Confronting the Navel Gazing Churches
At least once a week, a "big-time" Christian blogger links to a compilation of analytical bullet points addressing some issue deemed important within the Christian church. The list will be titled such things as, "8 Reasons Pastors Burn-out," "12 Ways to Make Your Church Sign Catchy," "11 Signs Your Deacons are Plotting a Mutiny," etc.
The internet rabbit trail led me to this recent list compiled by Thom Rainer, who is the CEO of Lifeway, and appears to like these kind of lists.
I come from out amongst the SBC fold in the buckle of the Bible-belt, so I thought I would offer up my personal commentary, drawn from my anecdotal experience, as a response.
I'll say at the outset that I believe the reason for these "warning signs" has to do with a failure of leadership in shepherding the people toward a high view of God and Scripture. It's really that simple. That doesn't mean these "warning" signs will just evaporate overnight for a pastor(s) who change the way he shepherds. But it does show where there is a significant need for correction.
1. Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and demands for change. The order of service must remain constant. Certain instrumentation is required while others are prohibited.
The last couple of decades has seen a rise with churches using CCM in worship. Contrary to the hysteria generated by fundamentalist alarmist like David Cloud, there is nothing particularly sinful or compromising or worldly with the use of CCM in worship.
Why there is a "war" over worship music is that many church goers, particularly the older generation, have a problem with the trend to completely abandon traditional worship music for CCM that totally alters the church service. The individuals pushing this trend are under the erroneous belief that traditional hymn music is boring and the lyrics old-fashioned and a church can't draw the younger family demographic for long term commitment. In response, the older generation react negatively to what they perceive as worldliness taking over the church.
So, instead of shepherding the older people to appreciate CCM and instill in the younger families a love and deep appreciation for classic hymns of our faith, they solve the problem by creating multiple worship services. "Traditional" services are held at 8 am, where as the CCM worship service is at 9:30. All this does is to divide the body of Christ.
2. Prolonged minutia meetings. The church spends an inordinate amount of time in different meetings. Most of the meetings deal with the most inconsequential items, while the Great Commission and Great Commandment are rarely the topics of discussion.
This is nothing less than a failure of leadership. If a pastor(s) can't keep a meeting focused upon important matters, he (or they) need to retool how to lead people. He also needs to muster the intestinal fortitude that gives him the ability to shut down members who keep pulling the meeting toward the issues of minutia.
Of course, this problem would be greatly diminished if a church was biblical and practiced elder rule. Rather, most SBC churches are congregational ruled in which every spiritually immature narcissist, who isn't even qualified to teach a Sunday school class, is allowed an equally controlling decision in the matters of the church.
3. Facility focus. The church facilities develop iconic status. One of the highest priorities in the church is the protection and preservation of rooms, furniture, and other visible parts of the church’s buildings and grounds.
It depends upon what the facilities are and who assigns the iconic status. A Sunday School room that has been successfully used by the women's weekly Titus 2 meeting for the last 40 years now slated to be assimilated with the music room expansion is certainly "iconic" to Myrtle Haynes and her ladies group.
This is where a wise pastor will step in with gentle reverence and shepherd the ladies as to why there needs to be a change and walk them to the new area where they will be meeting.
Unwise leadership, on the other hand, who brag of not being beholden to a mindset that places iconic value on church facilities, announce to Myrtle and her group that they will be losing their room and they'll try to find some other place for them to meet.
4. Program driven. Every church has programs even if they don’t admit it. When we start doing a ministry a certain way, it takes on programmatic status. The problem is not with programs. The problem develops when the program becomes an end instead of a means to greater ministry.
Such can be true. I just note a bit of irony with this warning sign because Mr. Rainer is the CEO of Lifeway, the Christian bookstore company that heavily marketed Rick Warren's PDL materials. Warren's 40 Days of Purpose stuff was adopted ("forced upon" in some cases) by many, many churches across the land and those churches started doing ministry a certain way because they were told by the marketing that it was the only way for a church to do greater ministry.
5. Inwardly focused budget. A disproportionate share of the budget is used to meet the needs and comforts of the members instead of reaching beyond the walls of the church.
I would be curious as to what is considered "needs" and "comforts?" Does that mean taking care of the church facilities? I don't see a problem with a church directing their budget to maintaining a nice place for people to meet. It would also be helpful to define what is meant by "reaching beyond the walls of the church." Is that local outreach? Short-term missions? With the SBC model, as with other denominations, there is a bureaucratic office that raises money from the churches for international missions through their Lottie Moon Christmas offering. This model sets in place the idea that if I give 500 bucks at Christmas to the denominational office, I'm involved with missions. and I didn't even have to leave my pew.
6. Inordinate demands for pastoral care. All church members deserve care and concern, especially in times of need and crisis. Problems develop, however, when church members have unreasonable expectations for even minor matters. Some members expect the pastoral staff to visit them regularly merely because they have membership status.
7. Attitudes of entitlement. This issue could be a catch-all for many of the points named here. The overarching attitude is one of demanding and having a sense of deserving special treatment.
I thought these two "signs" went together. I figured if members demanded a pastor’s unflinching attention to minor matters, the reason they would is because they believed they were entitled to it.
I have mixed feelings about these “signs.” Pastoral visitation is just part of the territory. I’d think a pastor would want to mingle regularly with his people. If not, then there is a problem with the pastor.
Still, I can understand how a pastor can get “busy,” and unreasonable expectations on his time is inappropriate. Depending of course on what is defined as “unreasonable expectations.” But how much of this entitlement attitude is fostered by the pastor himself because he doesn’t guard his time by properly prioritizing his responsibilities, especially with sermon prep. When minor matters pop up, he welcomes such unexpected interruptions as a way to get out of the office and away from the greater task at hand.
8. Greater concern about change than the gospel. Almost any noticeable changes in the church evoke the ire of many; but those same passions are not evident about participating in the work of the gospel to change lives.
I can understand the "concern" for change when the change is a cockamamie plan to contract a high-end architect to redesign the worship center in such a way that a new "stage set" can be erected every Sunday to provide a living illustration for that week's message. Or a massive loan is taken out just so the church can build an unnecessary, yet gianormous sanctuary complete with cyclopean pillars just to have curb appeal. (And I am not making either of these up).
9. Anger and hostility. Members are consistently angry. They regularly express hostility toward the church staff and other members.
I have to ask: Why aren't these people confronted with their sin? These are church members doing nothing but causing division and stirring up strife among the body. I would hope strong leadership, after hearing of the angry and hostile members, would seek them out to meet with them about their sin issues. If they are teachable, disciple them to repent of their bitterness and seek reconciliation with those whom they are angry. If they are unteachable, get other leaders involved and explain to them that in no uncertain terms are they to continue with this behavior or they will be kicked out of the fellowship.
10. Evangelistic apathy. Very few members share their faith on a regular basis. More are concerned about their own needs rather than the greatest eternal needs of the world and community in which they live.
A lot of this can easily go back to what I noted under #5. If the denomination maintains a "missions" office where all the affiliated churches are expected to pay into a general fund to support the endeavors of professional missionaries, then I can understand why few members regularly share their faith. In their minds, they are paying someone to do this.
But a denominational missions office is not necessarily a bad thing, so obviously there is more.
I would also add there is a problem with the evangelistic model a lot of churches promote. That being, a weekly "evangelism" time where teams from the church aimlessly drive around for two hours knocking on doors and visiting church going families that filled out a "visitor's card." If they get really desperate to meet their soul-winning quota after several failed door knocking attempts, they slum around at the laundry mat.
However, if evangelism is reduced to a manufactured two hour block of time every week, I can understand why evangelism is devalued.
Now I will not pretend I have it all figured out. Certainly there are individuals who can offer up counter examples to my “opinions.” Yet in each of these examples Mr. Rainer outlines, from my perspective as a member, deacon, and lay leader in my Church, pretty much everyone of these “inward obsessions” would be eliminated if the pastor commits himself to solid, doctrinal teaching and challenges his people to have a high-view of God and a low-view of one’s self. It takes long, patient work, I know; but it can be done by the grace of God.