For the last few weeks, I’ve been covering all the ways I can think of that the church is failing big time.
We fail at our ministries, we fail at having the right priorities. We fail at preaching, at praying, at being relevant, and reacting to criticism. And in general, we fail to be Christ to those around us.
I’m wrapping up FAIL Month with three final thoughts today.
Ignorance is bliss.
I opened up this blog series because I’ve noticed a whole lot of Christian boasting on the internet about their churches and ministries, and not a whole lot of people admitting to failure. Everyone loves to talk about how God “showed up” at church last week, but then we all cover for God when He’s tardy or truant. Unsurprisingly, my one little blog did not make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things. People have not suddenly confessed all their disappointments to all the online world.
I also pointed out I don’t really like George Barna. Nothing against him personally. It’s just his work that depresses me. I just want to tell him that if he doesn’t have anything nice to say, he shouldn’t say anything at all, because everything he says just frightens and saddens me. Every statistic that he publishes shows that despite all our best efforts and “successes” we boast about, the American church is shrinking really fast.
Usually after reading a bit of Barna’s statistics, I have to listen to about thirty minutes of Glenn Beck, just as a little pick-me-up. Something about his ranting about the imminent end of the world that just makes me want to prance barefoot through a meadow of daffodils.Maybe I don’t really want people to tell us all about their failures, because that’s depressing. Does being depressed help my ministry? Does knowing that the church will be basically non-existant in thirty years do anything for me today? I mean, if the church is going down, whatever we do, we might as well not be depressed about it, and just revel in what we have.
What if failure meant we were being successful?
Look, in all facets of life, you can do everything right, and still come up losing. You can be a great parent and still have kids that let you down. You can run a great business that still goes under. You can do a great job keeping yourself in shape, but get struck by lightning. It happens.
But what if the people leaving church was a sign that the church is really doing everything right, for once? Think about this: Jesus preaches to thousands of people. At the end of three years, his group is still at about twelve. Sure, he attracted other people, but his message offended a whole bunch of people. Same with the early apostles. The people who accepted the message were the minority. The rest persecuted them. To the vast majority of people, the gospel was offensive.
But somewhere along the way, things changed. The church grew enough to become the driving force of Western culture. And the key weapon of the church wasn’t always the gospel. The church bought and sold nations, fought wars, and controlled peoples’ lives. Most kings were Christian because it was a political tool. Most peasants were Christians because they were compelled to be out of fear, not because they knew the song “Jesus Loves Me.” In American culture, you were simply an outcast by not being a Protestant Christian.
But over the last couple of generations, the church has lost a lot of its means to control people through politics, fear, or domination. Perhaps there’s one or two churches out there that have stopped waging a “culture war” and have started again to just preach the offensive message of the gospel.
It would make sense that if this happened, if the church stopped being able to control people and started concentrating on the gospel again, that people who had once been compelled by habit to go to church would leave. What if the people leaving our church doors isn’t a sign that Christians are still lame or that Jesus is irrelevant, but it’s is a sign that our message is becoming offensive again, for the right reasons?
…Maybe it’s a long shot in our age of prosperity preaching, but you never know.
Success will be in spite of us.
I had a totally amazing comment come in yesterday about my post on failed preaching. It was a comment that I was hoping someone would make.
Kaybee said: “Beats me how any preacher can say that his sermon failed.
If the Word, which is “living and active and powerful”, has been included in the sermon, who can know what the Holy Spirit has accomplished in a person’s life through it? Seems to me we do God a great disservice by talking about failed sermons. And we certainly put ourselves up on a pedestal if we think it all depends on us and our presentation.
The seed was sown in my life by one of the most obnoxious Christians one could ever meet! But she used the Word, and it took root in my life and brought me to faith in Jesus.”
I totally agree. Even though my post was about very obvious preaching mistakes, there’s no telling what I’ll discover is a very obvious mistake in my preaching a year from now.
The point is this: we’re going to always fail. We’re going to fail and not even know it. But the church won’t fail. God won’t fail. God will succeed despite our best efforts. If God weren’t real, the Israelites would’ve forgotten God a long time ago. They wanted to forget about God. But God wouldn’t let them forget forever. The American church will shrink despite our laser light shows and cool youth leaders and relevant preaching, if that’s what God is going to allow to happen. Or it’s going to grow, despite our having learned nothing at all, if that’s what God wants. It’s not us.
So that’s it for FAIL month. So let’s hear what you think. Is failure a sign of success? Is it better to anticipate failure, or work in sweet ignorance? Does the church’s success depend at all on what we do?
I’m leaving on vacation next week, but fear not, gentle readers! I’m not leaving you behind. I’ll be sharing some special treats with you over the next two weeks. Same time and place!