Does church matter anymore? Maybe you don’t like the idea of the church, or someone else’s idea of the church. But author Danny Franks will bet you a decades-old mission trip T-shirt that you’d love the church as she was intended to be. This series examines the community and mission that only the church can offer and why the church is worth fighting for.

 

This Part 1 of a four part series on Why Church Matters. Access the rest of the series here:

Tuned Out & Turned Off | Who Loves Ya, Baby | God’s Plan A | Coup in the Pew


 

 

“Church is for _________.”

 

How would you answer that question? I mean, really, honestly, answer that question?

 

“Church is for my grandmother.” “Church is for my parents’ generation.” “Church is for people who need that sort of thing.” “Church is for anybody but me.”

 

This series of posts will explore what Christians think about when they think about church. Maybe you consider yourself a Christian, but you don’t really consider yourself a part of a church. The Church? Sure. The capital C, universal, Jesus-is-my-homeboy Church? That, you can get behind. But the local church? The First Baptist, potluck-supper-eating, business-meeting-scheduling, gaudy-tie-wearing church? Maybe not so much.

 

Before I get ahead of myself, let me toss out a couple of caveats: I believe in the local church. I was raised in it. I ate stale cookies at more Vacation Bible Schools than I can count. I’ve gone on mission trips since I was twelve and still have most of the T-shirts to prove it. And now that I’m a grown-up, I get paid to work in the local church. So spoiler alert: you can see where I’m going with this.

 

Caveat number two: I don’t jump on the bandwagon that says the local church is dying. Sure, there are trends you can spot if you look hard enough: young adults are less likely to attend church once they’re out from under Mom and Dad’s rule. Some leave the church of their childhood and try to find their place somewhere else. But these stats have been true for generations. Writing the local church’s obituary may be a little premature, because for the last forty years, there have actually been very few changes in the attendance patterns of the American church. Byron Johnson says¹ in the ten-year span from 2002 to 2012, the percentage of Americans attending weekly services only dropped by 1%. (Better keep those cheap VBS cookies coming, kids.)

 

But let’s forget statistics and research for a minute. Let’s talk about the real reasons people give up on churches. What’s your story? Perhaps you were raised in church, but walked away. It could be that you think church is a good idea for some people, but it’s just not for you.

 

And maybe there is really good rationale behind that. Maybe you were hurt by a church. Maybe a spiritual leader wasn’t there for you in a time of crisis. Maybe a spiritual leader caused your time of crisis.

 

Or maybe you’re just fed up with the labels churches seem to rightfully earn: Irrelevant. Stuck. Outdated. Intolerant. Judgmental.

 

I get it. I get why it doesn’t feel as much like you’ve left the church as it does that the church left you. As a guy who’s on the payroll, I’ll tell you that we’ve done our fair share to earn those labels and deserve those black eyes. In any given week there is another story of a pastor who’s been fired, a church that split over dumb arguments, or a congregation that’s known more for what they’re against rather than what they’re for.

 

For every reason you give me that church is irrelevant, I can probably give you five more. For every argument for why church no longer applies to you, we’d likely find common ground.

 

Even Martin Luther (the friar, not the King) weighed his own disappointments with the church when he reportedly said, “She may be a whore, but she’s my mother.” (Scholars disagree on who really said this, or if such words were even spoken. Either way, you gotta admit it’s not something your grandma ever had cross-stitched on her wall.)

 

The American church may not be dying, but she certainly is fighting an image problem. And that has unfortunately led to another generation asking, “What’s in it for me?”

 

Will this sermon engage the real issues I’m facing?

 

Will these people end up being my friends or my enemies?

 

Will this ministry encourage my dreams or reinforce my fears?

 

Like all good internet-based arguments, I’d like to answer those questions with a question: What if you’re asking the wrong questions?

 

What if church isn’t just about how you feel, but who Jesus is?

 

What if the community of believers calls you to something beyond yourself?

 

What if ministry isn’t something done for you, but something you do with others?

 

If you’re not a fan of organized religion, I’ll join you in that angst. Our church isn’t very organized, and we really hate religion. We get nervous when Christianity becomes more about what we do than what Jesus has done. We get antsy when people are more comfortable confessing the sins of others than confessing their own. And we really don’t think “Fourteen Steps to a Better You” ever really makes a better you.

 

At this point, have we diagnosed the real issue? Do you actually hate the local church, or do you hate what the local church has become? Maybe you don’t like your idea of the church, or someone else’s idea of the church. But I’ll bet you a decades-old mission trip T-shirt that you’d love the church as she was intended to be.

 

On the night before he was crucified, Jesus sat around a table with his friends who would soon watch him die. For three years he’d poured out his life for them, and soon they would carry on the work he had begun. He displayed his affection for them and the importance of the mission ahead in a lengthy prayer recorded in the Gospel of John. In part, Jesus said,

 

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world…My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

 

Do you see it? If you read between the lines of Jesus’ prayer, he says the unity of the church will be a factor for belief. When a world of unbelief sees the harmony of the church, and that harmony unites people across economic, social, and political lines, that’s a catalyst for a non-believer to say, “I’d like to be a part of that.”

 

That harmony isn’t something that can be drummed up by human effort alone. A quick Google search will prove that from Lutherans to Methodists to Episcopalians to independents, we haven’t historically done a good job of playing well together. No, the harmony Jesus was talking about only comes as a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and it moves us beyond our preferences and pet projects and into the larger mission of the community.

 

Jesus died for this community and calls his disciples to live for it. This kind of community turned Jerusalem upside down and spread the gospel across the known world. It turned persecutors into preachers and Roman soldiers into redeemed saints. It made skeptics ask “Why?” and frauds ask “How?”

 

That kind of unity also doesn’t come easy. Churches don’t get there overnight. Sometimes they have to take a few steps backward before they can start to move forward. And you may be wondering if you’ll ever find that kind of place. But when you do, you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.

 

In the next post, we’ll address a better understanding of community and dig deeper into what that can look like in the context of the local church.

 

  1. http://index.heritage.org/culture/religious-attendance/

 


 

This Part 1 of a four part series on Why Church Matters. Access the rest of the series here:

Tuned Out & Turned Off | Who Loves Ya, Baby | God’s Plan A | Coup in the Pew