After some direct message conversations on Facebook and Twitter and some texts messages and emails, I wanted to have a chance to respond to some push back about my last rant. First of all, thanks to all those who jumped into the fray with an angry man. You are brave and appreciated.
My rant had three parts:
- The first section was about me being angry when my friends are abused by the ministry.
- The second was about me being mad about people who are leaving their churches to go somewhere else.
- The third was about me being angry about being angry about the other two things.
I received the majority of response about the second one, so I wanted to go into greater depth. Let’s pretend we have a chance to discuss this over coffee. What’s really going on here?
I am concerned about some trends I see in our church family.
(Concerned is the nice way to say it. I’ve been frustrated, angry, pissed off, yelling at the top of my voice, pleading, working, reading, interceding, trying to communicate better, frustrated again–for 30 years! But let’s go with concerned.)
I am concerned because we are losing a generation. As a Gen Xer, I have strong opinions about some baby boomers. Some might call these tensions a generational issue, some might call it a religious spirit, but I see too much control (you’re not ready, so please shut up) and a lack of releasing others (you are not good enough) that is plaguing our ministry efforts. The millennials are not waiting around to see if it gets fixed. Of course, in my opinion, we aren’t losing this generation because of what we are doing now, we are losing them now because of what we have or haven’t been doing their entire lives. A lot could be said about this.
Additionally, the people of God in America are suffering from a gigantic case of consumer-itis.
- We choose a church because it fits our preferences and leave when our preferences change. (We loved the kid’s ministry, but once our kids are in college, we realize we don’t like the preaching or the worship. See ya!)
- We are in a different “season” and the newest greatest ministry idea and outreach ever has just not caught on at this church. We need to find one where it has.
- The church has become stale or stagnant. We need something fresh. It usually comes out like this: “I’m just not getting fed.”*
*Let me digress since this last one is my favorite. The fact that you are not getting fed may very well be true. I’m not arguing that in the least. If you are not getting anything out of the messages, acknowledging that is not wrong. The idea that someone else was supposed to feed you your whole life was wrong.
Let me explain. In any endeavor there’s always a learning curve. At first we learn very quickly, since everything is new, but then we encounter something called the dip. We’ve experienced this in everything we’ve ever learned. Also called the J curve, the dip demonstrates that new endeavors go through a slow down or drop before you achieve maximum benefits. Getting past the dip requires intentional, personal effort. This is true of everything we learn and excel at.
Even our Christianity.
Many times, we are frustrated at our churches, but that frustration is actually misplaced. We have hit the dip (or maybe, even, another dip). Once in the dip, we can mistakenly look for new external stimulus to bring new learning. However, it doesn’t work that way. To make spiritual progress requires a new phase of discipleship (read: personal, spiritual disciplines), and frankly, you cannot get there by attending a one hour church service once a week.
Please don’t misunderstand me and hear me say that not being fed is somehow your fault. That’s not what I’m saying. I am saying that it’s not the church’s fault. I am saying it’s a natural bi-product of learning and growing as a Christian. Mature people learn how to feed themselves. End of digression.
Welcome to consumer-itis: this church isn’t doing it for me anymore. I’ll take my business elsewhere.
Many are concerned with the church and I am sympathetic. I’ve been watching this cycle for decades. I’m seeing the right diagnosis (something isn’t right) but the wrong medicine (the problem is this church or them).
I’m not against leaving a church when you are responding to the call of God on your life. I am against immaturity and consumerism.
Sending vs Leaving
25 years ago I heard a church’s mission statement that I believe works very well:
- Love them
- Mend them
- Train them
- Send them
Isn’t this discipleship? Doesn’t this really help underscore the idea that, as the people of God, the end game is to send people into their destiny (sometimes they have to move on to accomplish this, but not always)?
So why the angry rant about people leaving the church?
I have made many ministry friends throughout the country. Few of them get to experience a healthy send off. Most of them just have to leave.
I have a friend who recently moved away in pursuit of God’s call on his life. I knew that I would miss him terribly, and even though we didn’t spend huge amounts of time together, we clicked, and that is rare. It dawned on me in prayer for him and his family that we will get to spend eternity together and it’s going to be great then, not now. Here on earth, we are in a battle. You do not throw a party in the foxhole. The right time to party is after the war is over. Right now, our Kingdom assignment is the loving, mending, and training above. And sending is required to keep that going.
A culture of sending is very different than a culture of leaving. As the people of God, we have become specialists at leaving for all sorts of reasons. The reason that matters – God calling us into our destiny – is too often not even on our radar. (And let me repeat, sending does not always mean moving away.)
I see four options:
- God’s sending call is present, the community and person recognizes it. The community helps send the person into their destiny.
- God’s sending call is present, the community does not recognize it although the person does. The person has to leave to follow God.
- God’s sending call is not present, the community and person recognize it. They continue to walk together in the mending and training process.
- God’s sending call is not present, the community recognizes it, the person does not and leaves. They miss out on the needed mending and training process. (God will provide it in another avenue, because He never gives up on us, but we will (a) take another trip around the proverbial mountain like Israel in the Old Testament, and (b) miss something God had for us.)
This awesome mission of sending is how we are supposed to live. But that is rare. Too often, in order to pursue God’s calling we have to leave out the back door, not be sent out the front door. Here’s why:
- The church looks more like a fiefdom where the leadership is creating a private business and not the Kingdom of God. That’s wrong.
- The church is too: judgmental, worldly, unloving, hypocritical, petty, political, homophobic, preoccupied with personal blessing, proud, divisive, and on and on. There’s no loving, mending, or training. That’s wrong.
Read those two bullet points again and this time substitute the words “My life” for “The church”. Really. Go ahead. I’ll wait here.
I’m trying to underscore that the loving, mending, training, sending is not just something we receive, but it is what we are supposed to be living for others. If it is not being done well, the correct course of action is to look in the mirror at ourselves, not point a finger at others.
It’s about who you are. I am trying to challenge you to being not doing.
You know what this church that fails so often needs? really needs? A representative of God.
And a representative of God is a priest. And the priest that the church needs is you.
The Priesthood of Believers
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
1 Peter 1:9
Without delving into a history lesson, the Priesthood of the Believer is a foundational truth of the Protestant Reformation. If you want more information, you could start with this wikipedia article. Otherwise, here’s my brief synopsis.
Priests have 3 main responsibilities:
- Represent God to the people (speaking and demonstrating God’s truth and grace)
- Represent the people to God (intercession and sacrificial worship)
- Facilitate the meeting between God and the people (the temple, God’s presence)
The New Testament did not abolish the priesthood, the NT abolished the laity. We are all priests.
As the people of God, we are the priests in and to our communities.
That means it’s our privilege and responsibility to speak the truth and show love when others fail; to be a conduit of God’s grace, freely forgiving as we have been forgiven.
That means it’s our privilege and responsibility to intercede for others (not accuse and criticize); praying God’s best for them even when they hurt us or falter.
That means it’s our privilege and responsibility to minister to the Lord in worship; to actively declare His praises when in the community gathering.
That means it’s our job to set up tabernacle where people meet with God. We don’t have to take people to a sacred location, God is where we, His people, are:
For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them. Matthew 18:20
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? 1 Corinthians 3:16
But this is not how most of us think about our Christian lives and about our communities of faith. This priesthood is really about who we are. Unfortunately, as the people of God, we have become passive recipients of professional ministry and have gauged our level of participation based on preference and personality, not priesthood.
Let me flesh this out with an example:
Have you ever been to a church service and not experienced God’s presence? Everything was dry or just felt like going through the motions without life? What is the common church attender response?
Give it a little time to see if this church can get it together?
Accuse and criticize the pastoral team, the sermon, or the music?
Call a friend and find out if they heard anything about what’s going on?
Do you know what a priest would do?
A priest would fall on their face before God. A priest would call out to God in repentance and intercession and plead with God to not turn His face away. A priest would fast on behalf of the community. A priest would not rest until right relationship was restored.
A priest sees the life of the congregation as an US issue not a THEM issue. Imagine a congregation of priests!
When God gave Israel the law, it was a given that they were going to miss it. That’s why He gave them a priesthood. The same is true for the church. It is a given that the Christian community you are a part of is going to miss it. That’s why God gave them you. It is a given that you are going to miss it. That’s why He gave you them. Get it?
A Calling, not a Preference
I’ll try to make this section short, since this is getting longer than I hoped. I would like us to be the people God has called us to be. I can’t let myself off the hook just because someone else isn’t living up to my standard. I have to be who God has called me to be whether or not others are being and doing right. That’s called maturity.
Choosing our community of faith is not like trying on a pair of shoes. The deciding factors should not be fit and style. The deciding factor should be God’s calling. And just to be clear, I’m not talking to vocational pastors when I say this, I’m talking to priests. That’s all of us.
I’ve mentioned or hinted at change numerous times. I believe The Church is experiencing macro level change. It is impacting our local congregations as well as movements on a global scale. I’m not the only one who senses this. There is no doubt that God’s people can mess up big time. There is way too much criticism, potshots, and finger pointing going around. Those of us who have been doing this a long time can shoot some large missiles. Perhaps we’ve become too comfortable lobbing volleys at each other. Our missiles are books and blogs. I confess my guilt (hello 3rd section of my rant!).
A true prophetic call leads to repentance, not criticism. Check yourself and check the voices you are listening to.
I’m not asking you to be change, bring change, help influence change or anything of the sort. It’s not my place to ask you to do that.
I’m asking you to step up to the plate as a full-fledged priest in your community. I’m asking you to actively participate in the loving, mending, training, sending mission; not just receive. I’m asking you to lay down consumerism and put on calling.
The stakes could not be higher. The timing could not be more crucial. If we cannot love our fellow Christians enough to walk with them through life (and all the mess that involves), our love of God and our love to reach the world is a sham. And the world around us knows it.
Read 1 John. It’s all in there.
My original rant was about immaturity and consumer-itis. But not just immaturity–immaturity masquerading as going deep for God.
Immaturity devalues the people I serve with. Immaturity steps off instead of stepping up, and immaturity doesn’t handle the pain of life in a Christlike manner.
I’m not picking on you. I’m not criticizing you if you left a church. I’m not trying to control you or condemn you.
I’m telling you to grow up.