Here is the second half of my list of what I believe to be the top ten mistakes made by Evangelical churches in America. See the first five here.
Closing the Communion Table: Communion is the most effective evangelism tool ever invented, because it utilizes all five senses to communicate the Gospel. When we ban people who do not yet believe from the table, we are withholding a powerful, life giving message from them. In our church, we take time every Sunday to share a meaningful meal together, and we have seen several people who don’t yet believe grow in their understanding and acceptance of the gospel through participating in the table. Concerned that unbelievers might eating and drinking judgment to themselves? Read my very first post.
Blending Politics With Theology: While serving as a pastor in Arizona, the reddest of red states, I received a “voting guide” from a Christian organization. This “impartial” guide was meant to be distributed in our church, and claimed to give a non-partisan account on how various candidates voted on issues which were supposedly pertinent to Christians. Included in the guide was data on how each candidate voted on various right wing (but not necessarily biblical) interests such as gun control, school vouchers and tax codes. What was missing was Jesus’ interest of how each candidate acted to protect the poor, oppressed and helpless in our community. This unbalance causes Christians to seem as if we have an hidden alternate agenda, and that we do not really believe what we teach. Jesus is not a Republican. Nor is he a Democrat for that matter. We should want to create an environment where the lesbian pro-choice feminist who sits in the cubicle next to us will feel welcome in our gatherings; and perhaps even feel as if she can belong before she believes. Therefore, we need to consider removing obstacles such as mini anti-Obama rallies at the bagel table or proselytizing for Sean Hannity. We must create an environment where the only obstacle in our churches is the already offensive enough stumbling block of the cross.
Failure to Release People to Lead: Many churches function as what I like to call “benevolent dictatorships.” This model, borrowed from business, keeps power centralized among a few highly trained and competent (and many times very godly) individuals. In this model, people are trained to serve in the church using their gifts. Whether in the sound booth or greeting at the door, we excel at helping people find ways to use their gifts for ministry. However, in most cases, these servants are merely implementing the mission of the executives. Rarely do we truly let go and release people to take responsibility and lead. Some resist letting go out of a genuine concern for excellence, others from a less noble fear that if they allow another to lead, they will be usurped. However, the biblical model is that we must raise up leaders, then release them to lead—with real authority. Like Jesus, we must become examples of humble, servant leadership which seeks to empower and send people to fulfill all the dreams for which God has prepared them. The gospel is about God taking ordinary people and using them in extraordinary ways. We must therefore let go of the need to control every outcome, and allow room for the Holy Spirit to mold our communities through many gifted men and women whom we have unleashed. Then we will really have something to show to this culture which is far more accustomed to leadership which “lords down” upon them.
Using the “Talking Head” Model Exclusively: After I visited a church where I was the guest speaker, my wife and I stood in the empty worship center after all the people went home. I asked her: “Hon, if you were an alien from outer space, and came into this room, what would you guess the purpose of it was just by looking at the way it is set up?” Her answer: “I would say it is a place where a bunch of people come to hear the same information at the same time.” Unfortunately, my wife made a correct assessment of what many churches have become – merely seminars were nameless people receive a one way flow of pre-determined information, then go home. This is even true of many of our small groups, where we pop in a DVD and listen to a famous teacher. However, if we truly believed in the doctrine of “The Priesthood Of All Believers,” then we should be greatly motivated to create environments where the Spirit will work through us to be each other’s teachers. Nonbelievers value speaking with someone, not being “talked at.” If we truly demonstrate a desire to hear what someone besides ourselves has to say, perhaps that same someone might be more inclined to listen when there is a talking head. At our church, we have implemented an alternating Sunday morning format where on certain weeks the lesson is in a discussion format. We truly leave space in the lesson for people to teach each other. Yes, this is getting trickier as we grow, but it is worth it.
Confusing Numerical Church Growth With Church Health: Turn on your TV and watch a Christian channel for a few minutes. If that doesn’t convince you that numerical growth does not necessarily mean health, then nothing will! Some of the largest and fastest growing churches in America are unfortunately perpetuating many of the above dysfunctions to such a large degree, that a rapidly increasing number of Americans are viewing the church as completely irrelevant and worthless. Perhaps we should begin to measure success not by asses in the seats, but by asking ourselves if we see the effects of the gospel in our community: restored lives, healed marriages, reconciled relationships, sent leaders and transformed hearts. Otherwise, our numerical growth may lull us into a false sense of success, leaving many people outside unaffected by the gospel because our delusion has caused us to stop pursuing innovative ways to fulfill our mission. Disclaimer: I am not arguing against increasing attendance per se. I am arguing against programming our gatherings with the primary goal to increase numbers, and against measuring success by our attendance.