There was a comedy show on television entitled “Whose Line is it Anyway?” The show was quite clever. So, taking off on that title here’s my question, “Whose church is it anyway?”
Church wars are nothing new. A number of years ago a small town in Tennessee had a dispute over the which side the piano and organ should be set in the church. Half the congregation wanted the piano on the right side of the church facing forward with the organ on the left; the other half of the church wanted the organ on the right and piano on the left. The two groups couldn’t come to an agreement. So, in the middle of the night, one of the groups went to the church and, using chainsaws, cut the church in two. They then loaded up “their half” of the church and moved it to a new location in town. True story. The newspaper reported, “The only winner in our town this day is the devil.” That is a case of accurate reporting!
We started this thought last week as we looked at the subject of change when it comes to the church. People in general do not seem to like change. The church in particular seems positively averse to change. Not only would some rather see their church die than change, they disparage any other church that is willing to change! It seems to me that sometimes the greatest foe that the modern church faces is not the foe from without but the foe from within. We are killing ourselves.
Last week, I talked about the church in general wanting to get back to “the glory days,” generally meaning that we want to do church like we did in the 1950s. One church asked the late Howard Hendricks, long time professor of Christian Education at Dallas Theological Seminary, to come and help them. They were dying as a church and had gotten to the point where they couldn’t pay their bills. So, they asked Hendricks to come, see what they were doing, and then write up a plan that would help them at least grow enough to pay their bills. Hendricks went and here is what he wrote: “To raise funds, I suggest you put a fence around the church and then charge people admission to see how church was done in the 1950s.”
How would you feel if you were on the finance committee of your church and received a letter like that from your consultant? Sadly, we would chide the consultant for his glib response instead of recognizing that change was needed.
In the denomination I am a part of, we get regular communications about the declining number of baptisms in our denomination. I understand that concern. In the book of Acts, Peter preaches 10 minutes and 3,000 people come to faith. In our day the preacher preaches 10 years and considers it a victory if three people come to faith! Seriously. I am not casting stones here. I can’t recall the last adult baptism we’ve had at our church. I do recognize that it means something needs to be seriously addressed!
Getting back to where I was going in the above paragraph. We are constantly being told that the problem is we are not doing the stuff we used to do. We are being pushed to do door-to-door evangelism. In fact, I received a card from our denomination talking about the wonderful experience of a program called Crossover Birmingham. I think it was meant to encourage us to return to the thrilling days of yesteryear if we want to grow. Ten thousand four hundred and nine doors were knocked on; 1,817 people actually engaged in “gospel conversations” (that’s about 1%) and 364 decisions for Christ were made (about .034%). See, I don’t find that encouraging. I think it reveals the need for a change in approach. I have to wonder how many of those 364 ever made it to a local church. Worse, I fear that we have 364 people who have confessed to a creed but not come to Christ! In fairness, such an evaluation is really beyond my ability. My point, however, is simple: if we just loved people as much as we love our “tried and tested” programs, things might be vastly different in our Western churches.