Why is the Church in Decline?

Statistics are clear. The polls tell the story. The American church is not well and our reputation is in shambles. Like the elephant in the room, these facts are largely ignored. News stories abound of attacks Evangelicals make on the sexual mores of unbelievers and how they take pot shots at one another. And why in the world are they looking to political leaders, i.e. Caesar, to lead us? Meanwhile, we have failed to reach Generations X, the Millennials and are failing to reach this generation.

Like dysfunctional families, some keep doing the same thing expecting different results. Others employ techniques of the entertainment world to build their churches. The model Jesus gave the apostles is largely ignored. Back then disciples were not spectators or bench warmers. Church leaders helped them find and use their gifts to lead and participate in various ministries. Today professionals disciple their people from the pulpit. A paid staff does most of the important stuff. Rank and file believers support, assist, and warm pews. Their gifts and talents are largely untapped. With a few exceptions, ministries are clergy-led. If new ministries emerge, more professionals are hired.

Jesus chose laymen. The clergy, Pharisees and Sadducees, rejected him. So Jesus turned to folks with jobs–laymen. He forged them into teams, utilizing their various gifts. He promised them His Spirit to empower them to be his witnesses. As a result His movement grew from 12 to 120 to 3000 to 10,000. The men and women he prepared succeeded by relying on the Spirit’s power and by following Jesus’ model.

Today Christians are on the sidelines, cheering the coach when they need to be on the field, blending their gifts with one another to light up the world and carry the gospel to others. Pastors need to come down from their pulpits, get to know their people, train leaders, form ministry teams and build up the body of Christ. When they do this, they help fulfill Jesus’ prayer, “Father, may they be one—may they be in unity as we are, that the world will believe.” (John 17: 21-23) When leaders trust their people to lead, enlist their talents, build community, encourage them and turn them loose, miracles can happen. New disciples can be won; neighbors take notice of us rather than scorn us. It’s what He promised. “Love each other (as equals) as I have loved you, and the world will recognize you as my disciples.” (John 13: 34, 35)

Jesus invented teamwork. St. Paul articulated it. Perhaps you have experienced the thrill of playing a team, sport or singing in a fine choir. I’ve played tennis singles and sung solos. But nothing beats shining with others to win a game or sing The Messiah. Imagine Handel’s thrill when he heard his masterpiece performed for the first time! It’s thrilling when the church functions like this. It gladdens the Lord’s heart and fulfills His vision for functional, workable, loving relationships in His body, the church

The Church an orchestra? Paul used the human body as an example of a healthy, growing church (1 Cor. 12: 14-26). We’ve changed the metaphor, but the principle is unchanged.   “…a fine orchestra is not made up of one instrument, but many different kinds. If the oboist says, “Because I don’t play the trumpet, I don’t belong,” that is foolish; and if the flutist were to say, “Because I do not beat a drum, I don’t belong,” that would be absurd.  If the whole orchestra were the flute, who would provide rhythm? And if all were percussionists, who would play the melody? As it is, the composer has written parts for all kinds of instruments, each to play its part in his great arrangement. And so it should be among you.”

“…So, the violinist does not say to the trombonist, “I don’t need you!” Nor does the guitarist say to the clarinet player, “I can handle this by myself!” On the contrary, all the instruments are needed, to blend together. Even the little piccolo is significant. Think how bleak “The Stars and Stripes Forever” would sound without him.” 

“So, even though instruments are tuned to different keys, when each plays his own part, the result is beautiful music. But if members go off playing their own tunes, they ruin the composition and throw off the others.  By the same token, when one player wins praise for his solo, all share in his glory.”

Please join the conversation. Your comments keep us going.

United We Stand

Divided We Fall. Lincoln was so committed to the idea  of unity he went to war to keep America one nation under God. Along the way he freed an enslaved race. His ideal came from Jesus,  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Mark 3: 23, 24).

Blind Spots. Are we Christians able to adjust our mirrors to see our glaring blind spot—the absurdity of rejoicing over being one nation, yet happily engaging in our own little ministries, while disregarding the work of our brethren?  From this we have many Continue reading

DAY 5: MYSTERIES OF THE KOINE

Gnosis:  What You Know or Who You Know?

Does Paul Contradict Himself? It seems so at times, doesn’t it. For example, he writes “knowledge (gnosis) puffs up, [makes one arrogant] but love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 1:8).  Yet another time he prays for believers that we may increase in our knowledge (Eph 1:17; 4:13; Phil 3:8].  But then he adds, knowledge “of Him…”of the Son of Man…“of Christ.”  We need to adjust our cultural mirror once more.

To the Eastern mind, there are two very distinct kinds of knowledge: [1] to know a thing and [2] to know a person.  To the Chinese the distinction is so important they have a separate word for relational knowing [renshr] which means “be acquainted with”.  We have no such word in English.

When We Appear Before Christ. Believers I have known, and maybe you have also, place great emphasis on doctrinal knowledge and statements of faith. Sometimes it feels they are requiring us to be ready to pass a doctrinal quiz when we appear before Christ.  Yet the truth is, it isn’t “what we know” that qualifies us as Christians, it’s “who we know.” When the King divides the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25, he never asks what they know or believe. Immediately he recognizes his own sheep from others, false believers, as goats.

“The greatest of these is love” For St. Paul, all of his great attainments and knowledge meant nothing. “I consider all these things as useless, in order that I may have an abiding  knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord. [Phil. 3:8]. When I became a believer, a key phrase was, “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  We don’t hear that phrase so much anymore. But we do have a legion of books, classes and seminars to increase our biblical knowledge. One of the finest believers I ever met was a Taiwanese woman. Mrs. Chen could not read and had limited knowledge of the Bible. But she had a shining relationship with Christ and her witness helped launch a brand new church in her neighborhood.

How Shall the World Know Us—by our knowledge or by our love? Before his death Jesus gave the answer with his new covenant mandate:  “Love one another as I have loved you.” Only then will “everyone recognize you as my disciples(John 13: 34, 35).  Yet the culture of our modern church leaves average Christians feeling they aren’t qualified to witness because, “I don’t know enough.”  I repeat, is our witness our Bible knowledge or our love? The Apostle warned,  ”Even if I have …all knowledge…and faith so as to move mountains, and have not love, I am nothing at all.”(I Cor 13:2) Love not only trumps spiritual gifts but also trumps knowledge and even faith, “Faith, hope, love, these three abide, but the greatest of these is love.”(I Cor 13:13)

Knowledge Puffs Up…Love Builds Up.  I recently tried to find study materials on love.  Most of the current books have to do with marital love.  There was little available on how to cultivate our love for Christ and its corollary, our love for fellow believers.

Our next post will cover what the Greek New Testament has to say about how to cultivate loving relationships with Jesus and one another.

Please join the conversation. Your feedback is invaluable to this blog.

Our Vision

People sometimes ask why we have such a passion to see the body of Christ come together and become one in the Spirit of God. Years ago, this burden was placed on a mentor of mine, a humble pastor whom I loved—Leonard Evans.

The Lord visited him and told him the out-pouring of the Holy Spirit in the last century was for the purpose of realizing the prayer of Christ, “Father, may they be one, that the world may believe.” Everywhere he went he preached the love message of John 13: 34, 35, “Love one another as I have loved you that the world may recognize you are my disciples.”  His people got sick of his message. “Can’t you preach something else,” they complained.  But he could not.

My good friend, Leonard, died young, I believe of a broken heart. Not only was his message rejected by everyone, the church became more fragmented than ever.

Now I’m not a visual person. I rarely see anything when I close my eyes. Yet, over 25 years ago, while in prayer I saw something that changed my life. It was vivid and in living color.

The Vision: I saw a lovely young woman, dressed in white, like a bride, wandering alone and lost in a barren wilderness. Her beautiful gown was ripped, soiled and tattered. She was thirsty and frightened. Tears stained her face. Each step she took left a bloody footprint in the sand.

“Lord,” I asked. Who is this woman?”

“My bride,” He answered, my American bride.” I wept for her! I could not stop weeping but I felt the comfort of the Bridegroom weeping by my side as well.

Excited, I began preaching and sharing this message, but like my mentor, there was little receptivity to my message. I was puzzled, Why was this vision given to me?  Finally, after so much rejection, I got discouraged and put this call aside, thinking it was too impossible.

When I retired and was ready to take it easy, I met a woman with whom I shared this vision. Immediately she accepted it as from God and later she became my wife.

“You mustn’t give up. God wants you to continue on the path he put you on.” It was like a prophecy.

I cried out to God. “What can I do?”

“Intercede,” he said, “and prophesy! Call my lost bride back home that she may be restored to her former glory.  Weep with me. Woo her and win her back to her Bridegroom. There are many others that I’m calling as well. This is the hour of her restoration.”

We are committed to this holy vision, in part through prayer and in part through this blog The Horizontal Church.

Lord of Mercy and Grace, forgive us our divisions. Heal and restore us, we pray and bring us back into the unity of former days. Restore your church to her former glory and power. 

Are You a Fan or a Spectator?

Enthusiastic Participation: Back in the day, on a Friday night in October, football was a big deal. But if you weren’t a player, a coach, a cheerleader or in the band, you were just a spectator. Today sporting events are quite different. As an old comedian used to say, “Everybody wants to get into the act.” Often we see: fans wearing team colors or crazy  get-ups; macho guys with no shirts in December; painted faces;  “No. 1” fingers and  John 3:16 waving, while everyone does “the wave.” While some of the antics are odd, we can’t help but feel this trend of enthusiastic participation is a good thing. Continue reading

Unveiling the Mystery of God

We puzzle over those well-known mysteries such as UFO’s, the Loch Ness Monster, lost Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, and the identity of Jack the Ripper. They are still unsolved, but there is one mystery that isn’t. St. Paul cited “the mystery of God [Gk: mysterium o Theos] 19 times in his writings, six times in Ephesians alone. But what is this secret of God? Continue reading

God’s Dream of Unity

In One Accord.   Imagine for a moment the discordant, jangling of trumpets, flutes and violins, all  tuning to different keys, warming up to perform a concert. Can you hear it? Suddenly there’s a tapping as the maestro flourishes his wand. It comes down and the harsh discord miraculously transforms into an exquisite sound, flooding  the auditorium with the wonder of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. These are no longer just individual instruments,  but have joined as a single entity, under one head, uniting in perfect harmony.    Continue reading