Monday, May 17, 2010

The Utter Failure of Church

Do you have a story of how the Church has failed you or those you care about? Do you have too many moments where you are disappointed in and hurt by the Church? Does it ever strike you that it'd be easier to avoid Church, that Church is not worth the hassle or headaches?

Being a pastor of a church, there is a side of me that wants to always present the best side of Church; it's in my professional interest, right? But being an insider makes me acutely aware of the ways the Church is an utter failure. For me personally, I have no terrible instances to point to where the Church ruined my life or dashed my hope in God. But I have plenty of friends and professional acquaintances who have - plus I watch the news. Some parts of the country have around forty percent of the population regularly attending church, but in most places its more around thirty or twenty - some regions even less than that.

Church has become a non-option for most people. For many, it was never a choice to go or not go. So the Church in North America has to ask itself: what is going on? Does the lack of connection with most people reveal their rejection of Christ and truth? Or maybe the disconnection is rooted in our utter failure as the Church.

I'm not giving up on the Church. But in sticking with the Church, I don't want to whitewash the sins or fuel foolish attitudes. To move forward, I think the Church needs to rethink its understanding of the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles. Not just rethink it so that we can publish more books, but rethink it to realign our actions to better deal with reality. I don't think Jesus is done with the Church, he's too loyal to ditch us. But what to do?

My title of this post is an overstatement. There are plenty of churches out there that are doing good work in the name of Jesus. There are lots of honest, humble, hard-working Jesus-followers in America. They are not the ones looking for fame, they don't want their ministry to make them wealthy. Whether they are the exception to the rule, or the wave of the future, it depends on what you and I decide to do.

Everybody has a blind-spot, and that includes me. And that includes Anchor. If you feel that Anchor has failed you, if you think Anchor has let you down, if you have been disappointed in Anchor - I'm the first to admit that we are not perfect. We don't get it right all the time. If you see something in Anchor that needs to change, if there is an area of sinfulness that we ought to address, if we are sloppy or being inconsiderate, please please please share it with me. The last thing I want for Anchor is to fuel the sense of failure of churches in America.

Anchor is going to spend a bunch of time in the Acts of the Apostles. By looking back, we'll be reminded of the original intent and Spirit of the church. While it is important to face our sins, it is also important to see what we could become. On the one hand, we want to be honest about our failures, but we also want to be humble as we work for success. By immersing ourselves for an extended time period in the Acts, we are reminding ourselves of what Jesus originally intended. How did this Jesus movement get started? What was the heart of the Church when it got going in those first many decades?

The post-modern age of Anchor is vastly different from the first-century Mediterranean world of the apostles. Culture and societies shift and morph, yet people are people - we still get afraid, we still vie for power, we want success and crave love. In understanding the first church, we'll get some glimpses into what the church of today ought to focus on. But that means coming to terms with the reality of our age. As we learn more about the culture we live in now, we can compare and contrast it with the culture of the first church. It will spur creative thinking about how the Same Spirit who changed lives then, will transform lives now.

This is a lot of expectations to place on reading one chapter a week out of the book of Acts. We'll do more than just reading, but without the studying we'll be no closer to understanding anything. The reading fuels a movement towards more fruitfulness in our service towards one another and our neighbors. We don't need to try to change the world, we just need to focus on bringing and being Good News to our community. What that will look like depends on how ardently we read and understand the Scriptures and study and discern our culture.

The utter failure of the Church is not something we need to be ashamed of, just honest. It will keep us humble. And it will spur us forward. In our world, a seed needs to die in order for the new plant to emerge. If Jesus is in charge of the Church - a bunch of rebels baptized and being conformed by His Spirit - then what we need to focus on is not on all the failures but on all the ways our Lord brings good out of it.

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