It usually happens about the time someone finds out that I am a pastor. What is the “it” to which I am referring? “It” is when someone tells me everything they think is wrong with the church. Sometimes it is the church they attend, but other times it is a list of reasons they no longer attend church. Most of the time, these are deep seeded feelings. I know this because in the impromptu conversation they are quite detailed in their explanation and there is no hesitation while they gather their thoughts. Is the church as bad as some of them think?
Countless theological truths probably need clarity at this point. Some want to know a definition of the church, whether I am speaking of the visible or invisible church (if this confuses you, ignore it and keep reading), if I am speaking of the local church, or if I am speaking of the global church. Let’s set all that aside for a minute. I am writing about the local church; the one you and I attend each Sunday, and maybe the one that fueled the critics’ thoughts. Whether it is the largest church you know, the smallest church you know, denominational, or non-denominational, I am talking about the local church. Moreover, I am talking about a church that holds to the authority of Scripture, the message of the Gospel (by grace through faith, only through Jesus Christ), and an orthodox view of the Trinity. (Yes, I could probably make the list longer by giving more details, but you would eventually stop reading.)
So now, let me give you a word of caution. I am about to talk about a section of Scripture in a book that has more opinions about it than there are options for coffee from your local barista – the Book of Revelation. (Cue the surprising yet troubling music: Dun-dun-duuuun!)
As I sat a read the portion to the seven churches, I thought about the many critical feelings that people share with me about churches. If you go back and read Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, you will find the following list, and I have tried to summarize the main focus of each message.
Ephesus: The Loveless Church
Smyrna: The Persecuted Church
Pergamum: The Compromising Church
Thyatira: The Corrupt Church
Sardis: The Dead Church
Philadelphia: The Faithful Church
Laodicea: The Lukewarm Church
Six out of the seven churches had some pretty serious issues at hand. In fact, only one received a favorable report. I am not going to thoroughly explain every problem, though I do encourage you to read Christ’s evaluation of each church. I desire to bring one thing to your attention – Christ called each group of gathered people a church.
The church at Philadelphia was not perfect, though Christ gave it commendation. However, Christ called it a church just like the gathered group in the city of Thyatira. These churches consisted of people who struggled with sin on a daily basis. Though in sin, Christ calls them a church and desires repentance and restoration from them. Churches struggle because they are composed of people who struggle. Some churches handle these struggles well, and some do not. Some churches deal with an individual’s struggles well, and some do not. There is no perfect church. With this in mind, we go back to the complaints, the lists of wrongs, and the voices of condemnation.
Your Church Struggles
The music may not be the greatest. The preacher may struggle to be a pastor; the pastor may struggle with preaching well. Some people are not friendly, the church may not have a large children’s program, and the youth program may not have the activities you desire. The church may have Sunday School instead of small groups, or they may have small groups instead of Sunday School. Do you see that none of these are even close to the problems that Christ saw in the seven churches addressed in Revelation?
Let’s consider that the church you attend has problems similar to those faced by the churches in Revelation. Those issues certainly need to be addressed, and there is a biblical means for doing so in Matthew 18:15-20. In some cases, if there is no repentance or corrective measure taken, it may be time to leave. (When to leave a church would require an entirely separate post.) However, I want you to know that the things people share we me often fall within the group of problems listed in the previous paragraph. Rarely do they involve the issues contained in Revelation.
You Might Be Part of the Solution
Here is my question: What are you doing to be part of the solution? We read in Ephesians 5:25-32 that Christ loves the church. Christ showed his love to the seven churches by giving them a message to produce repentance and restoration. Christ desires the church to be blameless and spotless. He wanted this for the churches in Revelation, and he desires that for our local churches. Your church with all of its problems is still a church, a group of people loved by Christ.
Let me give you three questions to ask yourself regarding your complaints:
Is the issue at hand a sin problem or a preference problem?
The music not being the kind of music you like to listen to is not a sin problem, it just means that your preference is not being satisfied. If the problem is a matter of preference, it is probably an issue within your heart. If the issue is a sin problem, then it needs to be addressed: first to the person in sin, and then possibly the leaders of the church.
Are you willing to help be a part of the solution?
Let’s say for a moment that you have a legitimate concern: youth in the church have no teacher, and there are no activities. Are you willing to set up the events or are you willing to learn how to teach the youth? Maybe your desire for something godly to happen in the church is God placing a task on your heart!
Do you love the church?
This last question is the most crucial one to answer. We should love the things our Savior loves – including the church. If you love the church, then be an edifying voice in the midst of criticism. The world deals enough blows to the church. Don’t join in on the condemnation. Show grace and mercy in your speech; show love in your willingness to serve; show your dedication to Christ by your desire to walk with your church through its struggles. If you love the church, let your words and actions give evidence. If you do not love the church, then there is an issue in your heart that needs attention.
No church is perfect, and I may have created more questions than answers. Do you pursue the church in love and service they way God pursues you? My prayer is that God would give you a passion for his church that would manifest itself in the way you speak and serve.