“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?
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.