I love the Church. I love our church.
When I was a teen, the Church of the Nazarene found me and adopted me. I was a paperboy from a broken home. A customer invited me to the Church of the Nazarene. Once there, I discovered that several of my customers were members. On Sunday mornings I would stand in my front yard and jump in the car of whichever Nazarene drove by first.
Our church, and church folks, taught me to be a Christian, a man, a husband, and a father. Our church has fed me, clothed me, housed me, educated me, and supported me since I was 17 years old.
For these reasons, and many more, I love, appreciate, and value my church. I find it difficult to criticize her. I am super sensitive when someone "bashes" my church. If you want to anger me or frustrate me, speak ugly about my church.
But let's face it — the Church has problems. In the U.S., churches are less attended, less valued, and less committed than ever. We rejoice for those local churches that are strong, healthy, and growing, but unfortunately those are the exceptions. The percentage of churches that are stagnant or declining is staggering.
I believe that the Church is meant to be better. I believe that she is meant to be more holy, more vibrant, more loving, more glorious, more righteous, and more fruitful than she is.
I feel convicted about the Church. She is struggling. And it's my fault. I have failed her. I must change. I repent.
That's strong language. I mean it to be. It is biblical language. I need to repent because the Holy Spirit convicts me.
The burden of guilt that I feel concerning the condition of the Church demands that I quit blaming the old people, the young people, the "emergents," the charismatics, the carnal, the liberals, the fundamentalists, the Calvinists, the Reformed, or the general superintendents. I must take responsibility. It's my fault.
"What have you done (you rascal)," you might ask? "Is it an affair? Alcohol? Did you steal the offerings?" No. None of those. In some instances it is what I haven't done. In others it is misplaced priorities and values.
I repent for settling for fast prayers instead of prayer and fasting. Prayer, like many things around the Church, has become a spectator sport. We are not just led in prayer. No, someone prays while we look at our bulletin, listen to the mood music, or scan the congregation. Instead of Jesus' admonition to watch and pray, someone prays and we watch. Prayer solos have replaced concerts of prayer. Prayer meetings are the smallest gatherings in our churches.
I repent because I settled to be entertained when I needed the glory of God.
As a pastor, I remember going home after leading three worship services on Sunday and doing a mental rewind of the day. Had the PowerPoint impressed? Did people laugh at the right places, cry at the right times? Did the sound and computer techs, ushers, greeters, and musicians do their jobs in ways as not to embarrass me? How were the offerings and the attendance?
Surely I was thrilled when someone got saved, sanctified, or on the rare occasion healed, but absent any of that, the default was, "Did everybody feel better?"
I often cared more about people in the pews than the presence of God. I'm sorry.
A cursory scan of Facebook gives us a glimpse of the modern Church. Often, I hear our folks celebrating the recent success of an all-church dinner, the community outreach program, or the walk-a-thon. Does it bother anyone else that our Easter egg hunts are often better attended than our Easter services? I am in support of anything that reaches young families or introduces them to our church. I've started them, promoted them, and believe in them. But seldom is a word written or praise expressed for souls converted, lives sanctified, or bodies healed.
People are drawn to the power and glory of God. I fear our young people and families will miss out on the awesomeness of God's glory, and I fear we shut them out with our insistence that everything be like it was in the 50s and 60s. I fear they will get nothing more out of attending church services than what they get out of a good concert, a fancy restaurant, or a slick TV show.
Instead of talking about the fire that went out, let's strike new matches.
I repent because too often I have leaned on slick programs and strategic plans rather than the Word of God.
I am thankful for programs. They give us structure and resources for disciple making. They offer opportunities for fellowship and ministry by our members. I believe in planning. It's true, those who fail to plan, plan to fail. But they should not be substitutes for the voice of God.
I long for more "Thus saith the Lord." A friend of mine, Terry Toler, wrote a great song, "He Still Speaks." I still believe that. I want to hear what He is saying.
We are skeptical of anyone who says, "God told me." How sad. God still speaks through His Word. When we pray for guidance, help, and strength, I believe that God hears us and He responds. But we argue over the words to describe His speaking. Words like "revelation" and "knowledge" are too charismatic, and words like "meditation" and "solitude" are too "emergent." Good grief!
Programs and plans can become lazy ways of doing church. Go to the conference, buy the materials, implement the plan. Before we know it. we are quoting Lucado, Warren, Maxwell, Osteen (I like these guys) or popular political pundits, more than we are Jesus, Paul, and other men and women of the Bible.
I repent of settling for church traditions that were selfish, self-serving, and pleasing to me, instead of making disciples. Going to church can often be idolatrous. We worship the music styles, the furniture placement, the start times, and the ending times. ("Pastor Good got us out before noon.")
We make idols of certain social gatherings and seasonal programs. All the while our children, grandchildren, neighbors, coworkers, and the rest of the world can go to hell.
In some churches we idolize our beliefs, doctrines, and theology, but see too little of them lived out moment by moment.
We have substituted religion for relationships. We substitute legalism for loving our neighbors. I am guilty. I confess and I repent.
Please understand my heart. I must quit judging the motives of others and acting as if those who do things differently are evil. Others' motives are more important than their methods. I realize that God judges the heart, and I don't want mine to be focused on my traditions, style, or preferences. I want whatever will help us connect to and reach people with Good News, especially young folks.
I love the Church. Jesus gave his life for her. If there are shortcomings, I will take the blame — and I will do better.
I must fall on my knees. I must practice listening to God. I must immerse myself in His Word. I need to believe it and live it. I must put aside all of my preconceived notions and long-loved traditions and see what God is doing and saying to me today. I will quit cursing the darkness and light up my little world. I will move beyond blaming others, and just move on.
I will seek His breath, His wind, His fire, and not care what others think that even means. I will quit evaluating the Church against my opinions or preferences and work to make her a Church of changed lives, loving relationships, healed hurts, and credible disciples.
I repent. How about you?
Greg Mason is superintendent of the Louisiana and Mississippi Districts for the Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, May/Jun 2012
Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.