The Unspoken Dilemma

It seems that recently, I watch a commercial and it gives me a theological spark. This commercial begins with a neighborhood cookout and two guys are having a “get to know each other” conversation. One guy and his family obviously just moved into the community; they are so new that the real estate sign hasn’t been removed from the front yard. So let’s call them the new neighbor and the old neighbor. The old neighbor says to the new one as he looks across the street “You are the guy with the Chevrolet Silverado. So what do you do?” With that, the new guy says “Well, uh …” and he wanders off into thoughts of all the things he does with his truck- hauling jet skis, trailers, excursions and trips with his family, and so on.

I have recently heard or read about some haunting statistics lately. Those statistics report something like this: 1) people are becoming less interested in church involvement and 2) if/when people leave a church, they are more likely than not to leave church altogether and 3) if people “switch” churches, they are more likely to be less involved and more like spectators than engaged participants. In other words, the entry doors to our churches are becoming exits for people who were once faithful. The reality for the Christian Church is that even though our population is increasing in the United States, Christian church membership and attendance is at best about the same; in other words, Christianity in America is on the decline.

Every minister that I meet with, pray with, or talk with shares their angst about the dilemma we are facing. For some of us ordained folks, we blame the lack of prayer in schools or not acknowledging the Ten Commandments as our foundation as whittling away at God’s sovereign reign. Others of us take this reality to heart and blame ourselves for not being good enough in the pulpit or the hospital room or teaching a Bible study. Most of us try to preach better, pray better and teach better. And yet, the world drives by our church buildings and nothing seems to change, except that the world “outside” is changing.

The various theories as to why Christianity is waning in the United States seem to begin with a common realization and that is that we are facing a generational issue. The aging and passing of what we know as the “Greatest generation” and their post-WWII associates is seriously impacting the Church; this generation of people has carried the Church on their backs for a very long time. From church community service to involvement/attendance to financial stewardship, the Baby Boomers and the following generations just aren’t as committed because they (we) don’t think the same way. We don’t respond well to doing or believing simply because we are told to do so; we scrutinize the behaviors of everyone and we evaluate whether we are willing to commit to associating with others and their organizations based on our judgment of other fallen human beings identified as Christians. Our generations are not willing to beg to become a member of any organization much less a Church; we pick and choose where we commit our time, talents and treasures based on observing behaviors of others.

Accordingly, the model for Church membership has been reversed. Today, people want to have a sense of belonging up front, then pattern their behaviors as a member and ultimately come to faith or belief. So the question for all of us is how are we creating a sense of belonging that invites a desire to come to belief? I will let you in on a little secret – neither the preacher’s sermon, his/her pastoral skills, nor his/her ability to teach the Bible alone will reach those who most desperately need to know Jesus; it takes all of us, the priesthood of all believers as Paul describes us, to make it happen.

So what does this have to do with the commercial I described above? People ask the Church, “so, what do you do?” outright or they ask quietly as they observe us from afar. The question for us as Christians is, “what do we do?” If we all we say is, “we have worship on Sunday”, we will likely not succeed. People are searching for evidence of our hearts and who we are, even though they ask what we do. In other words, we are what we do. If we worship without acting in response to God’s love for us, those who are seeking will likely choose to direct their time and energy elsewhere.

I assume that most of you who are reading this are doing so because you are a person of faith. I am likely “preaching to the choir” here. The choir is exactly who I hope reads this. I pray that you be encouraged even if you find yourselves, as individuals, at a loss as to what to do. If you are at that point in life, then rejoin with your brothers and sisters in Christ and build that sense of belonging that “the lost” so deeply desire. It is too simplistic to say “God is in charge, this will all work out on its own.” You and I have a responsibility to proclaim the Gospel in order to do three things for God – to save souls, to make disciples and to build up the kingdom. Though we may view and present salvation, discipleship and kingdom living through different lenses in this community, we hold one unifying purpose in Christ as redeemer of the world. Even though God can do any and everything, the true measure of our relationship with His Son Jesus is the level of our response to his redeeming gift in the here and now: the number of miles and days we are willing to journey together on the path of sanctification and to do so with grateful hearts. May God bless us all, especially those we are called to serve. TCGB.

Originally posted in the Greenville Advocate

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