As I have shared in some of my previous messages, my wife, Lisa, and I have “attended church” our entire lives. These were good, Bible-preaching churches, but the messages presented were, at best, at a middle-school age level. We were being fed 2% “milk,” never any real “meat” of the Word. Never discussing the WEIGHTIER MATTERS of Scripture.
Then one day, many years ago, it dawned on me that it was as if we were all in elementary school, sitting there week after week, month after month, year after year. Some of the Senior Saints had been there their entire lives, now 80, 90 years old or older. They, too, had become comfortable and accustomed to “doing church” as it had always been done.
But MY question was, “when are we going to ‘graduate’ to the real world outside the four walls of the church and be taught what it means to REALLY, TRULY live out the Words of Scripture that we read about — and listen to sermons about — every week?” The answer was NEVER. This was all there was ever going to be.
After growing up in this church, and raising our kids here, the decision to leave our church tore us up inside because we LOVED our church. Our kids were involved in many areas of service in the church. We served in the nursery, taught Sunday School, Childrens’ Church, and I was often asked to “usher,” which meant to pass the collection plate.
But we had no choice, because the church had become part of the “Emergent Church” movement and ultra-Seeker-Friendly. The Holy Spirit’s voice was LOUD and it was CLEAR: “RUN FROM THIS PLACE!” So we moved to another church, which we found to be the best one in town. At first, it was a refreshing breath of fresh air — real Bible study, serious teaching during adult Sunday School classes and teaching on topics we had not heard discussed before.
But in just a matter of a few years, things there changed as well… the slow, but sure, slide into compromise crept in. The sermons became more and more “watered down,” the musical time of worship became repetitive — the same 6 or 7 songs repeated week after week. We joined several small group Bible studies in hopes of finding something deeper and more relevant to the REAL Christian life. But sadly, these “studies” were even more elementary than the “seeker friendly” church we had left. The studies consisted of watching a video teaching, reading a chapter of the accompanying book, and then a discussion time, answering the “discussion questions” from the study guide.
The questions were SO basic, SO nonsensical, SO utterly obvious, it was CLEAR we were not going to learn anything deeper here either.
On Sundays, after the service, people would gather in the foyer for “fellowship time.” Lisa and I would try to join in the conversations, but it was obvious that even after attending more than six years, we were really not welcome in any of the little groups that gathered. As we would approach, the conversation would stop, or quickly the subjects being spoken of would change — until we drifted off to the next little clique, where the same thing would happen.
Often we would stand by ourselves and wait for others, who we believed were our friends — our CHURCH FAMILY — to come and start a conversation with us, because we felt like intruders when we tried to join in other conversations. But the “fellowship” was SO shallow… we’d usually get just a passing acknowledgement, people not even stopping to talk with us… some would ask as they breezed by, “how are you guys doing?” Or “how about those Packers?” Or “beautiful weather we’re having, isn’t it?” After standing there a little longer, it was clear that we HAD no church family. Not even after being there many years and having tried our best to be involved in several service projects within the church.
I believe this is how it is in MOST of the Institutional churches today. The Bible teaching is elementary, and you’re never going to be taught, trained and discipled to learn to live out the true Christian faith. You’re never going to ‘graduate’ to life IN but not OF the world. Moreover, the “worship” music, in most Institutional churches today is mere repetition of “praise choruses.” Vain words we simply repeat (if we sing at all). No significant content, like the old hymns used to have. The Holy Spirit seems to be especially absent from the congregation during these times of “praise and worship.”
We are never asked to do anything at all outside the four walls of the building. And if we DO dare step out and do ministry out in the real world on our own, we are greatly discouraged by the response of the pastor and most of the congregants. I believe this is what happend to Lisa and me. Because we publish Wisconsin Christian News, because I do a national radio program twice weekly and write for at least a dozen other national Christian websites and blogs, and because we do street witnessing with other ministries, we broke the unwritten commandment: “thou shall do NOTHING outside the walls of the church. In the day you do, you shall surely be ostracized.” And so, I guess we were.
We no longer attend ANY Institutional church. Instead, we meet with a very small group of remnant believers on Tuesday nights for our Salt and Light Brigade meeting. There we study the DEEP things of Scripture…. areas of study that most pastors never speak on, but in most cases ignore completely. We dig DEEPER into God’s Word and we consider things that are off limits in the Institutional churches because they may — just MAY — be considered “offensive” by someone in the congregation.
We also have DEEP discussions. We talk about things of significance, rather than answering Kindergarten-level questions from a small group study guide. And we have a time of sincere, heartfelt, personal prayer, which often times goes a half hour or more as we praise the Lord, thank Him for all His mercy and grace. We also pray for our nation and our political leaders. We pray for all the lost souls and we deliberately ASK the Lord to bring us into opportunities to have conversations with those outside our group — even people we may run into on the street — to share the Gospel message. This is a prayer He has answered innumerable times. Of course, we also pray for personal matters — but in the end, we always say, “Thy will be done,” in all these things. Because we understand it’s not all about US and OUR FEELINGS, our needs or wants. God knows best and He provides ALL our needs, but not necessarily all our wants.
It is a small group, but it is growing, slowly. Those who do attend are very faithful, very sincere, very passionate about the things of God and they STUDY and they LEARN and then our group ALSO goes OUT to minister and witness to the lost, confused and perishing. On the streets of our city and in other cities and states around the country in a wide array of venues.
I’m not saying we have “graduated,” by any means. We do not “know it all,” or “have it all figured out.” But there is a humility among our group that I have not found in any Institutional church before. There is an intimacy, a closeness, a family there.
What a difference when you are discipled and trained and are among those with a burning desire to go deeper, learn more, DO more for the Kingdom of God than just serve baked beans at the monthly potluck!
Every single week, I get calls, emails and letters from readers and listeners to my radio program who are just as frustrated as we were with the churches in their areas. They ask — often in desperation — if I know of any church within an hour’s drive where they can truly be fed, where they can learn, where they can SERVE God in deeper, more significant ways. Inevitably, I usually have to say “no,” because after nearly 20 years in full time ministry in Wisconsin, I can count the number of churches like that on one hand. And that is a SAD statement of the state of the American church.
We’ve been raised and trained here in America to “do” church… and in most every church in America, the “program” is exactly the same. But Jesus said in John 14, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” And in Matthew 28, He gave the Great Commission: “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, ‘All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
A recent Barna study recently revealed that 82% of church-going Christians have no idea what the Great Commission even is. That is a sad indictment on the modern day church. And by the way, our Lord did not say “write a check every so often to send to a missionary in a foreign country to do the work for you.” He said “GO YE THEREFORE AND MAKE DISCIPLES, BAPTIZING THEM IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER AND OF THE SON AND OF THE HOLY GHOST, TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THINGS WHATSOEVER I HAVE COMMANDED YOU.” We don’t get off that “easy” as to just write a check and feel good about ourselves, believing we have fulfilled our Great Commission duties. We can just as easily write a check to our favorite after-church restaurant. It makes no difference to God. He doesn’t want your money. He wants your heart.
We are to be His witnesses. WE are the ones who are to go. The trouble is, we don’t know how. We have never been taught, and in fact, we have been taught (BY THE SILENCE OF OUR PREACHERS) that to do that is SCARY. People might be “mean” to us, people might laugh at us. People might not want to hear God’s Word.
MAYBE… but Jesus didn’t give us any “opt out” clauses because of these things. He just said “GO!” He DID promise to be with us always…And with the Holy Spirit within us, why should we be afraid?
Friends, we need training so we can make disciples like Matthew 28 tells us to do. We are not getting that training in our Institutional churches today. Instead it is an exercise in futility as we sit, stand, sing and follow all that goes on within those four walls… always learning that 3rd grade “math,” but never advancing unless we “homeschool” ourselves.
If we, as Christians, do not impact the world around us as true salt and light, then who will? It’s no wonder our culture is disintegrating into a downward spiral of depravity. Church-goers have neglected our reasonable service, which is to offer our very bodies as living sacrifices to God. Our “reasonable service” is not to plan our next church picnic or outing at the bowling alley or “Church Super Bowl Party.” Nor is our “reasonable service” simply being a faithful attender, or “pew warmer.” Indeed, many suffer from “church guilt.” Because they feel that attending church on a regular basis makes them a good Christian. Yet they wouldn’t utter a word of the Gospel to even their next door neighbor if their lives depended on it… which, very likely, they do.
We’ve been systematically trained to be comfortable and complacent and we want nothing more than that hour or two on Sunday. The risen Christ had some strong words for the lukewarm church of Laodicea, which is a very appropriate example of the Church of America: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’ — and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.”
Lukewarm people make Jesus sick. So sick He vomits. Think about that as you lounge on your padded pews or participate in the shallow fellowship and the many elementary small group studies that are so popular today…. all the while living like the rest of the unsaved world.
But it all comes back to what we are comfortable with, and comfort leads to complacency and complacency to apathy, and apathy to mediocrity and the end result is a FORM of godliness that DENIES the very power of God. A comfortable, complacent, apathetic, mediocre “Christian” is no Christian at all.
There is SO MUCH MORE to the Christian life than just “doing church.” I cannot understand how anyone with the Holy Spirit inside them, can STAND living a mediocre faith. You ought to be jumping out of your skin to GO and DO as Jesus commanded… walking as He walked, teaching as He taught, making disciples everywhere you go.
Do not settle — any longer — for a mediocre form of “churchianity.” You can have the REAL THING, if you will get serious. But the time is NOW! Pray, invite the Holy Spirit to guide you into all truth and give you a hunger and thirst for the things of God! AND THEN I challenge you to JOIN US — and remnant believers from all over the country — October 17-20 for CHURCH ARISE – Operation Save Wisconsin. We will minister in 2 cities, with four ministries for four days. Your life will never be the same… Call or email for details.
Audio CDs and transcripts of this message are available when you call me at (715) 486-8066 or email Rob@WisconsinChristianNews.com. Ask for message number 237.
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The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.