Any correct answer will blame us all — our institutions, our elders, our ministers, and our members. And while the members are hardly free from fault, I think those with the greatest influence get most of the blame — our schools and our elders. And, of those, I think the schools get most of the blame.
I mean, we provide very, very little support and training for elders, and we have schools that turn our preachers well schooled in division and discord.
And I don’t see even our best universities doing much to help train elders or compete head to head with the odious schools of preaching. That’s not to say that they aren’t working mightily to expand the Kingdom. Some are. It’s just that the way the Churches of Christ are organized, if anyone is going to deal with our biggest problems effectively, it has to come from the universities.
And our two biggest problems are poorly trained elders and preachers trained to be servants of a false, works-based gospel.
Is the culture getting worse? Sure it is. But we should be the ones giving a reason for our hope rather than hoping for a reason.
We are living in Romans 1 times. God is making the culture evil enough that people ought to be able to see the need to return to God. We just need to introduce people to a God who truly loves them — and who transforms people into something very attractive, you know, like us. And until we are attractive enough that people see God in us, evangelism isn’t going to happen.
Do we have chronically dysfunctional churches in our denomination? Sure, but everyone has the one crazy uncle that comes to the family reunion.
Actually, we have a lot of chronically dysfunctional churches, because we have a chronically dysfunctional theology. To overcome our legalism, we’re going to have to learn to think strategically — with a conscious, coordinated effort to take the evil of legalism down. And I don’t see a lot of strategic thinking among our leaders.
Are pastors shirking their responsibilities? Some, but I generally believe in the trustworthiness of those in vocational ministry. They get beat up by plenty of others and I will not join the pile on.
Uh, in the Churches of Christ, our pastors are also known as elders, and our elders, on the whole, need help. And many of our preachers are either part of the problem of legalism, or else they labor under the leadership of men with a legalistic theology.
Is it a lazy membership that is the root of the decline? The multitude who act more like spectators at a show than ambassadors of the kingdom certainly share the blame. But I genuinely love those in my own congregation and hope for the best in all believers.
What percentage of our members are active in church work on a regular basis? In most churches it’s 20% to 30%. We need to get to 50% to do very well, I think, and the goal ought to be 80% — leaving allowance for those with health problems, who have to care for an ill relative, or otherwise committed by God to another work.
Just look at the pews filled with Sunday-morning Christians who aren’t truly disciples — and tell me we do a great job of preaching the true gospel to our people. We don’t. If we did, we’d have members who’ve been changed by the gospel.
Those of us on the progressive side of the denomination don’t get off the hook either, because we’ve often traded legalism for a cheap grace, forgetting to teach (and show) our members the joy of service. We often have freedom without commitment, which is not really the gospel either.
… And, of course (and on cue), some will call for Southern Baptists to turn leftward theologically as the solution to our decline. And, I will wonder out loud– does anyone read statistics? As I have written before, a left turn does not stem decline, it accelerates it.
The last thing we need is a fight over inerrancy. Oh, please, please, let’s find something else to write about. Surely there are better ways to earn one’s salary as a professor.
The goal, of course, has to be to move our leaders and our churches toward a theology of grace that produces bountiful works that glorify God (more on this to come). But knowing where we want to get to is not even half the solution.
In WWII, the generals knew that the goal was to reach Berlin. The truly hard part was figuring out how to get there, and then — much harder — was paying the price to land on the beach and take on the opposing army.
For us, figuring the goal out seems pretty hard, because for so long we’ve chased the wrong goal. And we’ve made a few false starts toward a less than optimal goal, so getting the goal right is not easy. It’s just that it’s only the beginning of a long, tough fight.