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What If Churches and Church Leadership Have Failed Their Congregations?

Oct 30, 2020 | Religious & Sacred

Reading Time: 7 minutes

You don’t have to guess… distrust in intuitions throughout the United States is widespread now. Media, federal government, local public schools, hospitals, corporations, banks, universities. And yes, from the same link, even religious organizations like churches and church leadership score poorly when it comes to trust.

And just wait until you see some of the data we’re going to talk about.

But beginning with the recent extreme volatility in our society, I’m hearing young families express a concerning sentiment. And that’s how their church or their church leadership has failed. Failed in what? To lead their congregations appropriately during a time of hysteria, severe economic pressure, violence, and government intrusion.

Of course, we don’t have to look far for signs of their concerns either.

But during these conversations, you can sense a feeling of isolation and of being adrift. They express feeling as if they and their families are strangers within their own congregations. And you can sympathize when every congregation appears to be pretending their members are diseased, untouchable lepers. Hardly a reassuring, Biblical message. These families also talk about fear over their church’s inability to see through arbitrary, Orwellian rules handed down by governments. Or a disconnect between their church’s ability to distinguish between what’s fake and what’s staring everyone in the face.

And we haven’t even started talking about woke politics in the church yet.

“Gullible,” “groveling,” and “cowardly” were a few words that came up during these conversations. And obviously, those aren’t exactly the descriptions you’d want to hear when it comes to your organization. And definitely not when it’s supposed to be one known for shepherding people.

What if churches and church leadership have failed their congregations? Where would we go from there?

The Church as an Organization

So, I gently delved into this subject with several pastors and a number of older, regular churchgoers who are accomplished, reasonable, and authoritative individuals. And their answers, although varied, followed a similar trend…

We’re not responsible.

I’m sure that you can imagine the look on my face. But this answer took on a few different forms depending on who I asked. In one conversation, it was how all church members are really the leaders. In another, it was about how the church’s job isn’t to prepare members for crisis. Still, the answer was pretty clear to me.

You, young, pensive families, you simply aren’t a concern at many churches. And good luck with those misgivings you have about what’s unmistakably going on all around us. Unfortunately, you won’t find anything close to a place of refuge here.

Conversely, during these conversations, these same church leaders impressed upon me ideas about how the Church would eventually triumph. Prime among this perspective was that Christianity, as a belief system, will continue to be propagated without further strategic consideration.

Pause here for a moment.

We need to make an important distinction. And that’s how church leadership is invested in promoting and believing spiritual perspectives about internal organizational management. And that’s natural. Still, from my perspective, many are taking processes like financial stewardship or effective public communication as slightly less of a given.

Yet, when we step out and look from the outside, from an organizational perspective, we can easily see that there might be a bit of a problem here.

After all, these forces at play can greatly affect how and whether any individual church will thrive or remain weak. Or how the Church, generally speaking, is perceived as a source of moral, cultural, or community authority… if at all.

How can any organization survive if its leaders won’t or can’t lead or are at odds about the most basic aspects of the mission? Why aren’t they taking these issues more seriously and how significant is this problem?

The Professed Mission of the Church

But let’s rewind a little bit and get clear on what churches really believe their purpose is.

Of course, in writing this article, I’m very aware that Christianity comes in many different flavors. And that they are not all the same. However, although denominations of Christianity disagree on many points, there are a few commonalities.

What does the Church say about its mission?

Thinking back to my experience and thumbing through the internet, three common denominators stand out. And each of these will probably be fairly familiar to most Christians and church leadership in America.

  • Evangelism, or literally a “bringing of good news,” winning personal commitments to Christ, as Merriam-Webster so eloquently puts it.
  • Discipleship, or the teaching, modeling, and guiding others to righteous living as followers of Christ.
  • Fellowship, or a strong sense of community probably best known in Christianity through the breaking of bread together.

In considering the professed purpose of the church, several verses from the Bible also stood out to me, highlighted by other writers. First was Ephesians 4:11-16, focusing on equipping Christians for works of service and unity in faith. And second was Acts 2:42, focusing on the apostles’ teaching and again, fellowship.

Sounds simple, right?

But with these spring an entirely different host of related questions about what values the Church should be promoting. Or how submissive to the government it should be. Or whether any church’s leadership possesses true discernment or is just ready to jump on the next trend to stay relevant.

What’s clear is that someone in the church is supposed to be responsible for these ideals. And they aren’t going to magically take care of themselves.

Church Leadership Before the Plague and After

And I can tell you, as a reasonable, modestly successful, regular middle-class family, we can sympathize with these other young families I’m hearing from. Although, we’re the biggest introverts you’ll meet and very independently minded, their concerns ring true. Our overwhelming experience is that we have not been impressed by many churches.

And I can sum up why in one single chart, below.

Have church leaders failed their congregations

Discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism? Yeah, about that…

Whatever you think you’re doing to attain it, church leaders, you’re probably not actually doing it. Simply look at that data, especially regular churchgoers!

As you can see, the view during the “good times” regarding people under 30 was very grim when it came to church. And this as church attendance is already in the gutter. However, even among regular churchgoers, the far majority of members, there is a pervasive discontinuous feeling. This is true even as many Protestant churches have tried to kick up the relevancy factor.  You have to wonder, if the Church is on a mission, is it aware of that mission in practice?

And this was all before the world collectively went insane. What’s the fallout going to be now?

Speaking from my own, somewhat limited experience, I can say that we’ve found the same Orwellian nightmare at our church as everywhere else in society. And it’s a world lacking in any substance, sense, or real connection. There also has certainly been a lack of trustworthy, reliable allies, especially now.

Even now with Christians we’ve known for years, our conversations today remain generic, flat, and un-engaging. And we struggle to make it on Sundays at all because of how absolutely depressing attendance has become. From my family’s personal experience, church has become little more than a place to take your children in the hopes that they learn a little something about God…

And hopefully no one straps a mask on them when you aren’t around. Or raises Hell because you have the wrong political views. Hopefully, your church doesn’t shut down again because members are too gripped with fear or compliance to see clearly. Or heaven forbid, mob violence of this kind, this kind, this kind, or this kind actually comes to your church…

Because there’s a good chance, your church or your church leadership doesn’t understand how the world is changing around us, let alone being able to stand apart from it. And make no mistake: it is a shifting house of sand on the verge of chaos. Given churches were unlikely to be meeting their own self-professed goals during the easiest of times, I imagine I’m not alone in being worried for the turbulent times we’re entering.

Staying True to The Mission

Well, we certainly can’t end on that bleak of a note. Instead, let’s look at a few possible solutions. Because there are solutions that organizational members, church leadership and congregation members, can contribute to. And all of them feed back to the larger mission.

The-Church-during-challenging-times

  • Embrace true discernment about the world

After it became officially clear that Covid was little more than a bad flu and mostly a political stunt, it was bizarre to watch church members, especially men, fail to stand up. Instead, they were perfectly willing to continue on with dehumanizing absurdities handed down by government cronies. It’s clear church leaders either feel too entitled, too scared, or just too complacent. But you can’t ignore events impacting the well-being of your congregation. And it’s time to practice better discernment.

  • Do something about your congregation’s lack of preparation

In a world where people are stocking up as fast as they can for chaos, you want your church members to be strong in your mission, at the very least. How sure are you that they’re mentally, spiritually, and yes, even physically prepared? Your congregation is likely yearning for a place to turn to right now as a rallying point.

  • Stop conveniently capitulating and foster resiliency

You know, I get it; I really do. Christians are called to be humble and not self-serving. But your enemies know that you’ll submit to almost anything at this point. Many church leaders will acknowledge that there will come a time when resistance is necessary; however, they have little practice doing so. Resistance is like a muscle, not some magic trick. And it’s time to start hitting the gym with it.

  • Deep dive into the quality of all the relationships in your congregation

If the data above is to be believed, your congregation is smiling on the outside but feeling incredibly abandoned on the inside. Luckily, it’s not hard to find out what the real quality of the relationships are among your members. Just go out and ask them on an individual basis, giving them room to speak freely. Encourage conversation beyond the friendly, low-level banter of most churches. These young families I’ve spoken with desperately want to be part of the solution.

  • Forget staying relevant and learn to stand apart

Consider what it means to set yourself apart. In the 2020s, you’re probably going to learn a great deal about this topic, whether you like it or not, unfortunately. Things as simple as using Google and shopping at Amazon? Yeah, we’re going to have to talk about those extra-governmental authorities. Covering your face and refusing to get close to other church members because they might be diseased? Ask why this hysteria has any place in your congregation. Woke politics? Despite corporate class love for it, it’s not as popular as you might imagine.

  • Explore a return to traditional values

You might even be surprised at the number of people who have asked me about Orthodox churches recently, as a means to escape the crisis their churches are facing. Orthodox churches! My gut tells me that there is a growing movement of young families who desperately want a return to traditionalism.  Your progressive, cool praise band? No, that can’t make up for a lack of real spiritual or social cohesion in your church. That BLM post you made on Facebook? Yes, they know about it, and they haven’t said anything on purpose. Trust me, they talk to me about it.

And maybe it’s time for some rather more straightforward and deliberate conversation from the pulpit and in the pews.

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