Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why Do We Make Church so Complicated?

It is enough for a disciple to be like his teacher, and a servant like his master  (Matthew 10:25a KJV)

When I first became a believer I was very excited about my new-found faith.  Since I attended a large church which offered a full menu of programs and activities, and not knowing how to grow spiritually, I enthusiastically signed up for everything the church had to offer.  I was literally at the church six days a week.  It was perfect for me since I was single – I had nothing else to do.   After I got married and started a family, I kept up the pace.  And this was also how I learned to do ministry – by replicating what I had been exposed to.

Over the years, however, I came to realize that such a ministry model has a serious downside:  (1) Keeping people too busy with church-realted activities is actually detrimental to family life and puts a strain on marriage.  (2) Secondly, you don’t need to be at the church all the time in order to grow spiritually.  (3) It usually the same handful of workers who are burdend with running the program activies.  (4)  It is usually the same handful of peopel who participate in the programs, and before the current one ends are asking "what's next?  It's very hard to keep these widow shoppers happy for very long.  (5) And as a minister, I have also come to understand the futility of keeping myself that busy by launching and maintaining new programs all the time. 

As I have mentioned before I am a devotee of the simple church concept (see here).  I don’t think churches should be complicated, over-programmed, or keep people too busy.  But it is a daunting task to actually convince people of the benefits of keeping a church simple.

Churches typically have such a full menu of programs and activities that would make the average cruise ship activities director envious.  There are men’s groups, women’s groups, singles groups, college groups, newly married groups,  coffee shops, concerts, parents ministry, senior citizens ministry, counseling ministry, recovery ministry, midweek services, Sunday night services, classes, field trips, small groups, softball teams, outreach events, and the list goes on.

The question for me is:  do we even know why we are doing them?  Do they serve a real purpose – say, towards making disciples – or are we doing them because someone somewhere decided that’s how church is supposed to be done?

I know the expectations of church shoppers are quite high and the competition is stiff.  If the church down the street has a gymnasium, we’d better think about a building program to keep up.  We don’t want to lose families who have athletic kids.  The pressure is incredible – we have to keep doing more, producing more, and constantly thinking up fresh ideas to retain our visitors or they might not return.

My point is that many of the expectations people have (of churches) are not even based on the Bible.  Church leaders, in response to these expectations, get on a treadmill of busyness in an attempt to meet the perceived needs of people.  Combined, it becomes an endless cycle of unbiblical duties.

The goal of the church is to “make disciples” (Matthew 28:19) – nothing else.  There is no Plan B.  And for those who are successfully discipled…. “it is enough” for them to simply be like Jesus (see Matthew 10:25a above).  They are perfectly content to be like their Lord.  They don’t need a full list of activities on the church menu, smoke bombs, light shows, cutting edge technology, or a church baseball team to keep them in church.  The pursuit of Jesus is enough for them.

Maybe the church should emphasize “being like Christ” – since “it is enough” – instead spending inordinate amounts of creative energy trying to think of a hot new program to launch or spending gobs of money to prop up that program.  We don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  It’s already been decided for us exactly what we are supposed to be doing – make disciples.  All that is needed to make disciples is (1) The Spirit of God, (2) The Word of God, and (3) The People of God.  The book of Acts is the explosive example of what happens when all three work in combination.

I’m convinced that most church activities fail at the higher mission of making disciples.  Sure it keeps people busy, active, and connected for a while, but it doesn’t translate into actually making disciples.  A hamster on a wheel is active, but he’s not going anywhere.  Salmon swimming upstream to spawn are making progress.  The difference is glaring.

I’ve observed that churches talk about fellowship, yet, too often people are so busy getting their kids checked-in and themselves off to their ministry stations that very little fellowship takes place.  And church staff are so busy plugging ministry holes left by vacationing volunteers that it’s difficult to say much more than a hello.

Can we slow down?  Can we slow down long enough to actually say hello to someone this Sunday morning and have a meaningful conversation with them?  Can we take the time to notice the person who is barely holding it together?  Can we create an environment where it’s okay to not be okay?

Maybe we should do less church stuff so that we are free to pursue Christ.  After all, "it is enough" for the person who truly longs for Him.

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