Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Eight signs of an unhealthy church

Much of what is written in the New Testament letters could be described as warnings to the local churches. We find cautions within them against growing cold, becoming legalistic, not dealing with immorality in the church or falling for false teachings. It got me thinking about some of the issues that I see in the church today. Some of these may be a bit in your face but if I am wrong I hope that you won’t just close the page and move on but that you will leave a comment below. Below is a list of 8 points where I think the church needs to pause and prayerfully evaluate how it’s doing.

1 -  Churches with superstar pastors.

If we are more excited when leaving a meeting about the amazing preacher or the worship band than we are with Jesus, then the guys on stage have failed. Miserably. It’s OK to give honor and acknowledgement where it is due, but let our focus not be shifted off Christ and onto men. If someone wants to be great in the kingdom, he does not need to know how to get a crowd going, make them laugh, cry or whatever. All he needs to do is be a servant, loving and obedient to his calling. In the 21st century church, the Diotrephes type characters who seek preeminence (3 John 9-10) have become the heroes of our gatherings. If a meeting is significantly affected by the presence or absence of a certain character then we need to ask ourselves who we are really centering around.

2 –  Rooms full of strangers.

Jesus said that we would know his disciples by the love they have for one another. Today it is common not to know the name of the person sitting in front of you or parked next to you in the church parking lot. You may think that that is an unfair statement to make (especially if you are in a large church) so let’s ask a different question, when was the last time that you directly helped or were helped by another family within the church? Are we fulfilling the law of Christ by bearing one anothers burdens (Galatians 6:2) or are we content just going through the motions every Sunday?

3 – Referring to it as “my” church.

This one is subtle but I find that we often like to take the credit for what God is actually doing. I don’t mean that everyone who refers to the church in a possessive sense has an agenda or is wrong. But I do think that if we were to word things better it would be for the benefit of everyone. Jesus said that he was building HIS church which you and I are a blessed part of. Similarly, think of Jesus who told Peter to “feed MY sheep” (John 21:15), they were not Peter’s sheep, he was just privileged enough to be given a job to do within the fold. Unless the Lord builds the house, you labor on in vain (Psalm 127:1).

4 – Tightly controlled programs.

Most churches adhere to a very predictable liturgy, even many house churches do it. It’s not altogether bad but it can be a hindrance to the Spirit when he has one thing planned and we have a program that needs to move from A to B to C etc...So the program becomes a problem when it wins these tussles, the same can be said for the clock. God gets his 2 hours a week (or bi weekly) to say and do what he needs to and that’s it, he knows the football match starts soon and that the shops close at 1 on a Sunday and so waiting on the Lord becomes something of an individual discipline only. Are we willing to throw the program out the window when the Spirit has other plans?

5 – Too many separate meetings.

Many years back I read a book which was the story of a person’s journey out of Satanism and into Christianity. I cannot remember the authors name or the book title. The one thing that did stay with me though is how they explained that one of their main duties was to infiltrate churches, become elders and then arrange as many meetings as possible that would separate families. Sunday school meetings, Youth meetings, Ladies meetings, Mens breakfasts and on and on it goes. How many churches have the word “Family” in their name but their services and programs are designed to split the families into other categories? Once again, it’s okay and even profitable to meet separately once in a while so I am not saying that we should discontinue any special ministries that you may have. But by organizing so many weekly and monthly meetings where the whole family is divided it's not doing us any favors. Why is the divorce rate higher among active church members than it is among the unchurched? There are many reasons but this could certainly be a contributing factor. I can’t think of a single occasion in the bible when families were split up for some special meeting, we know that even the children were included in the group and learning directly from the others (Ephesians 6:1).

6 – Where is the money is going?

Often church budgets are blown on smoke machines, elaborate buildings, sound equipment etc. a healthy church will first seek the well being of the people. And when every member has no need of food or clothing, it will help other churches or the poor outside of the church. And perhaps if there is a real need for some TLC at the meeting place a little will go there as well. Many churches today are outwardly beautiful but remind me of the Laodiceans in Revelation 3, they think they are rich and blessed by God but they are wretched and poor.

                                        The beautiful church, oh and look, it's in a cave.

7 – Not breaking bread together.

I am not referring here to the way that communion is generally practiced. I am talking about coming together as a church around a table and breaking bread over a meal together. This is what Jesus commanded his disciples to do in remembrance of him, in the book of Jude it is called a “Love feast” (verse 12).  In 1 Corinthians Paul rebukes the church for not discerning the Lords body (11:29), the context reveals that the poor were going home hungry while those with excess were getting drunk! Families eat together, share with one another and fellowship together (12:12). This may not be possible in a large church but where God dwells you would still expect to see it happening among the home groups etc.

8 – Power hungry leaders

Leaders who desire power and control are extremely dangerous. Know the difference between being allowed to ask questions and question things. Some people feel important if they are your go to guy for doctrinal questions but will lash out when you start to disagree with them. Peter warned elders that they were not to Lord over Gods flock (1 Peter 5:1-3). Godly leaders do not pull rank on others, instead they come under others and build them up.

Well that’s 8 things, the list could be longer but the real question is how do we fix it all? One individual doesn't make a church but we can always start with ourselves. By examining our motives and goals and prayerfully exchanging them for what God wants to do we can begin to make a change for the better. Let us make sure that when Christ returns the bride has made herself ready.

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