Some churches that have gone seeker-sensitive might tend to be lacking in substance in their preaching and teaching. De-churched people who have been re-churched after a long spell, or those who are completely new to the church, get spiritually fed with “the milk of the word”. However, when they have outgrown the early stages of spiritual development or discipleship, they become dissatisfied with the continual feeding of spiritual “milk” because they’re longing for a deeper understanding and walk with the Lord. And of course, there are those who are taught and fed “steak” when what they really need was “milk”. After a time of feeling hungry for a deeper spirituality, they decide to leave. Many of us out there have experienced both these. But where do you find the middle ground in satisfying people in all stages of faith?
I don’t know if I’ll be able to check my blog for comments for the next five days as I’ll be in Minneapolis for a mission developer conference. I’ll be looking for a wireless signal for my laptop but if there’s nothing, I’ll still be happy. I’m looking forward to this event because I’ll be picking up new ideas in an area of ministry I’ve been interested in for a while.
Reason #3 – Lack of purpose and mission [ part 3 of series ]
Many of our churches seem to expect our members/parishioners to attend our Sunday services, go home after it’s over and come back the next Sunday. This cycle of worship is expected to be normative for all parishioners. But what is missing in this cycle is their active participation in meaningful mission.
During my young adult years, I used to be a pew warmer for the most part. I did nothing, and was not encouraged to take an active part in fulfilling any responsibilities at church. In many churches, only the core group of members get to participate in meaningful mission and purpose. When the work of God’s kingdom is delegated to only a few while some or most only get to watch what is going on, and eventually get bored. No wonder why some people think church is boring. There’s nothing for them to do that’s meaningful.
If we do not mobilize our church members to take an active part in God’s mission (missio Dei) in this world, how do we expect them to fulfill their purpose in the world. Everyone wants to be a contributor by adding value and then being appreciated for their work in the church and in the world, but if the church does not articulate the importance of mission and mobilize people into God’s mission in the world, they will fail to find something meaningful to do.
Will they begin to wonder why the church is no longer a significant part of their lives and why it seems meaningless? Will they become dissatisfied with a lack of purpose and eventually leave the church to find and fulfill some meaningful purpose elsewhere?
This week, I came across Hosea 6:1 in my reading. I was reading it first from the NRSV and was confused; so I checked the ESV and was still confused. I don’t think most people would understand this verse from the NRSV and ESV either (which are currently two of my top-3 translations). Who would? In this case, I’m glad there’s the NLT (my #2), T/NIV (my #99 😉 ), and other translations I always refer to for clarification.
The translators of the NRSV did a great job overall but there are parts in it that are not all that clear and sounds stifled. The ESV translation committee had a chance to improve upon the NRSV but still came up short in comparison to the NRSV’s style and readability (in my opinion).
NRSV “Come, let us return to the LORD; for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us; he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
ESV “Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.
T/NIV “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.
NLT “Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds.
CSB Come, let us return to the LORD. For He has torn us, and He will heal us; He has wounded us, and He will bind up our wounds.
NET “Come on! Let’s return to the LORD! He himself has torn us to pieces, but he will heal us! He has injured us, but he will bandage our wounds!
[ This post is the second post in this series. ]
2. Too many unanswered questions
[Added: when I’m teaching a class, sometimes I feel pressured by a time limit to just get through the planned lesson and I try to answer the occasional question that comes up. There have been times when a flurry of questions arise but I just didn’t have the time because time was up. In cases like this, I wonder if I should I just skip the necessary materials and just answer their questions? ]
Some people were brought up in church and have attended for years or even decades but have never found answers to their questions. I wonder if they ever will. Leavers of Church leave because they are not able to ask the tough questions that have always troubled them. Simple answers and clichés about God and the bible are given because it’s easy to take our people for granted–thinking that they will not leave the church…but really deep inside, they are wondering if there is more to this Christian religion.
- Are there deeper answers to my spiritual, emotional, and personal problems? Is God really listening?
- What happens when I pray?
- Am I really loved by God?
- Are miracles and healing really possible?
- Why do I have to continually suffer for so many years?
- Who is God really and how can I know God?
I remember sitting in Sunday school myself as a 12 year-old, looking up at the Sunday school teacher, and wondering if Jesus really was who he said he was… and if God was real… or if this Christianity stuff was all made up. These are simple but common questions any young person will wonder about but are very much afraid to ask because we would be seen as doubters. Do we ask them what “dumb questions” they may have? Do we skip the planned lessons and entertain these seemingly simple questions, or ignore them due to time constraints?
I usually don’t have time for movies but I just watched a few flicks the night before. My wife and daughter were away so I was “home alone”. I watched 2012 and Book of Eli. I love watching apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic and science fiction movies because they talk about a new world of possibilities that “could-be”.
I think 2012 was over-rated, but I really enjoyed Book of Eli starring Denzel Washington. There were several major points that caught my attention:
1/ the importance placed on “The Book” (the Holy Bible) and the opposing views on how “The Book” was to be used by the two main characters.
- Eli intentions were for good: to bring the words of the book into safe hands
- Carnegie’s intentions were for evil: control over people.
2/ the utter devastion and chaos befallen upon society after the world was destroyed. ( I love post-apocalyptic ).
3/ the moral resilience of Eli in not giving into the pleasures of the world in the midst of an evil and hedonistic world.
4/ Eli’s knowledge of Scripture. He was the present-day embodiment of a society that once passed on stories and scripture using words that were memorized.
This is one movie that I would watch again because it was a real learning experience.
[ I previously announced my intention to begin a blog series about why people are leaving church. This post is the first in this series. How can we fix these problems when they arise? ]
- Irrelevant church experience:
This question is related to the first. People have questions that need answering. They want their lives to make sense. They might ask: “What does this matter have to do with my life? Does what is being said and taught here in church have anything to do with the life I lead, the family I’m a part of, or the work I do?” Someone brought this up to me in one of my board/council meetings as advice on what my messages/sermons should achieve. How do we find out more of these pertinent and relevant questions that people have?
If our churches are not involved with what really matters to people, should we expect them to take notice or care about attending church? If we do not value the questions of members, we will not see a need to foster an environment of openness to their questions. The question is then: How do we do this? How do we create mechanisms to allow for doubt and dialogue? Generations of disenfranchised members who have had their questions ignored will continue to leave to find their answers elsewhere.
Yes, church worship services can become boring and irrelevant because the teaching and discussions relate only to the initial stages of faith, confirmation of baptism, or initial stage of making a personal commitment to follow Christ. Perhaps bible studies help satisfy questions of many people by giving them propositional truths from the bible. However, the question is: will it satisfy most people with questions? I think many people out there, it’s still fuzzy. They cannot see the spiritual meaning behind our propositional truths and how they are translated into everyday life. Therefore, church becomes irrelevant and boring, and they leave. So how can the church make church more relevant?
In my last post, I blogged about people are leaving church and the Christian faith in record numbers. I will begin a series to dive into this. As a missional church, we need to be asking tough questions to address some reasons why people are leaving church or congregation. Today, there seems to be more books out there that discuss why Christians are leaving church. Therefore, I think we are beginning to “smell the coffee” and wake up to the reality of our age. Many of our churches are suffering decline but are not addressing the needs of people.
There are many reasons why people leave. Here are several reasons that I’ve gathered from some books, but I’m sure there are a lot more.
- Unanswered questions
- Lack of purpose and mission
- Stages of faith development
- Use of money
I may add to this list of reasons as the series progresses.
Author and journalist, Julia Duin, says that people are leaving church in record numbers. I believe this is true, especially in North America, and it has been happening for decades in Europe already. Duin, author of Quitting Church (Baker Books, 2008) said in an interview at Rutherford that:
People who are leaving have been in church for some time. They’ve been believers more than ten years and are burned out. They’re not getting anything new in their churches. They’re not seeing the three major things—decent preaching, good community and feeding. Full interview…
By feeding, she meant content and spirituality. The whole seeker-sensitive movement is part of the problem, she says:
The seeker friendly movement started in the 1980s. It was the effort to dumb down a lot of church services, make them shorter, easier to grasp, cut the number of hymns, cut the preaching time and get it to a kind of package deal. The idea was to get nonbelievers interested in going to church because it would not take up too much of their time and wouldn’t challenge them too much. But what happened is that a lot of people who had been believers for some time suddenly found that the sermons were like milk instead of meat. They were so simplistic. Many were finding that what they were getting was pabulum.
Well, this problem is not only symptomatic of mainstream evangelical churches, but has also been a common symptom in most mainline churches for decades. If the steep decline in attendance at mainline churches is any indication of the dangers of dumbing down content and spirituality, then mainstream evangelical churches better wake up and smell the coffee!
We are not teaching the important truths of the faith. Neither are we forming real community. Moreover, our churches seem to be doing a lousy job reaching out to people who are suffering or going through trials.
We need to begin to raise the bar and give people what they are looking for when they enter our churches: content and spirituality!
I’d like to note another interesting series on the blogosphere. Over at Boston Bible Geeks, Danny Pierce has an interesting series he labelled as the “5 Scholars” series. I think he’s really put some deep thought into his selections. I don’t have any opinions on his selections but they’re all recognized top-notch evangelical scholars. The only thing I’d disagree with are the titles of his posts “(for the non-academic)”. Really? They’re all quite academic of which most lay-people would get dizzy reading. Great selections Danny!
- Craig Blomberg
- Douglas Moo
- Bruce Waltke
- Gordon Wenham
- Peter O’Brien
- Craig Keener
- Douglas Stuart
- Darrell Bock
- Tremper Longman III
- George Eldon Ladd
- Gordon Fee
- Christopher J H Wright
- Richard Bauckham
- D.A. Carson
- N.T. Wright