One approach Hybels has suggested to the problem the Reveal study points up is for the church to teach people to be better able to feed themselves. The church should equip its members to study on their own.
Now, I think we should indeed do that. But I just don’t think it’s the solution.
Imagine that you suffered what may be the worst fate imaginable–you were destined by some demonic force never to leave high school! Every day, you trudge off to school to take English, algebra 1, and social studies at the high school level–year after year after year. Surely, this would be hell on earth!
Ask someone who’s spent the last 20 years taking algebra 1 why he’s miserable, and he’ll tell you that he’s bored. Surely he’s ready for geometry or algebra 2! And if you surveyed 500 of such people, this is what the surveys would often say. “Please let me take more advanced material–I’m bored out of my skull!”
However, if we told them to go study algebra 2 on their own, we’d be entirely missing the problem, wouldn’t we?
Of course, for a 36-year old demonically trapped in an eternal high school, the real solution would be to rescue that person from high school and help him get a job, to be an adult. The human soul wasn’t designed to be adolescent forever. There comes a time when we must become productive.
The problem, perceived as boredom, is really being trapped into doing the wrong thing altogether. And someone who’s been in such a trap may have no idea what alternatives there are. I mean, when I was in high school, I had no idea what it would be like to be a lawyer, an accountant, or even a college student.
Therefore, surveys are only good at defining the problem. They cannot define the solution.
Let me add this observation. Churches tend to design their programs around the personalities of their preachers. Most preachers love Bible study. Some have multiple degrees in Bible. They often spend many hours in study each week as they prepare lessons and sermons, and they love it! They figure everyone gets excited about Greek declensions!
Preachers who love counseling tend to preach counseling sermons and push counseling class material.
But a congregation of any size has to meet a vast array of needs. It’s very hard to imagine how someone other than yourself wants church to be. The elders and preachers all got to their position by being a certain sort of person–but not everyone fits that mold.
Imagine yourself as a blue collar worker who loves Jesus but who hated school. You might be thrilled to talk to others about Jesus or work around the building or help those in need, all the while being miserable in your 10th class on the meaning of “saved by faith” or how we should forgive each other.
How does your church deal with someone like that?
You see, churches tend to be overly education oriented. Class and a sermon Sunday morning. Another sermon Sunday night. More classes on Wednesday night.
We are not a community college! We are really supposed to be more about doing God’s will than learning God’s will! Education is really important, but it’s not the end goal of Christianity. Jesus didn’t die so we’d all get two 13-week lesson series every quarter.
Finally (until the next post), churches tend to be mediocre. Most preaching just isn’t all that great. Most classes are ordinary, at best. Most small group lessons are weak. After all, most of us are ordinary people. It’s hard for any church to find extraordinary teachers and extraordinary small groups leaders. Bigger churches have a deeper pool of talent to draw from, but they need even more teachers and leaders! It’s a vicious cycle.
We go to seminars taught by the one-in-ten thousand extraordinary teacher who tells us all how to be extraordinary like him. It helps. But God just didn’t give many of us that kind of talent.
If we try to fill someone’s life with nothing but mediocrity, we’re going to get mediocre results.
When the prescription is: “Do what you’ve already been doing, but better,” we are setting ourselves up for frustration and failure.
Churches learned years ago that we need to do worship and education and small groups with excellence, but even huge churches struggle to find the talent to do this. And if God hasn’t given us the talent to do something, maybe he means for us to do something else.
Now, don’t take me wrong. Churches really do need to have great worship services, classes, and small groups. Just don’t think that you can solve the problem of dissatisfied, mature Christians by radically improving in these areas. You can reduce the problem, because some people really are just looking for better song leading and teaching. But most, I think, are looking for something else.