The church is not dead, but it sure is on its death-bed. Oh, I am fully aware that it will not die before the rapture, but I am also fully aware that a departure from the faith has happened in western civilization.
Find any community in America that existed 25 years ago, and in that community overall church attendance has declined, often precipitously. This is true in the west as well as the east, in the north as well as the south. In every established community, there was a church on every corner 25 years ago. Those churches were vibrant. They were not necessarily a power-house, but there were strong. They had a revival once or twice a year. they held a Vacation Bible School each summer. They sent kids to summer camp. They preached the Gospel and supported missionaries and sent young men to Bible colleges and seminaries and cared for the poor and prayed and studied the Word of God.
Today, the local church is on life-support. Anecdotally you may find a few exceptions, but they are exactly that: exceptions.
What happened that killed the church?
It quit preaching the Word
The previous generation of preachers…preached. The current generation of “lead pastors” would likely not even want to be called “preacher.” The term would be too country, too old-school, too limited for the lofty position of influence they think they hold.
Twenty-five years ago, the average preacher would have preached the word two, three, four, or even more times every week. Today a pastor barely does that every month. And they call this improvement.
Because preachers don’t preach anymore, they don’t know the Word anymore. In fact, they are often inept in the area of Biblical knowledge. And because they do not know the Word, they really don’t have anything unique to offer their communities. The “lead pastor” may think that he is cutting edge by teaching pop-psychology, marriage therapy, or leadership principles from the Bible. The truth is, the men and women in the pew have the same access (and more) to the books, podcasts, and information resources from which these “sermons” come. The young businessman, the corporate executive, the homeschool mom, the school bus driver, the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker in the pew–all of the above–listen to and have access to the information that pastor’s today call sermons. The man and woman in the pew hears that stuff six days a week. On the remaining day, they really want something different than the world can offer. The Word of God is the only resource at the pastor’s disposal that will provide for what the community both wants and needs.
Preacher, start preaching! Preach through books of the Bible. preach multiple times each week. Preach in-depth sermons filled with Biblical history, doctrine, and worldview.
It focused on leadership
When I started preaching about 30 years ago, conferences for preachers were mostly preaching. When preachers got together, they heard another preacher. When they went to a seminar to learn something, the topic was a book of the Bible or a doctrine or something related to Christian history.
Today when a lead-pastor goes to a seminar, it is on…leadership. It is probably taught by a “leadership expert.” It may not even be in a church setting, but a corporate setting. If it is in a church setting, it teaches them “how to break the 200 barrier,” or some other ridiculously useless group-dynamics church-growth information.
At these leadership conferences, pastors are taught never to pastor, but rather to become a guru, guiding a handful of rich, young rulers to do the work of the church on their behalf (so that the pastor can achieve leadership fame as a big fish in a small pond).
Preacher, leadership isn’t rocket science. It also isn’t valued in the Word of God (remember Moses?). Focus on becoming a loving shepherd of people who is an expert in the Word.
It got drunk on superstardom
Twenty-five years ago, the preacher was a suit & tie, Bible in hand, possibly nerdy but certainly well-studied man of God.
When did the values change? Now the lead pastor spends a couple hours in the gym (with social media posts), to the pulpit (er…bar stool) wears a T-shirt that will show his impressive bicep, and is more concerned about style than substance. He wants to be an influence peddler and a thought leader, but he doesn’t have time to prepare a Wednesday night Bible study.
In these 25 years, the superstar pastor became a thing. There have always been famous preachers, but it seems in the past generation, being a famous preacher has become the zenith of achievement.
Because they are seeking stardom, the lead-pastor doesn’t do “drop ins” anymore. In fact, the average person can scarcely get an appointment with the Pastor. He’s too busy…too important…too self-absorbed.
All the while, the truth of the matter is that pastoral superstardom is an echo chamber mirage. Even the neighbors just a stones throw from the church don’t even know who that guy is.
Preacher, don’t aim for fame, just be real, be yourself, be professional, be on time, be in the Word.
It lost its sacred spirit
Twenty-five years ago, the church had at least a bit of its sacred spirit left. By sacred spirit, I mean reverence. The building was set apart, the morning worship was a meeting with God, the pulpit was then the sacred desk, and the people stood when the Bible was read.
I know I sound like an old man, but the worship service today is often a self-aggrandizing hootenanny, the sacred desk is a bar stool, the Bible is not even opened, and the building is a black-box theater. And honestly, these things don’t set the church apart from any other crowd-pleasing organization.
In becoming like the world, the church has lost its unique significance. Frankly, churches today seem to have this motto: doing everything the entertainment industry does, only worse!
It is time for the church to get back to being church. Don’t try to be “the church that isn’t church.” Forget about being “not your father’s church.” We need to just be church. And in being church, we will find that we have a unique role on society, and we can begin to thrive again.