Weak Preaching. Rampant Sin. Problems Facing the 21st Century Church Are Serious.
One of the reasons I believe the church is falling apart and the lives of Christian husbands, wives, children and families are deteriorating out of control is this: there is no conviction in our sermons.
At one time there was boldness born of conviction in the sermons delivered from church pulpits that called people to repentance and brought about Holy Spirit conviction in people. Today we have so many touchy-feely, feel-good sermons being delivered that conviction is lost. Too many pastors want to be hip, befriend everyone, or keep the peace. Too few pastors want to teach and preach the Gospel centered message of repentance and holy living.
What’s the result?
I can see two diverse outcomes from this lack of Gospel-centered, bold, convicting preaching. The first is the “us against them legalist” that makes sure everyone in the church knows that if you stray from the church defined “straight and narrow” you are wrong, and sinful. This church is easy to spot as its small, generally characterized as dying, refuses to embrace anything remotely cultural in an effort to reach people, and tends to rail against specific sins while ignoring others.
The “us against them legalist” has elevated man’s traditions to a place of reverence and refuses to consider that they are part of the problem. Worse than that, they’ve decided that their interpretation of Scripture is right and refuses to even dialogue about any other positions. What makes this problematic is that their positions on issues such as alcohol, holidays, church structure, and ministries such as Sunday School have almost no basis in Scripture and do more harm by driving away people seeking Jesus. But don’t tell them that or you’ll find yourself standing before the deacons – the people that run the church – accounting for your errant ways.
Then you have the hip, edgy, cool church where the pastor looks like a rejected MTV cast member and words like sin, blood, repent, and disciple are disallowed buzz words. They want to make sure everyone feels warm and fuzzy when they leave because no one wants to come to church to hear about sin, right? So the “hipster church” funds cool attractions and celebrations to get everyone laughing because the congregation doesn’t really like prayer meetings.
The “hipster church” often has the latest technology and has a band that could sign with a record label. The “shows” each Sunday are epic and every Sunday is more epic than the one before. People scream and shout and dance to the blaring guitars and pounding drums but no one quite remembers what the songs were about or what the pastor preached that day. The important thing is that everyone had fun, the kids had a great time, and we all feel good.
These two models of church can be found in any town in the country. Just pick a church and you are more than likely going to find one like this. It will either tell you all the ways your life isn’t good enough for God, or it will make you feel like God is lucky to have you on His team. And you will go to one of these churches for a while, believing that it will help you grow in your sanctification. The problem is that you won’t hear the word sanctification – or any other biblical and relevant theological words associated with the Gospel – and will leave that church feeling more hopeless than when you began attending.
In my 35 years of being a pastor’s son, seminary student, and pastor, I have come to realize that most churches are failing the people they claim to love and serve. Whether they are small and dying churches or large and “vibrant” churches; most churches are failing and they don’t even know it.
Christians need two things from their church (including their pastor). Those two things are (1) a faith community that will do life together and (2) a pastor that will fear God more than he fears people.
One thing the church has not done well is create a faith community where people can find loving, supportive people that will walk beside them, rebuke, encourage, and care for one another. Many people are starving to find a group of people that they can live life together with, even when life gets messy. Ah, but that’s the problem. Christians don’t like to get messy, it’s just too…messy. We want our Christianity to be tied up in a neat little package, and that includes the other Christians around us. So messy just isn’t our “thing.”
But this problem is born from the lack of pastors that fear God. The majority of pastors in our churches are far more afraid of people than they are of God. They are afraid because “those people pay my salary” and they want to make sure to keep their job. Because, after all, it is just a job. So the corporate mentality of keep your head down and do your job has prevailed.
Pastors don’t call abortion murder, it’s just a “wrong choice.” Adultery isn’t a sin for which someone needs to repent, it’s a “moral failure” needing understanding. Homosexuality isn’t a sinful behavior it’s just an “alternate lifestyle choice” that the church needs to respect. Addiction isn’t called out because the deacon smokes, the pastor’s wife is a gossip, and the treasurer may or may not have embezzled. So we ignore sin and we let it fester in our church to the point that calling out sin would bring every last person in the church to the altar. Instead of doing that we just preach semi-biblical sermons that are intended (hopefully) to teach while making everyone feel good because: God loves you.
The boldness and conviction of Paul, Augustine, Martin Luther and Calvin, and Spurgeon is gone (or almost gone). It has been replaced by skinny jeans and really cool media presentations.
What many pastors have not figured out, and many Christians haven’t realized they need, is brokenness. We need to be brought to our knees under the conviction of the Holy Spirit in brokenness as we repent and seek forgiveness for our sins. It’s in our brokenness that our contrite heart is brought closer to Christ for the purpose of our own sanctification. Many Christians are still waiting to start their sanctification process because they are never called to die, called to repent, or told to stop sinning.
Why do Christians struggle with abiding sin rather than gaining victory? Because they are living life alone and never held accountable or called to repent and stop sinning. We don’t want to offend the delicate affections of the money-givers so we remind everyone how “super-awesome” they are and everyone leaves feeling good; and unchanged. We have, in essence, become the money changers in the temple: exchanging what people want for their money.
Between the “us against them legalist” and the “hipster” churches in our culture, we’ve created grumpy, mean Christians that demand everyone live according to their standards and don’t know the first thing about grace; and chilled-out super-grace-filled Christians that wouldn’t dare call anyone to repent – most of all themselves. The net effect on the church as a whole is suffocating. This is easily evidenced by the growing number of “Dones” walking away from the church.
Our church-culture is desperate for bold pastors that will stand and preach repentance, holiness, and sanctification. We urgently need skilled bible expositors that can clearly communicate the deep theological truths of Scripture in order to aid in our sanctification process. We need men that care more about pleasing God than pleasing anyone else; including the deacons and “big-givers.”
You want to see revival? You want to see the landscape of the American church and society changed? It will not happen until pastors preach boldly, Christians repent, and churches learn to pray. I know, it sounds simple. If it was simple we wouldn’t be having this discussion.