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01 Nov '13

Deconstructing the American church

Posted by T.J. Addington in American church, church, church culture
We often do not realize how much the church in the United States is driven by the culture of our nation rather than by the culture of God's Kingdom. Let me share some examples!

Success
For many church leaders success is defined in the American church by numbers of people, size of budgets, wonderful facilities, large staff and excellent programming. All of those are societal definitions of success rather than New Testament definitions of success which are about God's people actually looking like Jesus and non believers crossing the line to belief. Within my own denomination there are pastors who are driven to have their congregations hit a thousand so that they can become a part of the "K club." Does Jesus value the large church over the small church? Does church size in itself have anything to do with success?

Transformation of lives where we understand and live out grace, where we think like Jesus, prioritize our lives around His priorities and see people and love people as Jesus sees them and loves them is a Kingdom definition of success. Size is not - except in our culture!

Consumerism
It is what drives our nation and often it is what drives our ministries. We are used to being served when we are called to serve. We are used to being comfortable when we are called to the often uncomfortable life of a pilgrim. 

We are used to being entertained and pity the pastor who cannot do so. So much of our nation is about me and we rather than about what I can do to serve others, serve God and enhance His Kingdom. Just as the quarterly reports drive our consumer society so our numbers and whatever we need to do to enhance them drive many ministries. Most church growth is simply the reshuffling of believers from one venue to a better venue - until an even better one comes along.

Consumers expect to be made comfortable, get what they paid for, be served and entertained. Think about Jesus and His expectations and life. It was not a consumer mentality but a God oriented mentality committed to the concerns of His Father and not even of Himself (notwithstanding that He was God). Yet we often feed the consumer side of the church!

Competition
I spoke to a pastor recently about why they had made changes in their ministry. He candidly admitted that he did so because another large church in the area had planted an venue in his neighborhood and they needed to differentiate themselves. We compete in all areas of life in our nation and it is usually no different in the church. Cooperation, a sign of unity, is of far less value to us regardless of the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus for the same (John 17) then winning - being better.

I could go on and I don't have all the answers. What I do believe is that we need to deconstruct the American church and reconstruct it on New Testament and Kingdom values: The making of disciples, calling people to a life of followership, serving others, caring deeply for the lost, loving on our communities, using our gifts for His purposes, a true stewardship of our resources, time, energy and abilities and lives that actually look like that of Jesus.

All of us live in a society that has its own set of values. Jesus made it clear that His Kingdom has a different set of values - hence for instance, The Sermon on the Mount. Discerning leaders are clear as to which values belong in His church and in our lives. The ability to discern the difference between the two sets of values is a critical skill of church leaders.