This is going to sound horribly hypocritical of me at the start; I hope you will bear with me.
This morning I listened to James McDonald talking about the "wholesale falling away of the Church in America". He cited statistics (haven't looked up where from yet) that on any given Sunday, 20% of "Christians" actually attend Church regularly. (Long time readers know we're in the 80% and a bit of the why.) He went on to cite examples of "head down" death, such as one pastor in charge of a congregation who finds Jesus a "compelling figure" but doesn't necessarily "believe everything in the songs I sing." Another, a Church Of Christ pastor named "Adam" who says he considers his "Sunday job" to be play acting- "I know what to say, how to do it, I just become an actor playing the part of a believer".
Chilling. But not my reason I'm not in Church (I have been blessed to be around pastors with heartfelt beliefs), nor the point of what I'm getting at.
McDonald based his sermon on the end of Jeremiah 5:
30 “A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in the land:
31 The prophets prophesy lies,
the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it this way.
But what will you do in the end?"
He talked about Prophets (preachers) such as these in the examples given above. And about "priests" who run things "own their own authority", i.e. like a business. And anyone with any knowledge of business or the Bible knows two things- A) what motivates a business, and B) what Jesus thought of such "church" enterprises. But the catch is, it wouldn't succeed if there weren't a lot of "Christians" who buy into the situation. So the Church has developed into a four legged triangle- Prophets/pastors on the spiritual end of things, "priests" who cater to the ever-more-important social side of things, and the people themselves. That's only three, Chris! I know, don't get ahead of me.
Another stat that McDonald gave is that, despite the fact that we SHOULD need 10,000 new churches a year to keep up with population growth, only 800 survive a first year. (Again, his stats; to learn more, his Walk In The Word ministries has available his book on the subject, The Vertical Church. You can get it "for a donation of any size". And yes, the ethical discussion this begs about the "business aspect of Church" you can battle out elsewhere, I'm trying to stay on point.) He sets this failure to even keep up with the demographics squarely on the three groups mentioned above. And he'd be right- Preachers with no conviction, pastors who are better suited to making a profit, and a congregation willing to hear these things because "fire and brimstone doesn't seem what a loving God would do", all have their part in the decline of church in America.
Ah, but faith? That's the fourth leg. "But what will you do in the end?" That verse- which McDonald's show ran out of time before he got to- is and always has been the one which hits the hardest to me. If Satan can even appear as an angel of light, how are we to root out all the false preachers? When church organizations fall increasingly under federal regulations- which, all you atheists out there, is just what the Establishment Clause was supposed to PREVENT- how do you get it so that a pastor is fully focused on Christ rather than the world? And what does it matter if the people only go to churches with a breakfast bar, a top-notch band, and a preacher that can really work that PowerPoint? Because, the Gospel begins and ends with one person.
When Jesus sent us out, He did not say, "build churches in every land," He said MAKE BELIEVERS. Church building, church buildingS, and donut shops are outgrowths of that one mission- to reach each one person. And each Christian is responsible, not only for passing it on, but keeping it alive in him/herself. As McDonald spoke about the numbers, I began to think, what if this drop off in our churches is no more than the answer to the prayer, "Lord fill our churches with true, convicted believers!" But the spreading of faith is OUR job, not His. And so, instead of the prayer being answered with Christ bringing tens of thousands into the Church, it is answered with His statement in Luke 18:8- "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" He can't bring them in if THEY AREN'T THERE! The falling numbers, the failing churches, and the piss-poor pastors aren't His failures, they are OURS.
"But what will you do in the end?" This is what I do. I don't climb up the mountain to bring down wisdom, and I don't claim to be the Voice of God on the internet. I am someone who has to ask himself what I will do in the end every day, and try to share answers I find with you. And thus we get to the point of this post- not to attack the prophets, pastors, or people that make the American Church what it is today. Because Jesus never said that perfecting the "Church in America" was the goal.
The goal is me. And the goal is you. What will you do in the end?