Oct 092017
 

“Have It Your Way”

In the next week, somewhere between 150 and 220 churches will close their doors for good.  During that same week, about 20 new churches will open their doors with about an 80% success rate in remaining open for the first five years. Now, math has never been my strong point, but I think I can figure this one out and the result is not comforting.  Our 16 surviving new church plants will not make up what has been lost.  The new churches will, of course, mitigate the loss, but only by about 10%.

For many reading this post, the figures above will not matter.  Some have already abandoned the idea of ever finding a place within a local community of faith.  Others have a community of faith with which they are satisfied.  Still others simply have no interest in what is taking place in the larger context of church life in America as, for whatever reason, it does not affect them directly.  

For myself, I find the numbers to be wholly expected having watched the downward trend over the last few decades.  I also, however, find the numbers deeply disturbing.

Now it’s time for a confession. Although I often write about the importance of the local church and its attendant ministries, I generally have to force myself to go to church. Much of the time I really don’t like it.  (It’s one of the reasons that I will occasionally visit other other churches.)  I don’t like it to the extent that sometimes I wonder why I am there.  I try to filter out the “professional” side of things.  Having taught liturgy and participated in churches with a high standard in the area of worship, I find the local expression of liturgical life less than satisfying.  Having spent the majority of my adult life being concerned about history, doctrine and their cogent presentation in well chosen words, either in lectures or in books, I find most preaching less than inspiring.  Yet, there I am in my pew… and I’m wondering, “Why am I here?”.

At this point, I could try to reclaim my piety and simply say that I am there to take part in the Eucharist, but even that’s not wholly true.  After all, I could don a alb and stole, invite my wife and a couple of friends and celebrate the Eucharist in my home.  My wife could read the first lesson, my friend, Michael, the second and I could proclaim the Gospel, give an abbreviated homily and move straight to the Lord’s Supper.  It would be a valid celebration.  It would certainly be acceptable to me and my preferences, but would it be “church”?

Perhaps if we were living in a time of persecution and having to live out our faith in secret, I could call it “church”.  Regardless, however, of what you read on the internet, we are not undergoing a persecution of the Church here in the United States.  If anything, we have been given so many perquisites and privileges in this country that we no longer understand what real persecution is all about.  The last time I read one of Michael Newnham’s columns, he might have had some comments in a thread that took issue with one or more statements he made, but I’ve yet to see his column written to us as a letter telling us that he is on his way to Rome to be fed to wild beasts in the arena!

So, why is church so difficult and, again, why should we be concerned with the numbers that are being reported?

Here I can speak only for myself.  Church is not about us as individuals.  It is not about our preferences.  It is not about our likes and dislikes.  It is not about our contemporary consumer culture, but that culture, in my opinion, has influenced our expectations.

Allow me to illustrate…

Once upon a time in the dark and distant past, when dinosaurs roamed the planet, I used to buy albums – LPs – by artists that I liked.  I might have only heard one song, but I bought the whole album.  I would read the liner notes.  Sometimes the album only had that one great song, but most of the time I discovered new songs that I had not heard before.  Often, I fell in love with music that, apart from buying that album, I would never have discovered.  In that same distant past, I went to bookstores.  (For the uninformed among you, these were large buildings with thousands of books for sale, that you could look at first, then buy and take home with you. Most cities in the distant past had many such emporiums.)  Often, I would go to buy one book and emerge with several others that I had chanced upon and perked my interest. 

Then along came iTunes and I could purchase just the one song that I liked, without bothering with the others.  Still later came streaming services that would create playlists based upon what I had listened to earlier.  If I wanted a book, I could order it in one click and not be distracted by other titles on the shelf.  Now my purchases, my listening, my reading, could be all about me… my preferences, my likes and dislikes.  Moreover, we’ve grown to expect it in almost every area of our lives, from the movies we can view on demand, to cable news that espouses or echoes our point of view, to the cars that we can order to our specifications. 

I also think that many of us have come to expect this of church.  As a fast food chain would say, “Have It Your Way”… and it is killing us. 

Like it or not, church is a corporate experience of give and take, not in terms of doctrine or creedal affirmations, but in terms of personalities, preferences, likes and dislikes. It is a place of discovery where we hear songs that we did not know in the lives of others; where we read books of which we have been unaware in the experiences of others. It is ultimately a family and, as in any family, there will be arguments and disagreements but, (and this is in the best of families) there will be a bond of love that rises above all of the rest. 

So, once again, why is church so difficult and, again, why should we be concerned with the numbers that are being reported?

I would like to suggest that the difficulty is not primarily that of the church, it is us. Our expectations have become shaped by a contemporary culture that tells us at every turn that we should have what we want when we want it.  It is a culture that is built around immediate gratification in which patience is not a virtue, but rather, it is a vexation. It is a culture that says your choice is paramount and that commercial enterprises and institutions (including the church) should cater to that choice because, after all, if they don’t, someone else will.

The closing of churches should concern us, because it tells us much about ourselves.  Yes, it tells us about aging congregations, shifting demographics and changing rural and urban population patterns.  It also tells us that many of us, including myself, have imported many of the expectations of contemporary consumer culture and, if and when our expectations fail to be met, we are perhaps too willing to depart.  Certainly, many have… and churches continue to close their doors.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project 

 

  85 Responses to ““Have It Your Way”: Dr. Duane Arnold, PhD”

  1. Two thoughts on Duane’s post:

    “Regardless, however, of what you read on the internet, we are not undergoing a persecution of the Church here in the United States.”

    That’s for sure. I’m beyond tired of the Christian snowflakes who bleat about this.

    “It also tells us that many of us, including myself, have imported many of the expectations of contemporary consumer culture”

    True. I’m not sure what the answer is, either. I do remember reading a book by Marva Dawn called “Reaching Out Without Dumbing Down.”

    I do think communions that are transcultural (RCC, Anglicans, Orthodox) might have a bit of a buffer against being coopted by our consumer mentality…if you’re denom. was born here in the US, well, I don’t think that’s gonna be much benefit in our consumer culture…

  2. The other thing that “boutique” churches, like “boutique” television has done is to take away the shared experience in the community and culture.

    I was talking to a fellow the other day who was going to attend a new church plant solely because it met a checklist of expectations for very young people.

    Theology was not one of the considerations, as all the expectations seemed to revolve around avoiding older people.

    Instead of bring the community together in Christ, the church was setting itself up as just another channel on the cable like entertainment of the area, drawing one sliver of the demographic.

    It will last until the leaders and the congregation age enough to make skinny jeans uncomfortable…

  3. Bob1

    “I do think communions that are transcultural (RCC, Anglicans, Orthodox) might have a bit of a buffer against being coopted by our consumer mentality.”

    Bob, I would agree about the EO, but I think Anglicans and the RCC have already been substantially coopted. The desperation for “anything that works” is virulent…

  4. Michael

    “The other thing that “boutique” churches, like “boutique” television has done is to take away the shared experience in the community and culture.”

    Agreed, 100%… and it is becoming more and more fragmented by the day…

  5. Duane,

    I don’t have much experience with the RCC, though I live in Catholic Land. I would assume that like Protestant churches, a lot of the tone/direction is set by the priest?

    A related issue, I think, is what you and Michael are talking about WRT “boutique” churches taking away from shared experience. Like it or not, I’d bet a lot of people who attend church really don’t want to rub shoulders with their counterparts during the rest of their week. That’s a problem if you want to foster community!

  6. One of the dangers of aging is, to think that the ‘old days’ and ‘old ways’ were the ‘best’ and ‘that’s when God was working’ and the church was healthy and all change is bad. I disagree.

    The examples of how culture has changed in terms of buying books at a boookstore and buying music in vinyl form are the same reasons why the church as we knew it has changed. Culture has changed. And, that is not my fault. The world has changed in the last 50 years, like it changed in the 50 preceding years, and the 50 years preceding that. Change is normal. Not always good. Not always bad. Transportation has changed, Sanitation has changed. Foods have changed, medical care has changed, homes and clothing have changed. None of these things have any spiritual value.

    I have numerous older friends who refuse to text or buy a ‘smart phone’ because they want a “real conversation on a real phone”. They don’t want Facebook because they don’t want that “superficial” relationship with people. Thus, they loose touch with people because that’s how life is. it is hard for older folks to deal with new technology.

    To quote the immortal Bruce Hornsby, ‘that’s just the way it is”.

    Everything in life is changing. Every day when I look in the mirror I see changes that I don’t want or would have chosen, but are part of normal life. I am the one who has to choose to adapt and be thankful and just keep loving God and loving people.

    The Church is the same, as it’s full of changing people, but God has not changed, Malachi 6:8 is still there. He doesn’t change. Jesus is still the same yesterday, today and forever. Church is not God. It is far from being the only place where community happens, or ministry happens or worship happens. Church culture, demographics and styles have changed with the times. The Fruit of the Spirit is still Agape. To Love God and love people.

    I, for one, am beyond thrilled for the new church plant in my old home town, meeting at the same location where,45 years ago our church plant started and met. No Hawaiian shirts now. Skinny jeans instead. Who cares. Becoming all things to all people that some would be won to Christ is what is important.

    Every year, God gives us Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn to remind us that life is in constant change. People and churches are born and die every day, yet God is on the Throne, His wonders are everywhere to behold when we ‘look up and lift up our heads’.

    Every moment, we get to choose to have joy in the midst of trials. We get to choose to look at whatsoever is right, just, pure, true, lovely and worthy of praise. Or, we can use our days to sit and bitch and moan about stuff we don’t like. Smiling is fun. So are skinny jeans.

  7. #5 Bob

    Yes, in the RCC it is very much the priest that sets the tone. In most cities you’ll find everything from a guitar Mass to a Latin Mass…. and everything in between!

  8. I do think communions that are transcultural (RCC, Anglicans, Orthodox) might have a bit of a buffer against being coopted by our consumer mentality<<<<

    I think so. My parish is the only EO church in town so if you are EO, that's where you will probably go, no matter your ethnicity or status, unless you want to do some serious driving to find a parish that caters to your own ethnicity.

    Typically on a Sunday morning we have people from Jordan, Romania, Macedonia, Egypt, Mexico, El Salvador, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Canada (our priest), Russia and of course, the US. We have PhD's and people working for minimum wage with most in between.

    No musical instruments, no drum set behind the plexiglass, no amps on the stage (no stage) no wires and cables, no screen for power point slides, no real need for electricity at all. Plenty of sweet-smelling bees wax candles. The only way you could easily tell it's not the year 1200 would be the clothes worn by the people, which are modern but still modest (scarves and skirts for women),

    No glaringly modern artwork, no jarring music, no jokes from the podium (no podium, really), no skinny-jean wearing tattoo-sporting pastor…. It's all quite different from the World. If you want to get away from the World for a few hours on Sunday Morning, in preparation for living in (but not of) the World the rest of the week, I invite you to visit your local Eastern Orthodox Church.

    Thinks don't change much in Ortholandia and as someone here said (Duane?) Orthodoxy won't change for you,.

  9. Xenia

    You have described what I envy in Orthodoxy… No so long ago, if you attended an Anglican service, here or overseas, you somewhat knew what to expect – Anglican choral music, a usually intelligent sermon, the Book of Common Prayer, etc., with a varied congregation. That has all broken down in just the last two decades or so. It’s beginning to break down in the RCC…

  10. I found an interesting article where the author thinks most folks in the churches know little about theology and the Bible. I would guess that quite a few of the folks on here would agree.

    https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/protestant-or-catholic-were-theological-and-biblical-illiterates

  11. I find that most people who have stopped going to church have not been taught that going to church is a necessity of being a Christian and in many cases have heard the voices of those who actually teach it is not needed.
    But I am with Paige – change is out there. I for one am glad that we no longer wear those Pilgrim outfits to church.

  12. Well said and well written, Duane….

    I remember buying entire albums based on hearing one song. I remember feeling like I was starting to get to know the artist after ingesting and studying the entire album, reading the notes, etc….I still have most of the albums, too.

    Now, I hear what Paige is saying. And I have had to learn (it’s been hard) not to complain about things in my own church I don’t like. Some of the musical offerings that go on do , in fact, make me cringe.

    But my complaining about it just makes your point, Duane. I complain because I want it to be about me, at least in the area of musical taste. And I have to agree with your assessment of the direction of our culture – we’ve been trained that we should have things the way we want them.

    I’m sure there are good things going on in newer,younger churches. But I wonder about the wisdom of catering to a specific demographic. My own church has a pretty broad age range, as well as a mix of ethnicity. So everyone has to learn to find out what makes the other person different than them, and how to get along.

    Xenia, based on your description, I’m beginning to wish there was an EO parish anywhere near me I could visit. I am intrigued.

  13. Owen

    Many thanks. Yes, you got the real point I was trying to make – it’s not about us! I think change is just part of the order of things and the only real certainty in life. My concern is basing our church life on personal preferences and, when that doesn’t work out, we pick up our toys and go elsewhere. I’m afraid that our “personalizing” of church is sending us over the cliff…

  14. the effect of culture on the church, rather than visa versa, is far more pervasive than most would imagine. Sadly, the perceptions of the Church’s influence on culture are largely windmills evangelicals have tilted at for 75 years which tend to be unbiblical anyway…

    color me jade(d) and largely non-attending

  15. Thanks, Xenia…

    It appears the closest one to me is a 4 hour drive,(or 5 at the wrong time of day!).

    We are fond of the particular city and have visited there before, so we may have to add it to the list for next trip.

    I will admit, I had no idea there were even that many within that distance. We live on Vancouver Island.

  16. #16 Owen

    I counted seven Orthodox churches on the island…

  17. Does anyone know if the history of Russia’s attempt to colonize the northwest coast of what is now the United States and Canada is responsible for the number of Orthodox churches? We do seem to have a large population of very successful Greeks, but it would be interesting to know how many churches can trace their history in the area back for 200+ yeard …

  18. Em. it is responsible for the large number of Russian-flavored Orthodox churches in Alaska and also on the West Coast. The Orthodox Church in America is the direct descendant of this missionary effort. The Greek archdiocese got its start on the east coast.

  19. #Xenia

    Did the Alaska mission hit around the 1790s? I know there are some historic Orthodox churches in the Northwest.

  20. Thank you, Xenia … There must be some fascinating stories in the history

  21. I should explain that that “Orthodox Church in America,” the “OCA,” is one of several Orthodox jurisdictions in North America. It is the descendant of the Russian missionaries, as I noted above. The other Russian jurisdiction, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) has a different origin. When the Church under Communism in the USSR became corrupted, ROCOR broke away from the Moscow Patriarchate to maintain integrity. Since the break up of the USSR, the Moscow Patriarchate and ROCOR have reunited. (Ours is a ROCOR jurisdiction.) There are other jurisdictions as well, such as those of the Syrians (Antioch), Bulgarians, etc.

  22. Duane @ #17,

    That’s odd, it only showed me two, both in Victoria.

    I do know that my town and the one next nearest do not have any. We frequent both towns.

  23. Duane, the search terms I used were: postal code V9W 1W1, radius 250 miles, British Columbia.
    Perhaps it gives different results to different search origins….

  24. #24 Owen

    I did a google map search with “Orthodox Churches” and “Vancouver Island”

  25. Xenia

    Yes, 1794 was the mission! Nice to know the memory cells have not all departed…

  26. Ah, okay Duane. I used the link Xenia sent.

  27. #15 filbertz

    Yes, we’re supposed to be the “salt”… seems these days, it’s the other way round.

  28. The Russian missionaries to Alaska traveled all the way across Siberia and crossed the Bering Strait. We venerate several of them today: St. Innocent, St. Herman, St. Peter the Aleut (not Russian) and St. Juvenaly.

    The icon:

    https://images.oca.org/icons/lg/september/0924alaskansaints02.jpg

  29. First, I agree.

    Second, though…Everyone here has “Had it your Way”, myself included, and even those who are attending as much. We did some shopping and made our choices. A clever hell we create, yet none of us would change our choices and go to a different style church next week to prove that we shouldn’t “Have it your Way”.

    So we create exactly what we wanted only to really dislike what we created.

  30. #32 Josh

    Solution?

  31. The same as always.

    Faithfully affect change in the local area where you serve.

  32. #34 Josh

    I think affecting change has to do with being “counter-cultural”, especially in regard to the consumer oriented culture that we are immersed in these days.

  33. “Yes, we’re supposed to be the “salt”… seems these days, it’s the other way round.”

    But that is just how it ‘seems’ and not how it actually is. Perhaps we need to look at the good being done by the churches today instead of always looking down on the church and picking at scabs. I was just reading this article about radio host Delilah Rene and you find in the midst of her current tragedy the fine work she does as a Christian.

    http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/09/entertainment/delilah-son-suicide/index.html

    Now some here may go to crap for churches and have left instead of staying to make a difference – but there is much more good going on than what we complain about – I am sure by factors of thousands to one.
    Because culture has all the assault riffles in this battle and seems to control the narrative, doesn’t mean that the church has given up.

  34. @ 35 – Absolutely. And that begins locally. First in my house, then neighborhood, etc.

  35. First, I do not easily accept these numbers and wonder what their parameters are. 20 church plants a week in a nation of 320 million souls? Or is this a denominational report.

    Next, the church has a worse reputation online than terrorism and bloggers sound like the suicide bombers of the family. This column has become so dominated by charitably pessimistic reports that it has almost fallen off my radar screen.

    Bottom line; if we are a lie born from a myth perpetuated by self-serving dogmatists then a pox on the whole lot of us and let the world shed us like every other form of useless technology. I mean Gamaliel said if it is of God then you cannot stop it. They accepted his report and beat the witnesses anyway. That is what online commenting has become.

    I dissent. Christ is alive thus his church cannot die. Let God be true and every man a liar and lets us get on with Gospelizing the human race.

    No one gets grumpier about negative gossip than yours truly. My job is to clean the stalls, feed the sheep, deal with the bleating and kill wolves. Think I will just keep on. The church may not suit our eye but God’s ugly bride is going to outlive this present age and every one to come.

    I do not write to disrespect the worthy contributors here. That is not my intent though it is my sound. I simply say NO.

  36. #37 Josh

    I think it also has to do with a very old concept of simple discipleship that we often fail to teach and/or expect.

  37. Josh wrote:

    We did some shopping and made our choices. <<<

    This is very true.

    In my case, I visited quite a few churches in the area before I bumbled into my current parish. At all the other churches I left feeling like it wouldn't be worth the effort to leave the old place and reestablish myself at the new place as they all seemed like they were trying to out-do each other to be the coolest cat in town. Then, as I say, I blundered into St. Seraphim's and it was like God grabbed me by the ears and said "Diane [that's what He called me back then] this is the place for you!" So after maybe five minutes inside I realized that I was going to join these people, no matter how hard it was going to be. So I did shop around, but I think God made the final choice for me. The "choice" had a very supernatural feel about it. No one was more surprised than I was!

  38. #38 BD

    The numbers came from the BARNA group. Cross-denominational, they are widely known for accuracy.

  39. @ 39 – Without question.

    And you make a good point about “counter-cultural”. Everything we do is counter-cultural. Discipleship is a slow, long process in a culture of quick-fix, instant gratification. We are fighting that battle one disciple at a time.

  40. BD has some killer lines in there.

    “Bottom line; if we are a lie born from a myth perpetuated by self-serving dogmatists then a pox on the whole lot of us and let the world shed us like every other form of useless technology.”

    Amen.

  41. #42 Josh

    You make a really great point. I’ve noted in a number of Church Growth programs they push for quick involvement of new attendees – ushers, choir, etc. I have no problem with that model, but I think sometimes we confuse “instant involvement” with “instant disciples”.

  42. George Barna has been in a bad mood since his mother took him out of diapers. The numbers I see suggest something more like 80/week church plants. (Source seems to be the SBC) those guys can count.

  43. BD

    It was the report including SBC, and then the denominational stats (inclusive of the RCC) and the BARNA estimates on independents… They were certain of the low of 150, but without a reporting structure among independents they had to estimate in various regions.

  44. BD

    Sorry, in terms of new plants, the number was an average of 20 per week with the 20% attrition rate.

  45. I don’t doubt the numbers. I can see it in our country. We are becoming less Christian.

    I’m not pessimistic about this, though. I think the opportunities to see God work are huge.

  46. I would rather determine what is happening in the church by the Bible instead of Barna.
    Jesus said the hearts of people would grow cold and fall away.
    Are we trying to be like Peter when he attempted to keep Jesus from the cross? Are we trying to save Jesus in not winning the popularity contest by having him not lose his fan base?

  47. #48 Josh

    I think the main opportunity is in actually teaching the faith – the earlier reference at #10 shows the work to be done, in Scripture, Theology and, of course, Church History…

  48. @ 50 – That’s my calling 🙂

  49. I think the “have it your way” mentality goes both ways. I figured out that it ran strong in me, so I submitted to a tradition that explicitly does not cater to individual whims and innovation. At the same time, the pastor has the same issues and is also submitting to the tradition. The tradition consists primarily in a shared confession of Biblical truth and the liturgy of the worship service.

    While there is certainly submission to something outside myself and self discipline against my itching ears, there is the other side, which is freedom, rest and assurance that I am receiving what Christ won for me in his incarnation, death and resurrection.

    I found this freedom in no small part through this blog.

  50. #52 Bob1

    That brings back some memories!

  51. #53 Jean

    I have heard so many people who have entered a liturgical/creedal church say the same – “It really give me freedom”. Do you think it belongs to the same paradox of Scripture that it is when we become a servant, it is then we are truly free?

  52. Duane,

    The two opposing forces in the Christian life are the Spirit and the flesh. The desires of the flesh give the appearance of freedom, but succumbing to them actually leads to slavery. On the other hand, the Spirit is freedom. Incredible freedom. But living by the Spirit requires denying the desires of the flesh.

    Take for example forgiving someone vs. holding a grudge. Which one is freeing and which one is bondage? But which one feels great?

  53. Trying to figure it all out myself, trying to interpret what the Scriptures are saying to me, trying to match up various OT and NT prophesies to come up with a reasonable end-time scenario, trying to figure out what God really wants of us- I found all that exhausting and burdensome. I am happy to be free from it and yes, it is very liberating just to be free to worship God and receive His mercies without feeling the need to develop my own theology.

  54. thanks BDread for the swift kick in the arse…beginning to think I’d lost feeling there.

  55. There’s a nice phrase from the Book of Common Prayer – “whose service is perfect freedom”.
    Sort of says it all…

  56. I kinda like a phrase in the Gospel of Matthew:

    “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

    Says it all.

  57. I don’t think that going a high-church liturgical route is the answer for the vast majority of people.

    Some of you guys had it your way, and and found a home in liturgical churches. That’s great, and I rejoice for you, but for millions and millions of us, that could never be home.

  58. One thing that churches should understand is that every hour outside of Sunday morning that churches require, or encourage or offer (which people feel guilty unless they attend) for small groups, bible studies, prayer meetings, service projects, etc., is one less hour that their members can engage in their holy vocations of being a parent, child or spouse, or rest from the long hours that their jobs or studies may require.

  59. #61 Josh

    I hear that, and I don’t want to candy coat it… liturgical churches have equal challenges AND most of the same problems as others. I’m glad, for instance, that Xenia has found real contentment. But, as you can see from the article, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”

    Hey, someone should put that to music…

  60. @ 62 – While I agree Jean, that churches sometimes get us too busy, I also see the challenge of getting people to share their lives with one another. If Sunday morning is all we do, we tend to retreat to our respective isolation.

  61. @63 – Hmmm, yeah that sounds catchy 🙂

  62. Friends…

    Having a bit of a tough time today… check Prayer and Praise for reasons.

  63. #62 Jean

    Just regrouping a bit… So, if we are pastors, how do we help people but not monopolize their time?

  64. BD, thank you for that word of exhortation.

    Paige, thank you as well for your optimism and outlook.

    I heard this passage from Daniel 2:34-35 today and was reminded just how in control God really is over the affairs of men.

    “As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”

    Amen.

  65. Rereading the thread this morning, it strikes me that there seems to be two camps –
    1) Yes, we are in trouble in terms of the church, culture and how we interact…
    2) No, we are not in trouble because God is in control of what happens in the church…

    To make myself plainly understood, Yes I think we are in trouble. The Church has a divine mandate and origin, but it is also a very human institution, especially in how it is presented to the world. With regard to God being in control, I would certainly not wish to foist upon him many of the things that we have all seen and experienced with regard to the Church.

    It strikes me that most promises made in Scripture are usually followed by a call to personal responsibility on our part (discipleship). God’s sovereignty and our responsibility are not mutually exclusive.

    I think one of the most perceptive comment on this thread (thus far) was made by MLD #11 –
    “I find that most people who have stopped going to church have not been taught that going to church is a necessity of being a Christian and in many cases have heard the voices of those who actually teach it is not needed.”

    When we lose the idea that church is essential, I don’t think we can then turn around and say, “It really doesn’t matter what I do, because after all, God is in charge…”

  66. I think this article in the latest Concordia Journal speaks well to the topic above. It is in the context of not being able to attract enough seminary students to fill the pastor shortage gap.

    I think Dale Meyer the St Louis Seminary President speaks well to the issues the church is up against – one aspect is the change culture has gone through with the advent of new technology.

    I thought one thing that was quite interesting as he relates that when we were a manufacturing society (the time when many of us grew up) when you had questions, you took them to church on Sunday to ask the pastor or discuss in class. Today as we are in the information age, you sit at work and Google the answer.

    I have included the whole journal for anyone interested. The article is PDF pages 14 – 16
    https://concordiatheology.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/ConcordiaJournalSummer17.pdf

  67. #70 MLD

    It’s a good article.
    “We have lost our privileged place in society. The biblical illiteracy prevalent in American society shows itself in our church members. The “nones” are increasing. Regular worship attendance is now assumed to be once every few months, not every Sunday.”
    He certainly describes the changed landscape.

  68. Couple things I’ve learned from this thread:

    Unless you go to church you’re not a Christian, unless it’s a boutique church… don’t go there.

    You can’t have it your way, unless you want to leave the church you’re at to go to an EO church

    The problem with the church is technology… read on an internet blog.

    Got it 😉

  69. Duane,
    I think a huge difference is the conclusion Dr. Meyer comes to – one of optimism vs the common reaction of pessimism – as he closes the article.

    ‘ In fact, the shortage is a symptom of our current transition to a
    new twenty-first-century context for congregational life. In all the unknowns of
    what is to come, tomorrow’s pastors will lead coming generations into ever-clearer
    understandings of faith and ministry.”

    That is a game changer.

  70. #73 MLD

    I thought the most important point was that of denominational seminaries dedicated to the singular purpose of turning out pastors. Most denominations have abandoned that model and, quite frankly, the result has been chaos…

  71. Duane @ 74 – I think a very important point was that he did not suggest skinny jeans, light shows, louder music or a softer message.

  72. I’m not sure style has as much to do with the issues we’re talking about as much as far more troublesome issues. I shared this article with a good millennial friend at the weekend. He agreed with it, but added this statement in his response:

    “I think another piece of it though is that many in my generation feel the church now lacks moral credibility to tell us anything about how we are to live our lives. I know that probably rubs you the wrong way, but it’s honestly what we feel.”

  73. Duane,

    I heard a retired pastor very recently say that if a pastor rebukes sin in his congregation, the member will simply leave the church and go down the street to another church. I suspect that that fear of offending (and possibly losing a member), rather than the spiritual well being of both the member and the congregation, is something that a lot of pastors today wrestle with.

  74. #77 Jean

    I certainly think that can be part of it, but the issues may go deeper… Think about just the last decade or so – the pedophilia crisis which started in the RCC, but has gone on to be discovered in a number of other denominations and independent churches; the open and vocal political alignment of churches and high profile Christian leaders; the virulent nature of Christians discussing issues of human sexuality; not to mention legal battles in the Episcopal Church, the UMC and others, or high profile resignations of predatory pastors. I could go on. The bottom line is that I think my friend has a point when he questions our moral credibility… at least in the public square.

    I know that for every miscreant there are dozens of great pastors and healthy churches, but I also know what my friend is trying to say.

  75. Around 400,000 churches in America and the best estimate you can give Duane is that
    “there are dozens of great pastors and healthy churches.”?

    Dozens? Not 1,000s or tens of thousands? Not even there may be 300,000 and a bunch of guys and churches having problems? (but I guess that 25,000 dozens does equal 300,000) 🙂

  76. OK, I missed the part that said for every miscreant. – ooops!

  77. #72 – JoelG, sometimes we learn from the threads here and sometimes we just learn to think 🙂

  78. Em I need to be quiet and stay in the peanut gallery. 🙂

  79. #82 Joel

    Never in life! We all bring our best to the table…

  80. #83’s answer to #82 is good … JoelG has posted many good observations here IMV – things that this pew sitter found constructive, good ponders

  81. Thank you Em that’s very sweet. I get a bit ornery when it comes to churchmanship. I think there’s seasons when Christians, for one reason or another, take breaks from church but that doesn’t make them any less Christian. I’m taking one now and doing a “reset”. I must say I’m not in any hurry to go back. I won’t try to justify it, though.

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