Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I just read two articles about church that piqued my interest. One was by Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor and leader Dr. Rod Rosenbladt and the other was by the pastor of an non-affiliated (I believe) church in Olathe, KS, Tim Suttle.
The first article can be found at The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church and it is fairly long but worth the read.
The second article is here: How to Shrink Your Church.
Dr. Rosenbladt, in his speech/article “The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church” states that most churches don’t seriously believe that faith in Jesus Christ is all that is needed for salvation. He berates Wesleyan Churches, his own Lutheran heritage, Reformed Churches, and the Catholic Church because they basically turn faith back into works. Once we are saved from “Law” by our “Faith”, he claims, the church then turns that back into “Law”. In essence, someone who comes to know Jesus and his saving grace, and then joins a church, will only hear from the pulpit and the leadership, “If you want to be a good Christian you must believe A, B, C, and D, and you must do W, X, Y, and Z”. People leave the church because they don’t hear the good news (Gospel) because it is not preached and taught. He also states that many (including alcoholics, drug addicts, prisoners, prostitutes, etc.) who leave the church and never go back but who were saved by faith will enter heaven before the rest of us. (See Matthew 21:28-31) God’s salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ is not about living a “right way” but ONLY about faith.
Pastor Suttle, in his article “How to Shrink Your Church” states that the emphasis on church growth in the past 30 years is wrong. The church growth industry, exemplified by churches such as Saddleback, Willow Creek, and Church of the Resurrection (a UMC example), is all about doing the right things to attract 20 and 30 somethings. You have to have a great youth program, the right amenities (Starbucks anyone?), excessive parking, stadium seating, and a perfect production of the “worship”. Pastor Suttle said that the church he leads went through all of that and grew from 2 families to over 200 families in three years. Then they rethought their mission and instead of focusing on growth they emphasized faithfulness. Church, he states, is not about doing all the right things. It is about being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With that change, his church began to lose a few people. New people still come but they are not about “attracting people” but about helping people to be faithful. He sees a new vitality within his church.
You should be able to see the similarities in these articles. They got me to thinking about how I preach the Gospel. Is my central message about God salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, or is it about “living right”? Are our denominational emphases on growth actually growing “faithless” churches? What is it about “Faith” and “Faithfulness” that is so hard for us to grasp? Are we afraid that God won’t honor his promise of salvation unless we do something about it? What about you and our churches? What do you think?