Isn’t it amazing how we make things so hard that should really be so simple?
You hear a lot of talk these days about how “messed up” the church is. No doubt, the church is struggling in many ways, and that includes the ever-so-cliched “mega churches” out there.
(Psssst – here’s a secret. They have problems, too. They may not show it, but I know for a fact that they do).
But maybe the problem isn’t just the churches. Maybe it’s us. Maybe it’s our perceptions of what a “good” church is or is supposed to be. Maybe our view of church is more messed up than the churches themselves.
Here’s the first thing we need to understand: The church as an individual institution has a life cycle. We assume that if a church is declining or dissolves, then it’s the fault of the church. Never mind that many forces beyond the church’s control may have contributed to the decline or dissolution. The people MUST have been unfaithful!
What a crock.
Many churches that have declined or dissolved are faithful, loving, compassionate and even willing to do what God requires of them. But perhaps it was time for something to change, for something new or different to happen. Just because something is painful does not mean that God has abandon us in it.
Keep in mind that the VAST majority of churches in this country are less than 100 members. Just because we don’t see them on television or listen to their podcast does not mean that they are not faithful.
Here’s the second thing we need to understand: Just because a church was, or is, struggling does not mean that God is ready to put it out to pasture. Case in point is the church that I pastor, Augusta Heights Baptist.
This church was planted on Augusta Road in Greenville, South Carolina in 1950 as a ministry to the families that were affiliated with Donaldson Center Air Force Base. Just as the church was growing, building, and having an impact, the rug was snatched out from under them.
The Air Force base close around 1962. The church had nothing to do with it, and couldn’t do anything about it.
That’s about the year that a lot of people “buried” Augusta Heights. And for the last 50 years, people have had the church with one foot in the grave, the other on a banana peel.
They’re too old. The community has changed to a predominantly African-American, middle class and under community. They’re not willing to change. Their building is too big for the congregation. They don’t have enough money.
There is a laundry list of reasons why the church couldn’t or shouldn’t make it. Isn’t it funny that this describes almost every great success story?
In spite of the fact that people have been trying to toss dirt on Augusta Heights for 50 years, it’s still there. And it’s doing a lot more than just existing on “life support.” Not only is it alive, but it’s starting to kick a little bit as well.
Yes, the problems exist and will not go away anytime soon. But don’t you think that maybe it’s survived for the last 50 years because God still has a PURPOSE for it in the community?
In church “circles,” there is always talk of growth plans and “fix-it” solutions to the church. But you can’t always fix the things that are happening around you. You can’t always stop the train that is coming down the tracks. But you can learn from it and adjust to it.
Is there a better way to do that than learning to follow Jesus?
I’m drawing closer and closer to the conclusion that all the programs and conferences and “answers” that everyone has are just a lot of window-dressing and fluff to make churches what everyone else SAYS that they should be. Perhaps the real solution is found in the words that Jesus asked His disciples:
But what about you? Who do YOU say that I am?
Perhaps we need to spend less time thinking about how to “fix” the church and more time finding out who Jesus is, and whether or not we are willing to say that’s who He is. And perhaps, with the grace that Jesus offers us, that will be more than enough to help us stay healthy and do God’s will where we are.
No matter what everyone else says that we should be.