The Two Realities of the Local Church

“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” (Eph 1:18-22)

According to researcher, and statistical data guru, George Barna, more that 211 million of the 300+ million Americans claim no church affiliation or personal relationship with Christ. Every day in America, 10 churches cease to exist. Only one-third of new church plants survive to see their three-year anniversary. 75% of churches are in decline. 24% are “growing”, if you call 5% over 5 years growth, but primarily through transfers from other churches. And only 1% of churches are growing primarily through reaching unchurched and dechurched people.

America is in the condition it is in because of the condition of the church. So Jesus gave the church a mandate to “go, and make disciples, baptizing, and teaching them, in the authority that God had given to Jesus” (Matt 28:18-20). Or another way Jesus said it was, “When my Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses….” (Acts 1:8). So where is the breakdown between what Christ expects of His church and the reality of the average church?

The breakdown is the result of a lethal combination of poor leadership, poor ministry systems, poor organizational structures, and poor followship. In practical reality, the average church has become little more than a club for self-centered, flesh-controlled spiritual toddlers (some will even get mad just reading this article :).  Yet, in biblical reality, the church is the only hope of the world. We are to be “the ambassadors of Christ”, that carry God’s message of reconciliation to the world around us (2 Cor. 5:18-21).

As individual Christ-followers and churches we are “The Church”. We are specifically responsible for the redemptive potential God has entrusted to us. According to Scripture, “It is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful (1 Cor. 4:1-5). We will have to give an account to God for how we have managed the redemptive potential He has entrusted to us.

With all the negative comments in the above paragraphs, I agree with Paul’s heart in the verses I quoted in the first paragraph; I pray the church wakes up and realizes the hope they have been entrusted with, who they are in Christ, and the “incomparably great power for us who believe”. Read those last two words again; “who believe.”

If you know Christ as your personal savior, the same power (Holy Spirit) that raised Christ from the dead lives in you. He wants to be released to carry out the work of God in and through you and your church.

A Church Reflects Its People

If a church sincerely and wholeheartedly loves God, loves people, and makes disciples as they are going, then that church will become a great church. But we must remember “the church” is the people, not the organization or the building. The organization reflects the people. So the real point is that individual people must wholeheartedly love God, love people, and make disciples, if there church is going to become a great church.

A great church that is growing, effectively making disciples, seeing God transform lives, and making an impact that will last into eternity is the way it is because individual Christ-followers make choices to obey, sacrifice, and surrender to God. The same is also true of a boring church, an ineffective church, a conflicted church, and a non-growing church. The organization is what it is due to the people who make up the organization. Your church is a reflection of you. Hard words for some people and churches? Maybe, but its absolutely true just the same.

Just imagine what Jesus would really say and do if He attended your church. Would Jesus be ok with the commitment he witnessed? What about the sincere heartfelt prayers, the unity, the willingness to stretch out of your comfort zone, the disciple-making efforts, the faith, the efforts to reach the un-churched or de-churched, the authentic worship, the surrender, or the sacrifice? Would He commend you for your heart, love, and obedience? Would He challenge your fear and lack of faith?

Would He say you are lukewarm and spit you out of his mouth? Would He challenge you to re-dream and surrender to His purposes? Would He overturn a few tables and pews and clear the place out with His rebuke? Would He thank you for your surrender, sacrifice, and selflessness as He recounted all the lives that have been changed as He has used you to carry out His ministry in and through you?

If we are really honest, few of us are ready to face Jesus’ evaluation of our church. And since “our church is a reflection of us”, few of us are prepared to face Jesus’ evaluation of our personal efforts at Christ-following. If an article like this makes you feel uncomfortable, just imagine how you would feel having your church being evaluated by Jesus!

We tend to ask the wrong questions: Am I comfortable? Does it meet my needs? Am I being noticed enough? Are my opinions being heard? Does it cost me any money? Does in require any time from me? Asking the wrong questions simply reinforces wrong behaviors and attitudes that do not honor God.

However, if you ask yourself the right questions: What would Jesus say, or think, or do? Is my attitude a positive example of my relationship with Christ? Am I being a good steward of all God has entrusted to me?   Is my heart right, broken, yielded, and surrendered? Is there any area of hidden sin in my life? If we ask the right questions wrong behaviors and attitudes will be challenged and God honoring behaviors and attitudes will be reinforced.

Biblically speaking, we all know Christ is the Head of the Church. Then, why do we (or let others) run the church like we are the ones in charge? I just wonder what Jesus would say about that?