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What happened to my church?

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“Ron,what’s happened to my church? It seems they no longer want us older saints. They are shoving all of us aside and replacing us with younger people. Don’t we matter any more”?

A precious,dear saint of God named Sarah* said those words to me over twenty years ago.In her confusion,hurt, and grief she wanted to let me know that she was struggling with all of the change that had suddenly engulfed her world.

Change can do that to us,to all of us,can’t it?

You would have to know this dear sister to fully appreciate her sense of despair.A woman of very humble upbringing,married but never able to have children,her church became her whole life.

Though limited in education and resources, she long ago had committed herself to doing all that she could do for her church. Indeed,it sometimes seemed as though the church was the family she never had.

She was there when the doors were open.She prayed daily for her church,not once but several times each day.And let me tell you,when Sarah prayed she got down to business with God! She had a way of praying that made me think that this woman was in touch with Something not of this world.

To her,the church was the very epicenter of her existence and she was determined to do everything within her modest means to ensure it remained healthy.She gave faithfully.She loved everyone.She also believed in “telling in like it is”,if you know what that means.She dished out love and correction with equal fervor.

She read and studied constantly,and she had a way of presenting the gospel that made it seem to come alive.Though she never attended Bible college, she could hold her own and then some when someone wanted to show off their knowledge of the Bible. Listening to her one could almost sense the love of God embracing you as she spoke of her Savior.

Unbeknownst to Sarah however ,her world was about to be turned upside down.

A meeting had been called at the church.Something about needing approval for something or other.Comments were made during the meeting about the need to become more modern,to do things the way other,more progressive churches were doing them.

It didn’t seem to matter that the church was vibrant(oh my,you should have heard our choir!),attendance was growing weekly,or that we had an established ministry of feeding the homeless.

The community where the church was located enthusiastically embraced the church’s various ministries.The church was always mentioned as one of the denominations shining examples.

There was something very special about this church that you could feel the moment you walked into the sanctuary. Expectation.Enthusiasm.Loving people loving each other.New faces and kids everywhere. What could possibly be wrong with this?

Evidently,plenty.

We were told that we must change our focus. Time to shift our priorities they said. It’s a new day,a different time the leadership team declared.We needed to move away from “traditional ministry” and focus more on attracting a younger crowd.We needed programs and activities geared more toward them,we were told.

I never understood why we couldn’t do both.

Like good foot soldiers,everyone tried to follow this new ministry direction.After all,that’s what we’re supposed to do isn’t it? Bit by bit what was once a thriving faith community was reorganized into the church that leadership said the community needed. But it wasn’t the same any longer.

Tragically,it was not just the members who felt that way but the entire community noticed it as well.So much so that they stopped coming. Funny isn’t it,how those on the outside can tell there’s something wrong on the inside?

And here’s the real kicker: even the homeless stopped coming.They no longer felt welcomed in the church.You see,in the scramble to reorganize in order to make our church more attractive to the new audience they wanted,the homeless had been forgotten. Left out. Abandoned.

So they went elsewhere.Or nowhere.

As I said previously,this happened over twenty years ago. The church that I loved,the church that Sarah and so many just like her loved,closed it’s doors within a few years of that fateful meeting.What had once drew the multitudes from afar had ceased to exist.

It’s members scattered here and there,some finding a new church home while others never fully settled in someplace else. Some gave up searching altogether.As for Sarah,she found a new church home and immediately went to work for the Lord there.

You may ask why I am telling you this sad story of something that happened so long ago,and what could it possibly have to do with us today.Well,let me try to explain.

In this life we are privileged if we find something that so touches our hearts that it becomes a part of us.Like that one true love,the man or woman of our dreams.That one who will be your forever soulmate.They come around once in a lifetime and we treasure them dearly.

I feel the same way about God’s church.Even though I may say things about the church that many wished I didn’t,I love the church.I say the things I do because I have a very keen sense of what the church can and should be,and it is painful to sit and watch what has happened to the family of God.

I cannot,I will not remain silent.

Most of the readers of this blog are aware that I recently moved to another part of the country.Without a doubt,this has been a life changing event,one that has caused me to spend time in reflection,both past and future.

One part of this reflection is that I’m reminded how precious my memories of church are,especially as we attempt to find a new place of worship in what to me is a new and very different world.

You see,from my perspective church today isn’t what church used to be. Of course,there are many, many voices out there proclaiming that it can never be what it once was. Just as life can never be what it was.I get it.

Things change constantly,culture is ever evolving and morphing into the next new phase. I certainly get that. And I am not,as my sweet Princess loves to remind me,living in the past. This time.

I think of church as community,or family. My fondest memories of church seem to center around togetherness and gathering together to worship in unity and love. Perhaps it’s because growing up my own life was so void of those things that I cling to these precious memories.

And I’m struggling to find that right now.

Visiting a new church for the third time where the only two people that greet you are the pastor and his worship leader is not my idea of community. Can someone explain to me how 100 people can stare at you and never smile or offer a handshake? Hey…I even showered!

It begs the question to be asked “what,or who are you if your character more closely resembles a zombie than one of God’s children”? Ummm…where is this abundant life Jesus spoke about(John 10:10)?

Someone whose opinions I value greatly told me recently that “I should forget everything I knew about church. That church is dead and will never come back”they said.

“The best you can hope for is to just find a place to attend,sit through their programs,and realize that you have nothing to offer them by way of engagement or involvement.Just sit there,sing along,nod at the appropriate time,and go home”.

Talk about painful to hear!   My God!

I confess that this does not sit well with me. This is not the model that the Disciples gave us concerning the church. In fact,the Disciples would not recognize the church of today.

They were a part of something that was alive and powerful. The churches they established shook up the known world. Indeed,it was said that their message was capable of turning the cities upside down(Acts 17:6).

I don’t know about you,but I’m not seeing any communities being turned upside down for Jesus today. I’m not seeing the lasting effects of a life changing encounter with Jesus Christ.What I am seeing is a church that has embraced the world while forsaking its roots.

In our zeal to be more culturally attractive we have forsaken the old paths(Jer 6:16). In their place we now have a politically correct, counterfeit church that wouldn’t dare rail against sin for fear that what is hidden in its own tents might be exposed for the world to see.

See,I told you I wasn’t going to remain silent.

Please understand me. I am not against necessary change,especially if it means winning the lost and ministering to the needy. I’m all in. Matter of fact,I’m getting desperate to find a place where I can get involved! Refusing to change when it is necessary can be fatal!

What I don’t understand is why we can’t do all of that,and still be the church. A powerful church emboldened by the Holy Ghost to be the hands and feet of Jesus…to all people. Isn’t that our assignment? I mean…where’s the love?

I guess I’ve now lived long enough to fully understand what sister Sarah said all those years ago:”what’s happened to my church?”.

  • Sarah is not her real name.Out of love and respect for her I have chosen not to reveal her real name.

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Why Prayer Meetings Fail

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Many Christians,especially newer ones,do not know that one of the primary strengths of the church used to be the prayer meeting.This should come as no surprise considering that the church was birthed in an Upper Room prayer meeting.

For so many generations churches of nearly every denomination practiced regular,routine corporate prayer because they understood the dynamics of regular communication with God. For the church to do the work of the church,prayer,especially corporate prayer was a necessity that could not be overlooked.

Through the centuries the practice of corporate prayer has dwindled until in most churches it’s not even practiced any longer,and if it is it’s so sparsely attended as to be of little effect. I suppose the case could easily be made that the demise of the corporate prayer meeting coincides with the general attitude of the Laodicean church today,which is that the church of today is in need of nothing.

Especially God.

This mindset that we are in control,that we are capable of sustaining our own evangelical empires apart from God is something that the church of the book of Acts would reject outright. As would countless millions of Christians through centuries past who routinely cultivated their personal relationship with God through prayer.

Today’s prayer meeting,what little there is of it,has drastically changed in many ways from what our predecessors new,especially considering this major point: what we pray about,or for,is different now. Let me explain.

It used to be that churches had a burning desire to have a positive impact on their community for the sole purpose of winning their community for Christ. They lived the Christian life outside of the church and were examples of God’s love and grace,which served to draw the lost to the church. The primary method at their disposal to accomplish all of this was prayer!

In return,communities recognized that the church genuinely cared for them,and were concerned for their well being. What they saw was Christ extended to them in a way that they were receptive to. Such is the love of God. Like moths drawn to a flame,the love of God will draw lost men and women when nothing else will.

Churches,pastors,lay members alike were all united in the shared goal of reaching the lost,and they knew that prayer was the only way to make that happen.Think about it…what else did the church have at their disposal?

Before the days of the internet,conferences of every conceivable type, car shows,and bouncy houses God’s people relied on the sovereign moving of the Spirit,wrought by prayer,to bring the lost in.

Oh,to be able to go back in time!

Today we have every means of the newest,latest technology at our instant disposal,ready to use to market our latest strategy to bring them in.A very small percentage of this works,the vast majority does not.

Church advertising budgets(disguised as evangelism) are expanding every year,yet the results are the same:pitifully few new converts are being added despite the staggering amount of dollars spent. Growth,what there is of it is mostly from other churches,drawn to the latest gimmickry or cult of personality preacher. History has shown that this is not sustainable growth,as true discipleship has given way to strategies and methods not designed to develop the believer,but to entertain.

In short, prayer has been supplanted in today’s church by every means available. God Himself has been replaced by the inventions of man. The Holy Spirit is no longer welcomed or needed in our churches as the principal agent to draw the lost.

And I think I understand why.

Because we don’t know the One we claim to know.

We use His name.

We use His building.

We sing songs supposedly written in His honor.

We preach sermons using His words.

But we do not know Him like we claim.

If we knew Him like we claim that we do,we would be different. We would be changed.Our hearts would be pure,as would our motives. We would not be this sickly,anemic,weak institution that the world mocks in derision. If we knew Him like we say we do,we would demonstrate His attributes in all that we do.

Perhaps most importantly of all,we do not know Him like we claim we do because we ask Him to do everything except what we desperately need the most:

To change us from within.

We ask Him for things. For stuff. For favor. For anything that will please the flesh.

But we do not ask Him to change us. 

Prayer meetings are no longer in vogue. They are considered old fashioned,relics from a by-gone age. At least that’s what the church of today is being taught.

Could it be however that the real reason that prayer meetings fail,have gone out of style,are no longer considered essential,is because we do not know Him after all?

Something I pray that causes us to stop and think about on this rainy Monday…

 

Seasons

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Yesterday was the 1st day of spring and after the cold winter we experienced here in Ohio,it couldn’t be more welcome! We did a bit of shopping south of where I live and it was 68 wonderful degrees,and the bright sunshine was truly beautiful to behold.When we came back home it was “only” 54 degrees and it felt cold after enjoying the earlier warmth of the day.But as we say here in Ohio,if you don’t like the weather… just wait a day and it will change!512px-Four_Poplars_in_four_seasons (1)

Experiencing the changing seasons is not unlike the changing seasons of life when you really think about it.In fact,everything about this life is constantly changing.Even the scriptures remind us that this life is an ever evolving cycle of change.

King Solomon,considered to be extremely wise beyond his years spoke of this in the third chapter of the book of Ecclesiastes when he said this:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.
According to Jewish tradition Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon during his younger years, Proverbs in his middle years, and Ecclesiastes in his later years.If that is true it would make sense that in his later years he would begin to understand that there is indeed a season for everything in life.
Solomon had experienced the major highs of being a servant of the Most High as well as the major lows of this life brought on by his own idolatrous ways.If you read about his life it is apparent that at the end of his days he was disillusioned with materialism and earthly pleasures as the road to happiness,and in fact he never again recaptured the joy he once knew.
All of which has me wondering this Sunday morning if any of us are really that much different than this once wise king? We start out in life thirsting for knowledge and once we reach a certain level we seek even more.All the while ignoring the fact that there is but One TRUTH,Jesus Christ.
Or maybe we start out with a grand plan to acquire great sums of wealth,only to accomplish that goal and realize it did not yet satisfy us.Sort of like the man in this story from Luke chapter twelve…
16 And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
17 And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
18 And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
20 But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
Always looking for more….
The next great adventure over the horizon
The next opportunity
The next romance
The next promotion
That’s the thing about Seasons
They bring with them the winds of change
A shift in direction
A realignment of priorities
As I write this I have had a season of change handed to me and it is unclear to me what this new season will entail.My future plans had been set and I have been working towards accomplishing those plans for some time now and the end was in sight.What is that saying about “the best laid plans…?
Or as my pastor stated “it may be that God has been in the arrangements all along and is directing all of this as an answer to prayer?”
Maybe,just maybe…. God has another plan?
But such is this life,is it not?
To every thing there is a season…
How we respond to the seasons of change will show the world our true character.
It will reveal to ourselves if we are who we say we are…
Only one thing is certain and that is that God is God and that will never change.Seasons come and seasons go but He remains the same.
Is there a more sure foundation upon which to stand than that?
Be blessed,
Ron