We Fix The Church By Fixing Our Number One Problem

Read the news. The church is in decline.

How do we fix it?

I don't quite know the answer to that problem. I don’t know how to fix the church in your community. I don’t know how to fix the church in America. I don’t even know how to fix the church across town if it even needs fixed.

But I do know what we need to do in our church. We need to be living out our lives loving God and one another. Together. That looks like church for some. For others it doesn't although it still is church. But when that “together” part disappears - when we start loving God alone and not loving one another, we mess it all up. That push toward an individual spirituality to the exclusion of the collective spirituality is what got us to this point. The church in decline.

These days with our new technology, we have the option of digital church experiences. We can turn on the radio, head to a website, download a podcast, or just hop on over to Youtube and watch the best speaker in the nation give an amazing sermon. It will be way better than all of the sermons that we can possibly hear in a local church near us unless that amazing speaker’s local church is our local church. The same with worship songs. We can worship to whatever style we prefer with whatever leader we prefer – all with just the click of a button. And there are advantages. You don’t need to give. You don’t need to serve. You don’t need to deal with people who may frustrate you. You don’t need to compromise or live in community with anyone else. It’s the perfect individual spiritual experience. Spirituality, your way. Who could ask for anything more?

We, church leaders, feed it. Maybe we even should, for it isn’t wrong to help people grow spiritually. I don’t have it totally figured out, but it makes me question things. We want to reach out more and minister more, so we put our messages online (I get the irony of sharing this online too). We want people to encounter God because we know that encountering God changes us. One cannot encounter God and remain unchanged.

But in doing ministry this way, are we feeding the beast?

Is physical interaction necessary in a digital world? Are in real life relationships necessary for us to follow Jesus?  I think so. There are elements of following Jesus that just can’t be done alone. We won't have people alongside of us when we serve. We won't have that someone to love and to be loved by in return.

Then there are benefits to being part of this community of people meeting together in real, physical space. One big benefit of faith is its ability to carry us through crisis. This doesn’t happen in isolation; it happens with encouragement from others. Without a faith family (or a healthy biological family), we won't have someone to just be with us when things are tough.

This is where the faith family is superior even to the biological family. It’s the place where Jesus’ radical teachings to abandon biological family for spiritual family comes together. A brief disclaimer: This doesn’t make sense if you aren’t coming at it from a place where you have surrendered your life to the leadership of Jesus. Biological family is great. It is a foundation to support and success in the world. But for those who don’t have that biological family to support them, the spiritual family is there for them. The dilemma is that the spiritual family is not there for the outsider if people are just focused on their biological family. Some get the benefit of both families being intermingled, but others don’t. For those who don’t, the spiritual family can only be a benefit if the person who claims to follow Jesus takes Jesus’ family seriously -- if they are willing to make their spiritual family more important than their biological family. That’s a radical calling. Probably just as radical today as when Jesus challenged people with it back before his death on the cross.

If we disconnect from Jesus’ family, the church, the body of Christ won’t be there for others when they seek out its support. For the seeker when they seek a church for spiritual answers.

We have done a disservice to the kingdom of God when we have made it all about individual spirituality rather than a spirituality we share together. It is true that we must be growing individually to be a help to the group. We need to be part of the local body of Jesus from a place of overflowing in our relationship with God. Where just being around us is refreshing as the love of God overflows from us. But that won’t always be the case. There will be days, months, maybe even years, where we are the empty ones. Where we will need to be carried along. This is where a selfish, individualistic approach fails. It’s not enough to carry us through, except for the strong, super spiritual people in our midst. But even for them, they are strong and super spiritual -- if that sort of person even exists -- to help out others on their spiritual journey too. They are not strong and super spiritual to be proud of how far along they are. They are there to help.

The news and policies percolating through the media should convince all of us that we are not a Christian nation. That view should be easily discarded at this point. Discarding it isn't such a bad thing. Let me explain because you may think that being a Christian nation is an extremely important goal. If we accept that we are not a Christian nation and recognize that making our nation Christian is even a worthwhile goal (as if a nation can ever be Christian), we can just focus on living out radical lives together, devoted to God fully, rather than try to win a political battle. This is sort of a new era for the church in America. Or maybe we just deceived ourselves in the past by believing we are more Christian than we actually were.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said: “The church must be reminded that it’s not the master or the servant of the state but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority” (A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967).

This starts with us being that spiritual kingdom together. Living out the kingdom realities in a way that we are an expression of God’s kingdom as much as we possibly can here on earth. Taking seriously our prayer that God’s kingdom will come here on earth as it is in heaven. And then, like our individual spiritual life overflows into our spiritual family, the life of the kingdom will overflow into the community, state, and nation around us.

We get it all wrong when we make that end result our goal and not the process though. Our goal is not a perfect America. Our goal is to love God and to love our neighbor.