Dear American Church,
How did we let it come to this? How did we fail our country so miserably?
(Note: By addressing this to the “Church” I mean we, the Body of Christ, not just our pastors, or one denomination, or one building address. This also includes me. I have failed as much as and more than anyone else.)
We are living in a time where our churches have an unprecedented number of professional specialists. We have children’s pastors, family pastors, youth pastors, small group pastors, teaching pastors, worship pastor, executive pastors, outreach pastors, and the list goes on and on. We have enormous budgets, unbelievable buildings, and freedoms that Christians throughout history literally died for. Yet, we are losing and losing badly.
“My church is growing,” you might want to say. “Look at our numbers” (defined by attendance, conversions, membership, etc.). I say turn on your TV. Look at this election. Look at social media. Listen to your coworkers, your extended family. The numbers that matter don’t lie. We are failing.
We have allowed ourselves to become more insular, more bunkered than ever before. We have our own form of everything to the point that we are completely self-sustained. Look at our “Christian” music, movies, coffee houses, bookstores, community spaces and so on. With all of this, surely we can keep ourselves safe! Our bunkers do keep us safe. But the problem is, they shut the world out.
Jesus gave us a pretty big job. It is arguably the largest responsibility He could have given us. He left the world in our hands. Yes, He is still firmly on the Throne and the Head of the Body, but He told us to go and make disciples. That is our job, and we have dropped the ball. Somehow along the way we turned that around and began telling the world to come to us. Again, just tune in to what is going on all around us, and we can see that this twisting of Jesus’ words simply does not work. He knew what He was talking about after all.
Maybe our failure started when we decided that we didn’t need each other. Every American town is littered with building after building occupied by Christians that are a part of the same Church but sure don’t act like it. How could we? Surely we can’t adhere to Jesus’ very clear commands while not agreeing on transubstantiation, eschatology, how best to use the gifts the Holy Spirit gave (not to you alone, but to the Bride of Christ), or whether or not to sprinkle infants. All across America, more buildings are erected or repurposed almost weekly so that we can beckon the world to come fill our half-empty sanctuaries. How did more separation become our answer when Jesus spoke so often about the power of unification?
Maybe our failure began when we placed all of our faith in our programs. If we just bring in that one gifted specialist, we can draw the kids who draw the parents who hear messages on Sunday mornings and maybe eventually restart the cycle with someone else. If we can just offer more opportunities for people to pick and choose how to best grow themselves, then we will eventually start going and making.
Maybe our failure started with our ever constant search for relevance. It only seems logical after all. If the world is supposed to come to us, then we need to make what we do look and feel as fresh and relevant as possible. Why else would they come? Yet, looking at how our country is turning out, our relevance seems to be making us more irrelevant than ever.
Maybe our failure started when we stopped focusing on the words of Jesus and settled for a few gifted speaker’s personal interpretations. God gives gifts. To some, He gives the ability to lead and teach. To everyone, He gave His Word.
Not all is lost, but we can’t do this alone. That’s the Good News. Where we fail the greatest is when Jesus becomes our mascot. Where we succeed the most is when we matter little, and He matters above all.
We can’t do this individually. There’s a reason we are called One Body. Jesus didn’t leave behind a dismembered body with a few extra special denominational limbs.
We can’t do this through programming alone. We are the Church. Eventually, we all have to carry out our individual missions together. We can’t rely on our Christian specialists to do everything for us.
We can’t do this if we only read and follow the parts of Jesus’ teachings that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. The Way is not easy. It is not safe. It is not lucrative. Easy, safe, and lucrative haven’t saved anyone’s soul.
We can’t do this in our bunkers. When we erect walls to keep the world out, she is going to stay out. Inside our bunkers, we may be “safe,” but Jesus never said anything about being safe. In the world, there is sin, corruption, hatred, and all kinds of scary things. But it is in the world that we find the lost, the broken, the hurting, the sick. Jesus told us to go, not to invite.
We can’t keep blaming everyone and everything but ourselves. The lost are lost. That’s sort of the point of being lost. Our enemy is not flesh and blood. The world is held hostage by our true enemy.
If there is anything our country is telling us right now, it is that politics won’t save us. We can demand that God bless America as much as we want, but He gave us freedom of choice. He left the Church with a big responsibility. We can blame the media, politicians, and whatever/whomever else makes the biggest target, but Jesus didn’t leave America in the hands of the media, politicians, or whatever/whomever we choose to scapegoat. This is our country. This is our mission. Will we take a stand, not for being right, but for Who is right and the people He died to save?
To borrow from 1 Peter 2:9, we, the Church, are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession so that we can declare our praise of the One who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. How can we keep this for ourselves?