – the Bible - and see how we can be a better, more “New Testament” grounded, church.
Dr. Allen Raynor, Pastor