I remember my wedding day so clearly. Standing at the front of a small church in Greenwood, Mississippi, with my legs shaking, I watched as the doors finally opened. There was my wife. I really couldn't believe she was marrying me.
When I think about the church being the bride of Christ, I picture Jesus presenting the church to Himself and God as His bride. I think of the feelings of excitement and the years of waiting, the excruciating death that was essential for the marriage to become official. What a moment.
In the years since, the church has changed a lot. That's not surprising (or bad). Things change. But the bride Jesus died for isn't the same one that exists in many churches today.
You see, when Jesus died for the church, He died for men and women who would function as His hands and feet. He died for sacrificial followers who would be driven by love, motivated by joy, equipped with a message and led by the Spirit.
The church desperately needs to rediscover the true bride of Christ. Here are seven churches Jesus did not die to accommodate:
1. The cool church. The cool church discussion starts with this: There's a difference between a cool church and a relevant church. Cool churches filter Jesus through the lens of culture. Relevant churches filter culture through the lens of Jesus.
Cool churches only hire worship leaders who look like models, avoid any message dealing with self-denial and build facilities that can be seen from space with the naked eye.
These churches don't understand that the message of Christianity is offensive. It always has been. It always will be. Any church that believes you must be cool to keep insiders or attract outsiders misses the whole point of the gospel.
Jesus didn't die for cool churches. It's time to let go of this idea that Jesus is pleased with any attempt to attract large crowds on the basis of anything other than the offensive message of the gospel.
2. The 1970s church. A few weeks before Tiffani and I moved to Jackson, we drove up to look at a few houses. We wanted to live in a culturally diverse area, so we targeted older homes in the mid-town area. Most of the ones in this area sell not long after being on the market.
But a few had been on sale for months, if not years. The reason?
When you walked in the front door, you stepped back in time 20 or 30 years.
The same is true of 1970s churches.
These churches were probably booming ... in the 1970s. But if you walk into these churches today, you won't notice anything booming. You will, however, notice bell bottoms and some kind of wood paneling.
Since most 1970s churches are unaware anything is wrong, here are a few signs to watch for:
a. Church leaders answer questions no one is asking. For example, should churches use the piano, the guitar or sing a capella? What's the proper attire for Sunday morning worship? You know who cares about these questions? 1970s churches. Everyone else is discussing things that matter.
b. Most conversations include some reference to "the way things used to be." "If we could just become the church we were 20 years ago? Man, those were the good ol' days." Instead of focusing on future opportunities, these churches relive past experiences.
c. There are very few millennials in the church. The average age is 69.35. One or two people occasionally babysit their grandkids. That's where the 0.35 comes from.
d. The word "change" lives in the same house with certain four-letter words. You know, the ones that would cause mom to wash your mouth out with soap? A slow death is viewed as a badge of honor. "We might not be growing, but at least we're not sacrificing 'the truth of the Scriptures' like those hippie churches. They're just trying to entertain people."
e. Everyone speaks in a foreign language. I'm not talking about Spanish. I'm referring to Christianese. Phrases like "transubstantiation" and "hedge of protection" are used often.
The church must strive to remain relevant. This includes altering the context of the message, but not the content of it. This means studying culture for the purpose of reaching it. This means updating the building. It means getting out of the building. And it means speaking in a language the current culture can understand.
Jesus isn't impressed with a 1970s church. He's saddened by it, and unless these churches make some renovations, they will eventually be empty.
3. The business-driven church. Plain and simple, the church is not a business. Does the church have business-like layers? Absolutely. Even Jesus had a treasurer.
But the church isn't primarily a business. Here are a few signs your church is run like a business:
a. Other churches are competition. Motivation for changing a worship style, ministry philosophies and so on is driven by changes from churches around them.
b. Success is primarily measured using numbers. What was the attendance in worship? Is the budget trending up or down? If numbers are up, things are moving in the right direction.
c. Vision doesn't expand beyond the physical location. To put it bluntly, building a huge physical kingdom in the form of large buildings and huge crowds is more important than expanding God's kingdom. The largest percentage of the budget is spent on facilities.
d. Pastors are hired hands. The staff is paid to do whatever they're told. They are the church's property. When outsiders or visitors ask about church ministries, the response is, "We pay the pastor for that."
e. There is no distinction between converts and transfers. A disgruntled family from the church across town deciding to place membership and someone hearing Jesus for the first time and deciding to be baptized are viewed the same way.
f. Words like "irresponsible" are used to justify playing it safe. Decisions that involve faith and risk are rarer than snow near the equator. Every decision is about protecting the bottom line and making sure the numbers add up.
A Spirit-led church can't be business-driven. Budgets aren't evil. Attendance records aren't bad. But the church Jesus died for can't be run like a Fortune 500 company. It must be unapologetically focused on people over numbers and the global commission over the physical location.
4. The social-club church. Recently, while staying with a good friend, I noticed a cup in his pantry that said "Junior League." On the opposite side of the cup was a list of requirements for membership. The list included things like volunteering in the community, attending monthly meetings, paying a small fee and registering to vote.
The list looked striking similar to the ones required for membership at many churches. Volunteer in the community during church-wide service night. Pay a small percentage of your income to the church. Attend weekly gatherings.
So the church is a social club? Some churches are, yes, but churches led by the Spirit—absolutely not.
Every pastor and church leader needs to ask this question: If the Holy Spirit left your church, what would be different? Would you even know?
Some churches are so program-driven that their church could operate for months (maybe years) without the presence of God.
Here's the scary part. It's possible to see "results" in your church without the presence of God. Just appeal to the crowds. Be cool and don't talk about the cross.
But it's impossible to be a church that values becoming more like Jesus unless the Spirit leads, prayer and fasting are integral, and a desire to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth is foundational.
5. The family church. This one is hard because I used to believe Jesus died for the family church. But after a few years in full-time ministry, I see the dangers. Here are a few:
a. Keeping everyone happy is given priority over challenging people to walk in the radical footsteps of Jesus. Keep the peace. Everyone should be happy. Cater to every complaint and disgruntled member. If someone leaves the church, you might as well roundhouse kick the leaders in the baby makers. It's that big of a deal.
b. There's no place for hard questions. This would violate point 1. Families want to remain happy and peaceful. So, any church gathering becomes a "no hard questions" zone.
c. Secrets are often buried because the family name must be protected. The reputation is given high value. If someone commits a sin that might bring shame on the name of the church, this person is asked to bury it.
d. Outsiders aren't accepted easily. If you're born into the family, you're accepted without hesitation. If not, the process for becoming part of the family is extremely difficult.
It's not that churches can't value a family environment. But churches can't value a family environment more than personal transformation, restoring hope to the surrounding community and equipping people for ministry, among other things.
6. The fighting church. Fighting churches get one thing right. They realize they are in a war. But these churches fight the wrong enemy. The church's fight isn't against homosexuals. It's not against the Supreme Court or the president. It's not against atheists, agnostics or Muslims. The church's fight is against Satan.
But don't say this to fighting churches. They will get defensive and ... you guessed it ... start a fight.
Fighting churches operate out of fear, and their primary weapon is manipulation. They indoctrinate their members, convincing them that everyone outside of their group, including other Christians, are wrong and misguided. And heaven forbid you decide to leave a fighting church. If you do, make sure you're chinstrap is buckled. You're now on the "other team." And fighting churches aren't scared to run over your name and reputation.
This was partly my story. I wasn't taught a message of love and acceptance. I was taught a message of exclusion. My group was right. Everyone else was wrong. And I was armed with a lot of Scriptures to back up my convictions. You didn't want to debate me. You would lose. Plain and simple.
But while I debated other Christians and tried to convert people from other denominations, bitterness and pride built up in my heart.
You see, many churches would rather be right than righteous. They would rather convince than convert. They would rather learn doctrine than love people.
The church should be more concerned with loving people than convincing people.
The church should be a place where people say, "I'm not sure about their practices or their God, but I know one thing ... those Christians sure know how to love people."
Can that be said about your church?
7. The white and black church. I grew up in the Deep South. In my hometown, there were white churches and black churches. No one asked questions. No one saw it as alarming.
White and black churches would get together once a year to worship and gorge themselves on food. Even during my teenage years, I saw this as odd. Every segment of society had moved passed the racial barrier ... except the church. What Martin Luther King Jr. said years ago is still true: "Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America."
I went to school with black people. They were my good friends. I played sports with people of other races. My parents worked with people of other races. But I didn't go to church with people of other races. On Sunday morning, white people went to white church. Black people went to black church.
To this day, the only legitimate response I've received is: "It's not about race, Frank. It's about preferences and cultural differences."
Accepting racially or socio-economically divided churches is sin.
If your church is almost exclusively white, black or Latino, I'm not saying you should trash your church and start over. You should, however, work toward reconciliation. Pray for it. Preach on it. Practice it.
Jesus didn't die to accommodate white churches and black churches. He died to create the church, a beautiful reflection of God's perfect love for all races and nations.
What are some other types of churches Jesus didn't die to accommodate? Leave a comment below.
Frank Powell serves in the Campbell Street Church of Christ in Jackson, Tennessee, ministering to college-age and young adults. For more from Frank, visit frankpowell.me. For the original article, visit churchleaders.com.
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