The Competitive Church

NoTimeSometimes I think I was born in the wrong historical era.

Now, my theology tells me I am wrong.  God in His sovereign providence had me born precisely when He so desired. His purposes for me are in the here and now . . . to glorify Him in 2015.  But even still, I cannot help wondering what it would be like to live in a community where nearly everything revolved around either time with immediate family, or time with church family.  Not too long ago, in the overall scheme of things, there were many towns in America where this was the case.

But not now.

We find ourselves in a time where the Church is not really the center of much of anything – except attacks from fringe minority groups bent on casting Christians as hate-mongers.  But not even among most church members is the Church an obvious top priority in life.  We are in an age where the Church is forced to “compete.”

First, there’s public and private schools which take up 8-10 hours a day, at least five days a week for many children. This is time they cannot be in any serious discipleship.  This is time they cannot be serving widows or the elderly. (Home-school families have a massive advantage here, but it is often shocking just how little time some home-school parents actually spend doing biblical discipleship or serving-the-church with their kids.)  Public school believers may be witnessing boldly in the school classroom (though this typically gets them in trouble and is not often the case), but for the most part, this “school time” is not available to the Church who may want to come alongside parents and equip these families for greater service in the kingdom of God.

And parents are often forced to revolve nearly everything around the school calendar or daily schedule.  The Church cannot expect parents to attend discipleship efforts on a weekday evening, unless you somehow squeeze it into the one hour window between supper, homework, and the early bedtime.

Add extra-curricular activities of every imaginable sort, and you now have next to no time remaining for any serious discipleship efforts to occur.  The Church has to compete with sports (games and never-ending practices).  Drama clubs.  Art clubs.  Co-ops.  Bands.  4H.  The YMCA.  Fitness mania.  Video games that are ridiculously addictive.  Candy Crush.  Texting.  You-tubing.  Face-booking.  I-MAX Movie theaters.  TV.  Theme parks.  Water parks.  Book clubs.  Math Bowls.  Restaurants.  Shopping and surfing and sleeping.

And I have not even mentioned the adults’ 60-70 hour work week yet!

Well, what I am learning as a Pastor is that we, the Church, simply cannot compete.  We cannot.  We should not even be trying.  We should not cave in and just start offering the same things the world offers in hopes of attracting a few more beleaguered believers to our mid-week prayer services and small groups.  We will lose this competition every time.  Indeed, we are losing it week-after-week.  Trying to compete or convince Christians to come be discipled and learn how to disciple others is the most exhausting and depressing thing I have ever done.  Period.  I can easily see how and why a thousand pastors leave the ministry every month.  The only factor keeping me in this thing is the undying, unquenchable, flaming call of God on my life.

My Savior tells me that every person is driven by his or her heart (Mark 7).  We all do what we want to do.  We go to sports events rather than Bible studies because we want to.  What we spend the most time and money doing reveals our treasures and our hearts (Matt 6:21).  And the Church has never in and of itself possessed any ability to change someone’s heart.  Only the Holy Spirit through the Gospel does this.  So, let’s just stop trying to compete and keep preaching the Gospel and offering opportunities for eternally significant growth to those whose hearts are so moved. Let’s pray for God to change hearts, beginning with our own!  Let’s ask and expect to see God re-prioritizing lives for His glory in the Cross of Christ, starting in our own homes.

As for me, I am crying out to God more desperately every week to make Corydon Baptist Church an “old-fashioned” people.  Not a 20th century people.  Not a 19th century people.  No, I mean really old-fashioned:

They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ doctrine and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer (Acts 2:42).

When this happens, I will not have to wonder just how few church members are actually going to show up to our monthly prayer gatherings or weekly Bible studies.  Instead, I’ll have to start trying to figure out where to put all the on-fire, totally re-oriented believers in Jesus who just cannot get enough of this living, breathing, world-shaking thing we call “the Church.”  O Lord God, please give me this “problem!”  The competition is wearing me thin and beating me up.

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