Friday, May 07, 2010

Reflections on Church Membership

I love the Church. I’ve confessed often in these posts my recognition and angst over what is wrong with the Church. There is also much that is right with the Church and what’s more, the Church is chosen by God to carry out the mission of Christ.

I love the people of the Church, the mission of the Church and the functions of the Church. I can’t imagine life without Church.

One of the conversations that I consistently have with people about their own meaningful experience of a local church or lack thereof, is how does one find the right church? “Church shopping” can be a very difficult thing.

My first reflection is that I dislike the term and idea of “Church shopping”. It has a consumer connotation to it, meaning that I want to find a church that meets my needs. “My needs” and those of my family are important and not irrelevant but mostly my involvement in a local church is for purposes of what I can contribute. Where can I effectively serve using my gifts, talents and experience? When visiting a church one needs to do so prayerfully, seeking to discern God’s direction because it’s not ultimately about me but Him.

My second reflection is that the experience of looking for a new church home should mostly be something that happens when I make a significant geographic move and can no longer participate in my current church. Getting bored, getting sideways in a relationship, or hearing the buzz about the exciting church down the road are poor reasons for making a church move. If something becomes difficult for me in my church then most of the time I need to see that as an opportunity to grow in faith and maturity as I practice patience or forgiveness or risk a loving confrontation or work for change or any number of other things.

Today’s post is actually stirred by the reflections of Hunter Baker who said,
“Stop shopping for a church. Stop sampling. Don’t fall for all the hype of a Disneyworld experience with a Christian aura around it. Don’t chase after a superstar preacher. You can hear that on your iPod. Feel free to contribute to that ministry. But find a church where you can be part of a community of people who know each other and will help one another live the Christian life, sometimes as helpers and sometimes by being in need and providing an opportunity for others to help.”

Increasingly today, people are hiding in large churches and have a “spectator” experience that just watches the things that go on OR they have given up on church and are wandering about in some kind of individualized experience that is “spiritual but not religious”.

To experience a local church in the way the Bible discusses one must become part of a community, must exercise gifts and abilities for service and must be an incarnational expression of Jesus who is on a mission of God. Anything less is insufficient and ultimately tragic.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Pastors Losing Faith & Spiritual Malpractice

One of the blogs I read drew my attention to a study conducted by Tufts University. Having surveyed Protestant pastors they discovered that many not only don’t practice what they preach but don’t believe what they preach. Tufts called it an “invisible phenomenon” of “unbelieving clergy”.

There is not statistical evidence but anecdotal evidence in the study that clergy are losing their faith if in fact they ever had it.

A Methodist pastor admitted that he no longer believes that God exists, but his church members do not know that he is an atheist.

A Church of Christ minister confessed that he didn’t believe the doctrinal content of the Christian faith but he preaches as if he does because it is the way of life that he knows.

A Presbyterian pastor said that he remains in the ministry largely for financial reasons, acknowledging that if he let it be known that he rejects most tenets of the Christian faith he would obliterate his “ability to earn a living this way.”

One pastor revealed that his job on Sunday mornings is to play act: “I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service and performing.”

A Baptist pastor said he was attracted to Christianity because it is a religion of love but now he has become an atheist. He confided that if someone would offer him $200,000 he would leave the ministry right away.

To read the whole story click here.

As I reflected on this study three things came to mind that I’ll share---
1. I’m not shocked that a pastor or that anyone would wrestle with what they believe. Faith in Christ is something that is birthed and then nurtured and grown into maturity. We watch many characters in the Bible wrestle with their faith.

2. I was initially shocked that a pastor would no longer wrestle with faith but reach a firm conclusion of unbelief AND continue to do the work of ministry. But within minutes of being shocked I realized that I was expecting these non-believing clergy to act with integrity and courage and out themselves as non-believers. Where does integrity and courage come from but God? If you don’t believe in God or the teachings of Christ then there is not a solid basis for practicing honesty.

3. Finally I was angered. In my mind this study reflects malpractice by pastors which is more serious to me than medical malpractice because the soul is more important than the body. If these men don’t have the integrity and courage to out themselves then some other church leaders need to oust them and they need to do so quickly. Too much is at stake.

Our culture has said that everyone has their price and once that price is found then anyone will do anything. I disagree. The true follower of Christ will not renounce his faith even at the ultimate cost of his own life.

It is pitiable and disgusting that one could be bought for $200,000.