Is Going to Church Out of Style?

Church membership and attendance is on the decline.

It has been for several decades. Is attending church out of fashion for the online generations? Have we overbooked and overworked everyone, with no clear 9-5 boundary anymore? Weekends (including Sundays) have turned into safety zones for family and retreat?

Our world will never cease to change as technology evolves, social life fractures and capitalism dominates more of our choices. So, is the future of the church in jeopardy?

The church, the Body of Christ, is not going to become a fashion victim. The ways that we carry out its functions probably will. As people and the way we live change, so too will our methods of ministry. But church isn’t going out of business because it has an eternal purpose.

Here’s what Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar N.T. Wright believes about the church:

“The church exists primarily for two closely correlated purposes: to worship God and to work for his kingdom in the world … The church also exists for a third purpose, which serves the other two: to encourage one another, to build one another up in faith, to pray with and for one another, to learn from one another and teach one another, and to set one another examples to follow, challenges to take up, and urgent tasks to perform. This is all part of what is known loosely as fellowship.” ― N.T. Wright

There aren’t any other social organizations fulfilling these essential tasks. Here’s my list I’d like to add to answer the question, Why Do We Need The Church?

  1. It is a place to become yourself
    We become more and more real as we experience transformation. The church is the one place where we can see who we really are and be changed. It’s a gathering of those who are living out a brand new life because of following Christ – as disciples. Our true self is emerging when we are a part of God’s church. Your local church is a place that challenges you and allows you to experience transformation in all areas of your new life.
  2. It is a place to suffer
    When we do suffer, and all of us surely will, we need others with us as we navigate those treacherous waters. Christians find eternal meaning in the suffering they experience. A large part of this meaning is experienced together as the Church when others help to share our burdens of fear, worry and pain. God cares for our every need through the actions of the church.  We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.” – 2 Corinthians 1:7
  3. It is a place to make sacrifices
    Once you’re a part of a church you quickly learn that it’s not really about you anymore. A church is a place where people come together and make sacrifices of their resources, time, efforts and even their will. It’s not what I want or what I think is best, but what others need. The sacrifice of your will is going to be the most difficult you will make. It takes much practice.“Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
  4. It is a place to grow up
    Literally and figuratively we mature in this body of faith. The church has a schedule filled with activities for every age group. It is an essential “agent of socialization” into the Christian faith. When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)
  5. It is a place to become more and more like Christ
    This is the direction we head as we die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. When John the Baptist pointed out Jesus to his own followers he said, “He must become greater, I must become less” (John 3:30). The church is the gathering of people who will love us in our successes and failures as we journey toward Christlikeness. This is where we come to learn, to grow and to see firsthand the great mission we are called to follow.
  6. It is a place to worship, pray, serve and give, together
    When we come to church we do something different. We are challenged to act, think and to imagine a different way of living. The world outside we’ve made for ourselves is increasingly oriented toward the individual, helping to make us successful and less obligated to others. Our life within the church contradicts this alien culture with practices and beliefs that bind us together and challenges our selfish inclinations.
  7. It is a place that’s not really a place
    Usually the word “church” makes us think about a building, a location or even the distant memory of place. On my way home each day I drive past churches in traditional looking buildings with steeples, with big signs in strip shopping centers and even one located in an industrial workshop. In America, churches are located in all sorts of places.But we all know that the church isn’t really a location, it’s really a group of Christ followers. The church is bigger than a building, it’s all those people who love you no matter what. The church takes care of family, friends and strangers. It embodies love as it shares an eternal message of hope. It’s a group of people who try as hard as they can to pull away from this world and live as if there’s something bigger and better that’s eternal and means more than this life can give.

“The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power. The greatest danger to the Christian church today is that of pitching its message too low.” ― Dallas Willard

 

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A Greater Work

I tell you the truth: whoever believes in Me will be able to do what I have done, but they will do even greater things, because I will return to be with the Father.  – John 14:12 (The Voice)

I read a wonderful devotional in My Utmost for His Highest this week. What did Jesus mean when He told His disciples that they would do greater works than those they had eyewitnessed?  Does this mean His followers will be doing greater signs and wonders than raising the dead or calming the storming sea?

What if this promise is about prayer? My devotional reading taught that prayer does not prepare us for a greater work, it is the greater work.

He lives His resurrected life forever. From such a vantage, He is able to save those who approach God through Him for all time because He will forever live to be their advocate in the presence of God.  – Hebrews 7:24-25 (The Voice)

Jesus has returned to His Father and is now interceding for all of us as we approach God’s throne of grace. When we pray, we now have complete access to our Heavenly Father. This is a new condition that occurred only after Christ ascended. There are no more sacrifices to make in order to gain access to the holy presence of God. That has been done once and for all by Christ.

Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.  – Romans 8:34

But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.  – 1 John 2:1

Our prayers are empowered because they have the Son of God personally taking them before God on our behalf. Our prayers have the potential for even more earth shaking consequences. The work of prayer is a greater work because we have Jesus Christ joining forces with us.

But that’s not all. When Jesus left the earth He promised His followers that he would not leave them alone.

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. – John 14:16-17

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.  – John 14:26

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.  – Romans 8:26-27

When we pray, we do not pray alone. We pray in a spiritual partnership with the very Spirit of God. In every place of weakness, ignorance, frailty and fear, the Spirit of God intervenes and fills in all of the gaps. He makes our prayers perfect. He empowers our prayer life by guaranteeing its effectiveness. With this kind of promise, why aren’t you praying all of the time? Why are you worrying? Why are your friends and family burdened with so many cares?

So own up to your sins to one another and pray for one another. – James 5:16 (The Voice)

Did you ever consider that failing to pray for others might be a terrible sin? Who wouldn’t fall on their knees knowing that what we can accomplish in prayer would be even more powerful than the great miracles performed by Jesus himself?

“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work; prayer is the greater work.” ― Oswald Chambers

Why Are You Praying Like That?

  1. The first question we must ask ourselves, WHY are we praying?
  2. Next, why are we praying the way we do?
  3. When we pray, what shapes our expectations?
  4. Is your prayer life a religious custom or the most powerful activity on earth…one in which you have been invited to participate?

What is it that shapes your prayers?

Your prayer life is a direct reflection of your dependent relationship with God. How dependent are you? What kind of an independent existence have you carved out for yourself?

“Every time we pray our horizon is altered, our attitude to things is altered, not sometimes but every time, and the amazing thing is that we don’t pray more.”    – Oswald Chambers

How does prayer work?

By prayer, I mean intentionally conveying a message to God. It’s frustrating—isn’t it?—how unclear language can be if we are not careful. Why do I say “intentionally conveying a message to God? Why don’t I just say that prayer is talking to God? Well, because Romans 8:26 says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” I take this to mean that there are groans of our hearts that the Spirit inspires that are sometimes wordless. So prayer is usually talking to God, but there are times when you can’t talk and can still pray, that is, convey a message to God. – John Piper

More ways to pray…

Piper gives even more counsel about how we should pray. Take a look at some of the Biblically based directions about how to pray:

Pray for the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13; cf. Ephesians 3:19)

Pray for the healing of wounded comrades.

Let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14-15)

Pray to know God better.

[We have not ceased to pray for you to be] increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:10; cf. Ephesians 1:17)

Pray for power to comprehend the love of Christ.

I bow my knees before the Father . . . [that you] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge. (Ephesians 3:14, 18-19)

Pray for a deeper sense of assured hope.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:16, 18)

Pray for signs and wonders.

And now, Lord, . . . grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness . . . while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus. (Acts 4:29-30)

Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. (James 5:17-18)

Pray deeper sense of his power within them.

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers . . . that you may know . . . what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:16, 18-19)

Pray for greater faith.

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24; cf. Ephesians 3:17)

Prayer means waiting

I tell the Lord my troubles and difficulties, and wait for Him to give me the answers to them”, said one man of God.  “And it is wonderful how a matter that looked very dark will in prayer become clear as crystal by the help of God’s Spirit.  I think Christians fail so often to get answers to their prayers because they do not wait long enough on God.  They just drop down and say a few words, and then jump up and forget it and expect God to answer them.  Such praying always reminds me of the small boy ringing his neighbor’s doorbell, and then running away as fast as he can go.  – E.M. Bounds

The End of Another Semester

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

The older I get, I feel as if I’m getting dumber and dumber. I just assumed wisdom automatically came with age.

I attend college graduation ceremonies at the end of each semester. What a celebration they are, every single time. I often remark to friends, as often as I attend, I myself still never seem to graduate.

Each year, I get to see the anticipation and anxiety as students approach the end of another semester and many, their last semester. Graduation from college is a tremendous rite of passage in life. It’s an important doorway into adulthood and so many dreams about the future.

Think of all the other important life passages people pass through:

  • Getting your driver’s license
  • Your first paycheck
  • Graduating high school
  • The first date
  • Marriage
  • Children, one by one
  • The big promotion

The journey of living is one filled with doorways. We pass through them, sometimes prepared but so often uncertain about what lies ahead. I can’t even remember what was going on during my three different college level graduations. It’s almost certain that I’m now in decline – I can’t remember most of last week! I do know that I’m learning lessons again and again – until they become “automatic” and I no longer have to ponder too long at the same crossroads.

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened. It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ― Mark Twain

When it comes to teaching and mentoring young people who are deliberately marching every day into a bold and frightening future, there are two contradictory lessons to be wrestled with:

  1. We have to pass through one door to proceed to the next. Sometimes this is too difficult for us because a part of us remains in the past with some unfinished business. Sometimes we leave someone important behind, because we need to or because we have no choice. We get stuck and can’t move because a part of us is too wounded to travel any further. There’s just too much pain and change threatens another possibility of hurt.
  2. The only life we are assured of having is the one we hold in our hand today. While dreaming and building a ship to sail on the winds of tomorrow is an important part of who we are – it is still an intangible hope. The risk is losing today and all of its opportunities while we long for the future. We just can’t miss today and all that it holds while peering out the window watching for tomorrow.

Semester after semester, watching all those college graduates strut, stroll and march across the stage to accept their diploma and pose for pictures, I sometimes wonder about what awaits at the other end of the stage. Once the happy family and friends have all left, the next chapter awaits.

Like two sides of the same coin, it’s always a tremendous challenge to balance these two great lessons about living. My wife is now trying to find her post brain surgery balance as she practices walking straight lines. It’s probably a similar feat, keeping one eye on our dreams about tomorrow while still seeking all the blessings in today’s path.

“Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” – Matthew 26:41