If Jesus made a surprise visit to your church, what do you think his analysis would be?
We live in an interesting time in the Church Age, one where modern-day church has been heavily influenced by pop culture. Intelligent and challenging dissemination of the Word of God and the proper handling of doctrine has been reduced to 20-minute, self-improvement sermonettes.
Worship has been diluted to Madison-Avenue concerts largely void of true adoration of the King of Kings. Atmospheres emphasizing entertainment and comfort warp our perceptions of why we are there in the first place, and a massive distortion of grace has removed any sense of personal responsibility before the Great Judge of the Universe.
Too harsh of an assessment? If Scripture were to record Jesus’ words to the American church, I wonder if his analysis would be similar to the ones He leveled at the churches in Ephesus and Laodicea? To the Laodicean church, Jesus said in Revelation 3:17: “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
I wonder, though, if the problems in those churches and in the ones today were/are more because of the shepherds rather than the sheep.
In our humanistic culture, size means everything. And somehow this philosophy has crept silently into our churches. Thus, pastors often find their personal validation in the number of people attending their churches.
In fact, a very common question at pastor conferences is, “How many people attend your church?” Pastors will often size each other up by how big a church the other person has. Thus, some pastors will do almost anything to attract people and keep them in the seats, even to the point of teaching a gospel with gaping holes in it.
As a pastor of one of the younger churches in our community, I admit I have fallen victim to this thinking at times. And I, like so many other colleagues, have measured my success in ministry by the number of people sitting in the seats. And when the numbers haven’t met my expectations, I have, at times, felt like a failure.
But I wonder if Jesus judges the success of ministry the same way we do. Well, I can answer that question myself.
We need look no further than the book of Revelation. To the huge Ephesian church, Jesus spoke words of rebuke. But to the tiny church in Smyrna, He spoke words of affirmation and comfort.
It is a truism that the size and scope of a church often has nothing to do with Jesus’ model of success in ministry. In fact, 2 Timothy 4 warns us that in the last days the masses will no longer put up with sound doctrine. Rather, to suit their own me-centered desires, they will gather around themselves teachers who tell them what their itching ears want to hear. We are living in that time.
That is not to suggest, mind you, that large churches are always watered down and influenced by the culture. There are several American mega-churches doing the work of the kingdom with Christ-centered integrity. Sadly, however, there are many others who fit the description of 2 Timothy 4:3.
Their pulpits are occupied by ear-tickling pastors who are afraid to speak the confrontational truths of Scripture for fear of losing people, and in doing so make many of their congregants comfy and cozy in their state of backslidden lukewarmness, with no prick of conviction over sin.
Writing about the problems plaguing the modern church, Pastor James MacDonald in his new book, “Vertical Church,” writes:
“If you don’t have people walking away from your church saying, ‘This is a hard teaching, who can accept it,’ then you don’t have a ministry like Jesus did.”
Indeed. Jesus is described as a “rock of offense” in Scripture. He often drove people away by the droves. There was nothing comfortable about much of Jesus’ preaching.
I pray that the quote by James MacDonald will be an encouragement to every pastor reading this who is endeavoring to speak the truth of the gospel to a society which largely does not want to hear the truth. Don’t change the message to please the masses. Stay the course.
There is a reward in the end for those who remain faithful to the true gospel — the one that is hard to swallow at times.
Edinburgh’s Andy Robbins is pastor of Columbus’ Blessed Life Fellowship. He can be reached at AndrewRobbinsMinistries.org.