Years ago, I received a marketing piece in the mail, directed to people who wanted to reach church pastors. I have long since forgotten the advertising spiel it included, but I remember this statement:
"98 percent of pastors surveyed could not say what, specifically, they wanted their church to accomplish."
The key word here is "accomplish." I think we can agree that most pastors think their churches should grow in membership, that members should attend church functions, and so forth. But what is all this activity and growth for? What is it accomplishing? This is what today's church leaders tend to overlook.
We Need Failure Standards
Businessmen and engineers alike know that, for a project to be evaluated properly, it needs "failure standards." You have to be able to say, "If such-and-such happens, the project did not work. It failed." For example, if a town water sample includes more than a specific percentage of bacteria, the water treatment system has failed. If a business venture does not meet certain financial expectations, everyone knows it failed.
So how, exactly, can you tell if your church is failing? That the pastor is failing? The elders are failing? The deacons are failing? The Sunday school teachers are failing? If you can't ever tell . . . because there are no standards at all for failure or success . . . then your church most likely is failing.
Let me give you an example of a failure standard for a church's Christian education program. The leaders could say something like this: "After two years in our Sunday school program, we expect that all of the students should be able to recite the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and Psalm 23 from memory. They should know the books of the Bible in order, and be able to locate any passage in 15 seconds or less. They should be able to give a concise summary of each Bible book, and score no less than 90 percent on the test of Bible knowledge we will give them at that time. If at least 90 percent of the students can't meet that standard, our Sunday school program has failed, and we will need to pray about it, redesign it, and also reconsider our program for recruiting and training Sunday school teachers." Can you get that, or anything like it, in writing from any modern church board anywhere?
We Need Success Standards
But even more than failure standards, we need something we haven't had for over a century now - a vision of the church's mission. Eschatological doomsaying, taken to the extreme of making us embarrassed to plan for our own children's future, has crippled what used to be a vibrant church outlook on its own work in this world.
Even worse, the church has surrendered huge chunks of its mission to the business world, media, and government. This surrender has been so complete that almost no Christian today even realizes that the church ought to be involved in many of its most important works.
What is the church's work? It falls under four main headings:
Let's look at these one by one, and I think we will all be amazed at how much more our churches can and should be doing today than they are.
I'll start with the area in which most of us feel the church is doing a pretty good job: sharing the Gospel. For the purposes of this article, let's say that the so-called "parachurch" ministries (e.g., Intervarsity, Navigators, Campus Crusade, Jews for Jesus, etc.) are included. How are we doing?
The Biblical sequence goes like this:
- Proclaim the Law
- Call people to repentance (it's hard to repent if you don't even know you've broken God's Law)
- Proclaim the message of salvation through faith in Christ's atoning death on the Cross
John the Baptist (proclaiming repentance) comes before Christ (who also proclaimed repentance, by the way).
For the past century, we have been living off the spiritual capital of previous generations when it comes to matters of law and repentance. Americans used to know that, if they got saved, they would have to stop doing certain bad things and start doing certain good things. But as we ceased telling people what is bad and what is good, and preferring psychological "healing" to repentance and restoration, we loaded up our churches with people who had no clue that becoming a "new creation" meant any changes in their lifestyles. Tell me this isn't true in your church . . . and I'll tell you you're probably an old-style Mennonite, or perhaps Amish. Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterians, and the rest are out of luck.
To you homeschooled kids: pastors, teachers, and evangelists who can "tell it" like Jonathan Edwards or George Whitefield are sorely needed. The basic requirements are guts, spiritual understanding, and a boatload of Bible knowledge. Could this be your calling?
I would give the church the following score in this area: Knowing it needs to be done, 100 percent. Teaching the members Bible knowledge, pretty bad. Teaching the members about worldview issues, pretty bad.
As a new Christian of less than one year's standing, I took a Bible knowledge test. I scored higher than 80 percent of the other students entering seminary that year - most of whom had received up to 17 years of church instruction, plus in many cases four years of Bible college.
Can we do better than this? Sure we can! If you simply use some or all of the resources in this issue's "Christmas Goodies" article, your children will undoubtedly beat this year's crop of seminary students. To improve the lot of other church kids, all that is needed is to know what kids should be able to learn . . . and to implement some of those pesky failure standards.
If you examine the New Testament, you'll see Jesus, who is among other things "our example," spending a lot of time healing the sick. You will also find numerous places in the Epistles where the church is told to take care of its poor (and also the non-Christian poor, as resources allow), its "widows indeed," and the "fatherless."
The government has no business caring for the poor (especially since government "care" means 80 percent of the money goes to bureaucrats, and no incentives or rewards are provided for the "deserving" poor as opposed to the lazy and self-destructive). Caring for the poor is the proper business of the family, private charity . . . and the church. Towards that end, we have food pantries, clothes cupboards, soup kitchens, and so forth. A good start; more needs to be done.
Healing the sick, e.g., health care, should be freely provided by the church. I touched on this in a previous issue (PHS #21, page 12). Did you know that, as part of persecuting the Hugenots, the government of France forbade them to practice medicine? We have no such prohibition in law. However, the insidious web of government regulations and tort law excesses (malpractice suits that scare doctors into practicing defensive medicine) make it in practice illegal for any church to provide basic nursing care, herbal help, or other types of personal-service-intensive, inexpensive care - the kind most people really need, and that the current medical establishment can't or won't make it easy for them to receive.
Skipping over for the moment the care of "widows indeed," who were enrolled by the early church in full-time Christian service in return, we close with a look at "orphans" and the "fatherless." Our current child abuse/social service industry is a disgrace. Kids are bounced around through foster care. The government has every incentive to take kids away from good (but politically incorrect) families. And have you noticed how almost always when a kid is abused to death, the government agencies already knew about the life-threatening abuse?
The care of abandoned children should be the church's job . . . and crimes against children should be taken care of by the police. This will require changes in law, in police work, and in church ministry. Could this be your calling? Or maybe a career in church health service? It's a big world out there!
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