How Do You Deal With A Messed-Up, Modern Evangelical Church?

Keith KettenringChristian Living, The Uncommon Journey

Yesterday I had a fascinating conversation with one of our Airbnb guests. Over his lifetime, he served as a church planter and church planting consultant in the USA and United Kingdom. He grew up Southern Baptist. Over the course of 45 years, he earned a master’s degree from a leading evangelical seminary, explored various theological ideologies, preached, pastored, and served in numerous capacities and…has not now attended church for over 8 years. He has not rejected God but has rejected the “institutional church.” Do you think there’s something wrong with him? Has he left the church or has the church left him? 

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Last week, Rhonda and I saw the new Disney remake of The Beauty and the Beast. Before the movie started were were subjected to advertising of various kinds. A large mega-church in our area filled the screen with their version of church – smiling people, good-looking families, relevant sermons, and top-tier facilities featuring the nursery, children’s ministry and coffee bar. One glimpse showed a worship service with people hopping up and down waving their arms like at a Justin Bieber concert. The message? Happy people. Happy music. Happy family. Happy programs. Happy church. Happy life.

But what if I’d rather be holy than happy? Got anything for me? 

It seems to me that the evangelical church of today is all over the map. You have little idea what you’ll find or hear or see when you walk into a typical evangelical church. There is little accord from one church to another. Many of these churches are like Procter & Gamble, regularly “reinventing” themselves to stay relevant and attract as many people as possible (or at least keep from losing people to the church on the edge of town that can do it better). What a mess! 

So, people have four choices

 1. Keep looking for a church that suits you. 

C.S Lewis gives insight into this type of exploration from the thoughts of Uncle Screwtape to his demon apprentice:

Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighborhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches. (The Screwtape Letters)

The consumerist Christian has been around for quite a while. Contemporary Christians are just perfecting the art.   

 2. Change your approach to the church you are a part of. 

Again C.S. Lewis:

The search for a “suitable” church makes the man a critic where God wants him to be a pupil. What he wants from the layman in church is an attitude which may, indeed, be critical in the sense of rejecting what is false or unhelpful but which is wholly uncritical in the sense that it does not appraise- does not waste time in thinking about what it rejects, but lays itself open in uncommenting, humble receptivity to any nourishment that is going. (The Screwtape Letters) 

Glean from the church you’re in what God has for your spiritual good even if there is much that “rubs you the wrong way.” 

 3. Give up on the church altogether. 

This is not an option for most. Jesus declares that the Church will be built up and not be defeated. The Apostles established the Church as the place where and from where God’s work is accomplished. The Apostle Paul teaches that the  Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3.15). However, so many are thrown into a quandary since the modern church does not resemble this ancient church whatsoever.  

 4. Search for the Church established by Jesus Christ and the Apostles.  

I don’t mean keep visiting one evangelical church after another until you’re satisfied. I mean step back and seriously consider the church established by Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Does she still exist? Follow the evidence. Don’t just start or stop at the Reformation. Read history. Don’t settle for only what you see in the church today.  

I consistently run into people like our Airbnb guest mentioned above. Something is amiss in our modern understanding and experience of the church.

I hope it matters to you.

How would you describe your current status with the church? Take some time to reflect. 

Dr. K