Five Reasons the North American Church is in Trouble!

by Stephen W. Smith

Friends, because of some much reaction to my entry today in the Potter’s Inn Journal, we need to switch this discussion to the blog so more folks can read what I’m reading. So feel free to leave your comments here. If you want to write to me personally, then just email or use the “reply” to the Potter’s Inn Journal.

So here’s what I wrote and sent out to 1400 people this morning!

Never in my life time have I personally experienced so much discontent with the church. It’s been brewing for years but now it seems to be at a feverish pitch and in many ways this is very, very good. Many pastors and leaders are hemorraghing while thousands are giving up on the church. As one 35 year old market place leader told me, “I’m not convinced that Jesus wanted us to be “little churchians.” I want to be a follow of Jesus and that may or may not include the church as I experience it now.”

We are not the first, to become dissatisfied with the church. The history of the Christian church reveals epoch battles between people who hold the power and the keys to the church and those who are demanding change. The good news here is that the church can change; has changed and will change. I hope that in my own lifetime, we will witness a complete reformation of the church. I say this because it is my personal belief that the church is in deep trouble. It is holding on to old paradigms that need to die in order to be re-born. Please let me explain.

1. The church is in trouble because the church has become more shaped by culture than by the Word. Paul’s words are clear: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. (Romans 12:2, Message). Like a dry sponge many churches and denominations have soaked the culture of bigness, greatness, technology, performance and being program driven without thinking through the consequences. The result—well, it’s easy to see. Architecture that has shifted from “sanctuary” to performance halls. No windows blocking out God’s glory in nature and Power-Point overload. When churches absorb the corporate climate of North America, focusing on leadership rather than shepherding, we have swallowed a pill that is resulting in a dis-ease within the church. When a church models a CEO mentality rather than servant leadership, the church has knelt before the idol of power and human personality more than the Spirit of the Living God.
2. The church is in trouble because we have forgotten that Jesus spoke more about the Kingdom than he did the church. When church talk and obsession with programs replaces meaningful conversation about God’s kingdom—namely ‘what God is up to in the world and in my own life’ we are in water which is way over our head with no bottom to stand upon. Let me be clear. The only church Jesus talked about to his followers was the church of 2-3. I sometimes wonder if Jesus would even recognize what we’ve shaped the church today to resemble? Would Jesus know: multi-site worship? Would he condone meganess rather than the church of two or three? Would he even understand all of the jazz about being missional? Would he bless a movement which would ordain gay and lesbian leaders? Somehow, I think we’ve been swept into a current that is just plain hard to find the shore these days. We’re caught up in whitewater and calling it church.
3. The church is in trouble because the church has forgotten the basic message of Jesus. We herald programs. We espouse tips and techniques. It’s very clear from even an initial reading of the red-letters of Jesus’ words that he was about: transformation, life-change and service. Making more grease to oil the gears of the machine—never!
4. The church is in trouble because we are more captivated by technology than we are the things of the Spirit. We have become addicted to our iphones and the church of Facebook connects us more than sitting in mass in an auditorium where no one know my name and no one even cares. We call Steve Jobs an icon, Facebook our life-line and have swallowed the purple pill which says “faster is better; bigger is greater and new is where the action is always at!” We forget—even deny that the Bible says the direct opposite: stillness is where the action really is; Jesus celebrates the individual not the masses; and being in a herd and following the herd has always, historically been the wrong choice.
5. The church is in trouble because we need modern day prophets to rise up like aJeremiah, Hosea and Amos who are not afraid of speaking the truth even when it hurts us and makes us feel bad. We’ve lost the way today because quite frankly many of us have settled to be secure and comfortable rather than follow Jesus. Last time I checked, Jesus never talked much about security—except in heaven and there’s very little at all about how any follower of his is entitled to a life of comfort. The true church of the 21st century must walk the tightrope of being cutting edge along with being anchored in truth.

What is fascinating to me is to realize that in the 4th century and gain in the 15-16th century major movements rose up which turned the established church upside down. People left the church like they are leaving today. They left the institution and whole new movements began to arise which offered hope, comfort and platforms for learning how to live the Jesus way. We need this again. I, for one, want to be in that number.

Lastly, let me remind you that I am not throwing stones because I am an insider. I’ve always been on the inside. It’s just that now, there’s so much smoke, I can hardly breath. How about you?

I’m not going to leave us hanging here. But there is no space to continue this week. I’ll offer some clues, hints and suggestions for how to reform what has gone wrong!

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5 Responses

  1. looking forward to hearing what people have to say about this! 🙂

    • Steve
      I think that you are on the right track.

      As an outsider let me share…

      The church is in trouble because it is trying to change the culture instead of fortifying christians to live in a hostile culture without being sucked in. The church should not fight a culture war.

      The church is in trouble because it is becoming a politcal movement. Every time a conservative christian politician screws up by trying to hit on pages or gets arrested, or gets caught in a lie, or has an affair he or she taints Christ.

      The church is in trouble because of its attack on gays. The catholic church covers up the behavior of its priests for decades and has the nerve to attack gays. They have very little credibility on moral issues.

      The fight against roe v wade and abortion is being poorly run. Would Jesus bomb or burn clinics or kill doctors. Forty years of wasted effort.

      The church is in trouble because it cant deal with reality. Creationism is a fraud. Say what you will about Darwin but at least there is some real science there.

      The church is in trouble because of corruption by high profile leaders. There is a string of cases going back to ptl.

      The church is in trouble because Christians are withdrawing into their own world of Christian books, music, tv , movies, theme parks, and schools.

      • Hi Bill, when I knew you, you were an “insider”. I”m sorry that there’s so much disappointment. In the end, the real discussion is not about church; it’s about is Jesus right? That’s a good question to ponder and sit with. I hope our paths can cross again!

        Steve

  2. One of my struggles with modern day church is that many churches try to do too many things. It would be refreshing to me to find a place/group that is simple and focused.

    Another thought that I have is that one of the main questions that churches seem to ask is how to get people to attend. Conversely, I was part of a church in Texas that encouraged us to all get out and be with all kinds of people. For instance, that church would never think of having a softball team, but many from the church participated on all kinds of teams in order to be salt and light in the community and to share our stories about Jesus. Because of that we saw many people become Christians. (The old ‘out of the saltshaker and into the world’ idea.)

    When the focus is wrong that of getting people to come to the building, the thrust becomes trying to figure out what would make people want to come – enthusiastic worship, cool media, good programs… When many people do come, the programs and the church are deemed successful, when in fact they/we could easily be missing the main thing – Jesus and his desire for his followers.

    I agree with your points in the article. There is one thing that you said, however, that I question. Maybe Jesus only talked about a church of 2-3, but the rest of the New Testament speaks of much bigger gatherings. Paul even brings up bishops, elders, pastors, overseers.. I believe that there are ways to do the five things you mentioned in various settings (with two Christ-followers or 200…).

    Personally, I feel conflicted about what kind of church I want to be a part of. There can be power (as is Holy Spirit power….) in gathering with a larger group of believers. If focused in the right direction, so many kingdom pursuits are possible. But the more people who are around, the more the need to somehow manage those people, to provide a building, computers, sound systems, and on and on . Once the ball gets rolling it’s hard to stop it.

    Thanks for starting this conversation.

    Elizabeth

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