The Church’s Achilles Heel

Everyone I know who is a regular and faithful member of a church has something of a love/hate relation with it. So many things about our church we love; somel we hate.

Friends gave me a book with the title, “Lord, I Love Your Church, But….”

I would have bought it for the title alone.

The problem with the church today….

How many conversations have begun with those words, I wonder. Everyone has an opinion on the weakness of today’s church, everyone sees her flaws, we all want her fixed and well and effective in our world.

Here is my take on the situation.

The major flaws in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ today are not the result of the devil’s sabotage, the world’s opposition, or competition from other religions, as serious as all these are.

The church’s big problem is its friends.

The best friends of the church, I think we can all agree, would be its leaders. That nebulous term encompasses pastors, staffers, deacons, teachers of all kinds, program leaders, and committee heads. Plus, there are leaders in every church who hold no title or official position, but the congregation looks to them when key decisions have to be made.

We are our own problem.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” That line from the old Pogo comic strip has been used and overused through the decades because it states the problem so well. You will recognize it’s a twist on the line from someone in antiquity, some military leader no doubt, who said, “We have met the enemy and he is ours.”

Following is my submission for the greatest “leadership wrongs” of the modern Christian church. (Do not misread that; We’re not talking about all those other churches out there. I’m talking about your church and the church where I belong.)

1. A Failure to Lead. (Where the world leads us, we will follow.)

In Deuteronomy 28:13, God promised Israel that as a result of their faithful following of His words, He would make them “the head and not the tail.” That imagery is clear. The head sets the direction, the tail follows.

The church as I have known it for some 50 years has been more of a follower of this culture than its leader. We have set pitifully few trends. The world introduces slang (“cool,” “groovy,” “far out,” “stoned,” and “trip”) and in a couple of years, the pastors are using the terms trying to sound trendy and avante garde.

The world introduced psychedelic colors, pictures, books, and clothing, and in due course, the church’s denominational agencies are printing the Word of God in those styles and colors.

The world decides women’s dresses should end about here and be cut down to there, and right on schedule, Christian women are walking into church baring their knees and exposing their tops because the world dictated it.

We are no longer the leaders. We go to business conferences to find secular plans that might work in the church.

Meanwhile, the Lord of Heaven and Earth has these remarkable plans for doing incredible things, all sitting there gathering dust while waiting on the church leaders to turn to Him in prayer and ask Him.

2. A Failure to Submit. (We want what we want and we want it now!)

The major characteristic of a church leader–job one, numero uno, el grande!–should be our maturity in Christ.

Oh yeah. Dream on. So many leaders of our churches are as petulant as spoiled brats who insist on getting our way. We have had these plans for remakingand reforming the church for so long and now that we have been elected leaders, we’re going to have our way and put them in effect or else!

A seminary professor writes about a church split which made headlines and ended up in a court of law. In the depositions and testimonies, the root of the fight was found to be the night one of the key deacons saw that a kid had received a larger slice of ham than he got at the church dinner.

“Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21)

No one would argue that the Bible makes a big deal of submission. God’s people are to submit to their governments (Romans 13), slaves (we make that employees today) to their masters (bosses) (Ephesians 6:5), wives to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22), children to their parents (Ephesians 6:1), and of course, each believer is to submit to the Lord.

But Ephesians 5:21 says God’s people are to submit to each other. That throws something new and completely unexpected into the discussion. In all the others, there seems to be a hierarchy involved, one person in authority over the other.

But there’s none of that in every member submitting to each other.

Let’s not make of it something more complicated than it is. All it’s saying is that we should give in to the other. Don’t insist on having our way. Do not fight over our opinions and convictions and desires.

People in the military salute one another out of respect for the system, not because the other person is smarter, stronger, wiser, better. In the church, one must “not think more highly of himself than he ought to think.” (Romans 12:3)

You and I disagree over the color of carpet in the new sanctuary. One of us says, “Let’s do it your way. The color of the floor is not nearly as important as the fact that we come together and do our work in love.” That’s the idea.

If you want to teach what I consider heretical literature or if you promote a doctrine directly contradicted by Scripture, then I may choose not to “give in” or “submit” but to resist strongly, yet always in love. If the rest of the leadership decides against my position, then I am left with the decision of submitting or leaving.

Knowing when to submit and when to leave/resist/fight is given only by the Holy Spirit to the mature in Christ.

3. A Failure to Believe. (We act as though we’re on our own.)

Jesus rebuked spiritual leaders of His day: “O fools and slow of heart to believe….” “Where is your faith?” “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?”

The failure of today’s church leaders to believe is seen in their wimpy programs that never attempt much and do not allow for any kind of failure. “Launch out into the deep” and “Lord, bid me walk on the waters to you” are lines from Scripture that seem to have missed so much of our generation.

We never attempt much. We never expect much. Therefore, we accomplish very little.

Associational meetings are going on right now all across the land. I challenge our leaders to listen to the reports from our churches and then deny that we are attempting little, expecting less, and accomplishing hardly anything.

We are woefully inadequate in our praying. Where is the prayer of faith uttered from the pulpit on a Sunday morning, either from the minister as he prepares to preach or from a deacon before the morning offering? Our prayers are short speeches to God and little else.

“You have not because you ask not” may well have been spoken of this generation of church leaders (James 4:2).

Jesus gave the disciples a parable (or two, actually) “to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1) Ought to pray–that’s the imperative of prayer. Fainting (or growing discouraged and quitting)–that’s the alternative to prayer.

We are fainting. Growing discouraged and dropping like flies, and then wondering why this is so.

We have quit believing in Jesus Christ.

We say we do. But we are practicing atheism, living and running our churches and ordering our worship services as though the Lord is out of town and we’re on our own.

And we wonder why the churches are weak, the numbers are down, the believers are discouraged, and sin is rampant.

4. A Failure of zeal. (Boredom is the order of the day.)

When the Lord in Heaven looked down at the church in the town of Laodicaea, He saw lots of activity but little productivity. He saw a church whose treasuries were filled and whose leaders took pride in their financial numbers. But they were missing the point.

They were affected with terminal complacency.

“Neither hot nor cold.” “Lukewarm.” “Spew you out of my mouth.” These words remind us of Amos the prophet who in the 8th Century B.C. preached, “Woe to those who are at ease in Zion.” (Amos 6:1)

The lack of energy in performing their work indicated a lack of caring for what they were doing. And that was an insult to the Lord in Heaven.

The Lord’s counsel to this repulsive congregation was not simply to start caring or to begin being in earnest. That would be too easy.

First, they had to repent. “Be zealous therefore and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

The church which had no zeal or energy is now being commanded to get some and show it in the ardor with which they repent!

Then, they had to receive Jesus in a new and fuller way. “Behold, I stand at your door and knock. If anyone hear my voice and open the door, I will come in….” (3:20)

Jesus. It’s all about Jesus, friend.

Jesus Christ is the source of our energy, our creativity, our vision. Jesus Christ gives us power to lead and the ability to submit. He is the only hope of this church, yours and mine.

It’s not so much that believers need to be saved again. We use Revelation 3:20 in evangelistic ways–and correctly, I think–but in its context, it was directed to believers of a Christian church.

The Lord wants in. We have left Him out of our planning and programming.

Let’s ask the Lord Jesus Christ into our church to do new things, give new vision, cast out the old traditions and old molds that limit Him. Ask Him to pour the new wine into our lives and our congregations and give us the courage to deal with the consequences.

Let’s ask Him to do something not in the order of worship, and to do it every Sunday not just once in a while.

Let’s ask Him to get us out of our ruts, to push us away from our insistence on doing what is convenient and achievable, to put us in situations where we must show great courage or fall flat on our faces.

Let’s ask Him to do a great thing in our church, to make us sick of our status quo, to give us an energy for God unlike any we’ve ever known before.

But let us not mistake noise for zeal. Let us not mistake chaos for the Spirit. Let us not try to do in the flesh all God wants to accomplish in His Spirit.

So let us ask Him and order our lives in the belief that He will answer, and wait on Him.

And let’s do it again and again until He begins to believe we’re serious and takes us at our word.

John Newton put it this way:

“Thou art coming to a King,

Large petitions with thee bring.

For His grace and power are such,

None can ever ask too much.”

5 thoughts on “The Church’s Achilles Heel

  1. Amen, Brother Joe! And you say it so well. As I observe churches, I see the same things: Failure to lead or fearful of leading (or leading in the wrong way–autocratic). Failure to follow; suspicious of pastoral leadership. Good leadership needs good “followship.” Some churches which were so excited to get that new young pastor (and sometimes not so young) are often the same ones which are very distrusting of his leadership after only a few months, though he’s done nothing to betray their trust. (Sometimes congregations have old injuries that have never yet been properly addressed or healed.) Prayers for them all that they might trust God and His servants, and by the Holy Spirit crank up the zeal machine within them.

    As for the Saints, yep, I’m smiling. This Louisianian in exile is all too happy to see it.


    Greg Loewer

    NorthStar Church Network: An Association of Baptist Congregations

    Northern Virginia

  2. Wow. You could do a full sermon or series of articles on each of the 4 points. I think #3 resonates strongest, at least in my personal experience. Ask for a miracle! What — you don’t believe in them??? …

  3. Thanks, Bro. Joe, for this reminder. And thanks too for sharing your wisdom. May God continue to bless and use you.

    I look forward to seeing you at our state convention next month.

  4. I wonder how much of our current problems go back to an emphasis on evangelism at the expense of discipleship. I believe deeply in leading people to genuine conversion. I wish we could do the six month training period between conversion and baptism. But as a denomination we dip ’em and drop ’em. We’re like a car dealership without a good repair shop. Win them completely, then develop them toward maturity, and many of these things will go away.

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