It is exciting to see that the USA is starting to open up for business again after that deadly, silent, and invisible killer called COVID19 has done tremendous damage to our psyche, economy, and national pride. It has also made us pause and contemplate where we are and where we are going, especially in the church.
People want things to return to near normal as soon as possible. Most are relishing a visit to their friends and families, going to their favorite restaurants, and getting back to church. Ah yes, church! So many can’t wait to get back to church, hear sermons, meet friends, study the Bible, go out to eat afterward, and remain the same.
Wait, did I say, “remain the same?” Yes, it was intentional. The church in America has been asleep for decades now. Pastors across the nation lament that their congregations are lethargic and not really motivated by the Gospel. There are some that are on fire, but not many. Why?
The Apostle Paul stated it Clearly to his protégé in 2 Timothy 3: 1-5: “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.
Our world and society have crowded out the Gospel with other more enticing pleasures. People flock to sporting events, movie theaters, malls, restaurants, and a host of other distractions. Meanwhile, the church is trying to offer similar kinds of things with high powered music, darkened facilities with light shows, hip pastors with feel good messages, and programs for every palate and taste.
Let’s take a hard look at the problem. First, there is the feel-good theology that is rampant throughout most churches in America. It’s that doctrine that says this religious stuff is all about me, a pop psychology that does not address the real underlying spiritual conditions or issues that plague us. John Piper I once said in a sermon that nearly anyone can form a church and get thirty thousand in attendance. He meant that large numbers of people attending church does not necessarily mean there is true revival or awakening in those that are present.
Secondly, there is a trend away from formal church attendance especially among the younger generations. According to studies by Pew Research Center: 71% of millennials are at least “fairly certain” they believe in God. 67% of millennials rank religion as at least “somewhat important” in their lives. But only 28% attend church at least once a week. I believe the reason is that these young people find no attraction to the church of their parents or grandparents. The church is not relevant for them. The reason is this: feel good theology is not attractive to those who are in need of deeper meaning.
Third, Westernized Christianity does not reflect the reality of the Gospel. I just returned from Israel after an extended stay to study their history and culture. First Century Christianity was more about the community than the individual. Just look at the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:
“‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Not one word about the individual in this model prayer that the Lord taught His disciples. It was all about “us” not “I.” There is a united sense of community, of intimacy in small groups, and the power of being united together.
The real reason the US military is so strong is that in the very heart of the formation is a small unit. It really starts at the lowest level with an Infantry squad of about four to ten Soldiers led by a seasoned Non-Commissioned Officer usually in the rank of Sergeant. The next largest unit is the platoon with about four squads with a total of 40 plus Soldiers and is led by a lieutenant with an NCO as second in command. A platoon usually consists of three to four squads or sections.
These small units are the centerpiece of the Army because they train, sleep, eat, and fight together. They know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and they watch each other’s backs in combat. They live and die together.
Somewhere along the line, the church has lost its way and we need to get back to basics and our center which is the very heart of the Gospel in John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” You cannot love if you do not know each other, if we attend a large gathering every week and then walk out with no change, no real fellowship, and no knowledge in community, then what difference is it really making in our lives, in society, our country, and our world?