Favorite Hypocritical Church Complaints

I recently came across a blog post that quotes Kevin DeYoung’s book, Why We Love the Church, with some of the typical complaints leveled against the church. We need to love the church, warts and all, because the church is people.

I have tweaked DeYoung’s quote a little into a list of favorite church complaints.

1. The church is lame. The ‘church-is-lame’ crowd hates Constantine and notions of Christendom, but they want the church to be a patron of the arts, and run after-school programs, and bring the world together in peace and love.

2. The church is too-programmatic. This crowd bemoans the over-programmed church, but then think of a hundred complex, resource-hungry things the church should be doing.

3. The church is too hierarchical. This crowd doesn’t like the church because it is too hierarchical, but then they hate it when it has poor leadership.

4. The church needs to be more diverse. They wish the church could be more diverse, but then leave to meet in a coffee shop with other well-educated thirtysomethings who are into film festivals, NPR, and carbon offsets.

5. The church needs to feel more like family. They want more of a family spirit, but too much family and they’ll complain that the church is ‘inbred.’

6. The church needs to be a better witness. They want the church to know that its reputation with outsiders is terrible, but then are critical when the church is too concerned with appearances.

7. The church needs to be more involved in social justice. They chide the church for not doing more to address social problems, but then complain when the church gets too political.

8. The church is too divided. They want church unity and decry all our denominations, but fail to see the irony in the fact that they have left to do their own thing because they can’t find a single church that can satisfy them.

9. The church needs better community.  They are critical of the lack of community in the church, but then want services that allow for individualized worship experiences, or are quick to head for the door when conflict heats up.

10. The church needs visionary leaders. They want leaders with vision, but don’t want anyone to tell them what to do or how to think.

11. The church needs to care for people better. They want a church where the people really know each other and care for each other, but then they complain the church today is an isolated country club, only interested in catering to its own members.

12. The church needs to reconnect with its history. They want to be connected to history, but are sick of the same prayers and same style every week.

13. The church needs to be less judgmental. They call for not judging “the spiritual path of other believers who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people,” and then they blast the traditional church in the harshest, most unflattering terms.

I can see myself in a lot of these. What criticisms are you most prone to?

In Praise of a Boring Ministry

I wonder how many young men would choose to enter the ministry if they knew, from the very beginning, that their churches would never exceed a few dozen people, their salary would always be meager, their church budgets would always be tight, and all their labors would be scarcely noticed by anyone outside of their faithful few?

Carl Trueman writes along these lines at his reformation21 blog in a recent post. In a world that is driven by larger than life celebrity personalities, it is no surprise that the church has a few of its own, leading large churches, writing books, and posting podcasts for listeners around the world.

Trueman notes that these celebrity churches are led by celebrity pastors who have one-in-a-million type gifts and it is unreasonable to try to replicate this into other churches.

Enter new Calvinism. Time Magazine recently pegged new Calvinism as the third most influential idea that is changing the world right now. And many of the celebrity pastors are staunchly Calvinistic, leading very large and influential churches in unlikely places, such as Seattle, NYC, or Minneapolis.

Here is the concern: new Calvinism’s ‘success’ can turn it into a church growth fad. As more and more people become disillusioned with the spiritual fluff and high-tech frills of seeker driven ministry, new Calvinism offers depth and Bible meat to chew on.

Trueman writes:

Much has rightly been made by Reformed people of the problem of an understanding of Christianity that is driven by pragmatism as exemplified by the Joel Osteen `be a Christian and be a better you’ mentality; much criticism has also been lodged against the church growth movement because of its tendency…to find out what they like, and how they like it, and let them have it just that way.  But the dangerous thing about pragmatism is that it does not necessarily reject the truth; it merely renders it subordinate to the desired end.

To be precise, pragmatism evaluates means in terms of impact and results; and the implication of this is that even means that are intrinsically true can still be co-opted by pragmatism simply because they seem to be achieving the desired results at some particular point in time.

Now the gospel has always been true, in the good years and the lean; and we need to be certain that the current enthusiasm for Reformed theology is rooted in an acknowledgement of its intrinsic truth, and not simply in the fact that, at this point in time, Calvinism is cool enough to pull in the punters.

Who in the world would have ever thought, in our pluralistic time, that Calvinism would actually become hip enough to be reduced to a church growth strategy? What lies behind its popularity, however, is the power of the gospel which remains hidden in many other church growth strategies that promote self-help and feel good fluff.

There is a disillusioning danger for pastors here. On the surface, it appears that people are just flocking to churches because of the gospel, and to preach it hard and bold only swells the masses. But if Trueman’s observations are true, people may actually be flocking to Christian celebrity personalities who are on the forefront of new Calvinism, while other faithful men who are preaching the gospel faithfully, but lack the star appeal of these celebrities, cannot reproduce the same results.

What we need to pray for and prepare young ministers for is this sobering fact:

In the real world, many, perhaps most,  of us worship and work in churches of 100 people or less; life is not loud and exciting; each Lord’s Day we go through the same routines of worship services, of hearing the gospel proclaimed, of taking the Lord’s Supper, of teaching Sunday School… [We] keep going, giving, and praying as we can; we try to be faithful in the little entrusted to us.  It’s boring, it’s routine, and it’s the same, year in, year out.

Therefore, in a world where excitement, celebrity, and cultural power are the ideal, it is tempting amidst the circumstances of ordinary church life to forget that this, the routine of the ordinary, the boring, the plodding, is actually the norm for church life and has been so throughout most places for most of the history of the church; that mega-whatevers are the exception, not the rule; and that the church has survived throughout the ages not just – or even primarily – because of the high profile firework displays of the great and the good, but because of the day to day faithfulness of the mundane, anonymous, non-descript  people who constitute most of the church, and who do the grunt work and the tedious jobs that need to be done.   History does not generally record their names; but the likelihood is that you worship in a church which owes everything, humanly speaking, to such people.

Amen. Humbling words, these.

My prayer is to be willing to toil away in obscurity, and to be faithful to the end.

The Middle Class Entitlement Mentality

Bankrate.com has an interesting article about how certain things we deem “needs” more likely belong in the category “wants” or even “entitlements.”

Jay McDonald writes,

A lot of us in wealthy, overspending America are either born or raised with a tremendous sense of entitlement. We say to ourselves, ‘I work hard or, I work at a job I hate — at least I should be able to have a Starbucks coffee every day or eat out for lunch.’ But of course, those are not needs, they’re wants. They’re pleasures.

A more theological treatment can be found here.

Personally, about 10 years ago, I had been buried under a pile of credit card debt that took a lot of discipline to pay for. I wish I had this perspective during those childish years of plastic swiping foolishness.

McDonald lists 12 things many Americans feel entitled to that can be a big drain on your budget.

12. The Daily Latte; this costs about 100 times the price of a home brewed variety.

11. Cable TV. This costs up to $780 per year.

10. Manicure/Pedicure.

9. Botox.

8. Bottled Water. This is one of the funniest scams ever perpetrated on the American public. Honestly, planet earth’s most abundant resource is bottled and sold for more than the cost of a soft drink. Buy a Brita filter.

7. Second Car.

6. Cell Phone. This is a tough one, because certain professions require constant contact. But a teenager? No way.

5. Lawn Service.

4. Clothes (excessive)

3. Private School

2. Childhood parties

1. Pet Grooming.

This is just a start, but most American middle class people could probably find several places to trim the budget and be more frugal. I know I could.

Why People Don’t Sing in Church

Jorge Sedaca, who is on staff at the North American Mission Board in church planting, posted an article recently about visiting churches and experiencing some thoughts on why people don’t sing in church. I’ve summarized his thoughts below, but the whole article is worth a read for those of you who are interested in engaging a congregation in corporate worship. It is interesting to note that he likes many of the songs that I can’t stand, but hey, to each his own.

Here’s his observations of why people don’t sing in church:

1. The congregation is unfamiliar with the songs being used.

2. The use of too many new songs week after week.

3. The songs selected are not suitable for congregational singing.

4. The overall quality of the songs is very poor.

Hey worship leaders, your congregations want to sing. If you ever find yourself looking out at a group of people while leading worship and find yourself thinking, “man, it’s dead out there. They don’t get it,” Maybe you don’t get it and need to tweak how you’re leading them.

When College Costs More than a House

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day. He knows a couple who is about to get married and who has a debt burden from college that exceeds $100,000 between the two of them.

That’s a bad place to start a marriage.

Are these Ivy League graduates or med school students? No. They’re graduating from Cedarville with degrees in education and English. To put it in perspective, my first home in Louisville cost my wife and I less than $100,000 and we mortgaged that amount for 30 years. Our monthly payment was around $850 per month. This makes perfect sense when you’re purchasing an asset that appreciates in value  over time, like a home. But that is a crazy amount to pay for degrees in education and English from a small Bible college.

With this kind of sticker price, is this worth it? Most people go to college because it’s what you do in order to secure a decent job and better lifestyle in the future. College is supposed to do two things. First, it is supposed to educate and train you to contribute to society in a particular field (prepare you for a vocation) and second to indirectly recommend you to potential employers by awarding you a degree.

If employment does not await the graduate with sufficient income to offset the debt burden, then the college education becomes an obscenely expensive venture that will not propel a person’s career.

The Bible says that “the rich rules over the poor and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov 22:7). College is supposed to lead to a good career. A good career is supposed to produce freedom and financial independence. This freedom can then, in turn, be used to serve God and the financial affluence given to advance Kingdom causes.

But when colleges are charging $100,000 for degrees that lead to careers that pay in the $30,000 price range, the student has enslaved himself to a life of financial slavery.