We live in a strange time, don’t we? Congregations seem to be going in a thousand different directions (and some seem not to be going in any direction at all). What’s it going to take to get us back on track? What’s it going to take to get us excited again?
I wish I knew how we could rally the troops. I wish I knew how we could get us all going in the same direction. Although this letter may be a futile effort to do so, I feel compelled to write down five things I think churches of Christ desperately need to hear:
1. Stop Being Afraid
We have so many telling us, “You’re shrinking! You’re going to die out if you don’t compromise your principles!” Church, that’s Satan talking! We need to say, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Mark 8:33).
Congregation after congregation is adding instruments to their worship service. Why? Do they they think God is more pleased with the sound of a machine than the sound of singing saints? No. They do it because they’re afraid. They’re afraid they can’t reach people without the instrument. They’re afraid young people will leave if they don’t add the instrument.
Stop making decisions out of fear. Stop being pressured into compromise. Remember, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:7). Stop walking by fear and start walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7).
2. Be a Movement Again
At one point we experienced unprecedented growth in this country. Why? Because we were a movement. We were moving toward a goal – being the church of the New Testament.
But somewhere along the way we decided we had arrived and we stopped moving. Brethren, it’s hard to get excited about being a part of a group who thinks they have arrived, thinks they have all the answers, and is content never to grow in their understanding past where they are today.
Many of us probably need a dose of humility, we need to realize we probably don’t have it all together, and we need to decide to start moving again. We need to start looking at the Bible through fresh eyes. We need to stop trying to restore 1950s Christianity and start trying, once again, to restore 1st Century Christianity.
When was the last time, for instance, prayer and fasting was practiced in your congregation (Acts 14:23)? Why is it that one New Testament practice – like giving – is seen as important, but another practice like fasting could all but be ignored? Isn’t it time we get moving again? Not moving away from biblical Christianity, but moving toward it!
3. Teach Your Children
Blog post after blog post spouts reasons the church is losing young people. Is it because we don’t offer enough youth activities? Is it because we offer too many youth activities? I think the reason is pretty simple, but it may not be the reason you want to hear. It is because we’ve forgotten who has the primary responsibility to train up the next generation (Proverbs 22:6).
Although the work youth ministers do is important, it isn’t a youth minister’s job to teach children the fundamentals of being a Christian; that’s a parent’s job! No amount of youth ministry involvement can take the place of Christian parents teaching their children to be Christians (Ephesians 6:4). I believe the primary reason we’re facing the problems we’re facing today is because parents haven’t taught their children.
Part of the problem is that parents don’t know why we do what we do, and so they haven’t taught their children. Another part of the problem is that parents know, but haven’t taken the time to teach their children why we do what we do. But, perhaps the biggest part of the problem is that parents know, have taught, but haven’t modeled a sincere and passionate faith at home.
Our young people often see more conviction and passion in their denominational friends than they do in their own parents. Why wouldn’t they be attracted to that? Add to that, many young people see our practices as meaningless traditions because they’ve never been taught why we do what we do. Is it any wonder then, that we hear young preachers calling churches of Christ, “The tribe I grew up in,” as if New Testament Christianity was just another tradition within the larger context of Christianity?
4. Stop Thinking Like a Denomination
We must stem the tide of denominational thinking in the church. When I hear a Christian say, “I have a friend who isn’t ‘Church of Christ.'” I want to look at them with a blank stare, raise one eyebrow, tilt my head to one side, and say, “What does that even mean?”
I am not, “Church of Christ,” I am a Christian. The church of Christ is made up of everyone who has been saved by the blood of Christ. Everyone who is “in Christ” is also in the church of Christ. You don’t become a member of the church of Christ by attending worship in a building that has the words “Church of Christ” on the sign, you are added by Christ to His church when you’re saved (Acts 2:47).
A local church is “of Christ” if it is practicing New Testament Christianity. A local church is “of Christ” if the membership and the leadership is committed to being Christians only. A local church is “of Christ” if Christ and His word are the foundation. There are plenty of buildings with signs that say a church is “of Christ,” but their practices say they’re not. And there may be churches that do not use the phrase “church of Christ” on their sign, but they are most definitely “of Christ.”
If we continue thinking of the church of Christ as just another tribe or tradition within the larger context of Christianity, we have missed the entire point. The entire point of our movement is to be Christians only.
The church must be a place of love. Jesus said that is how “all men will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:35). It isn’t enough for us to say we love, our love must be evident (1 John 3:18). Our words and our deeds need to be dripping with love.
Too often, when “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), people hear truth, but don’t hear any love. One is absolutely useless without the other. If we are truthfully hateful with people, we are being disobedient to Christ. If we are lovingly false with people, we are being disobedient to Christ. We must decide that in all situations we will be lovingly truthful with everyone.
And God is pretty explicit about what love looks like (1 Corinthians 13). If you’re not being patient, you’re not loving. If you’re not being kind, you’re not loving. If you’re being rude, you’re not loving. The people that belongs to Christ MUST be people who love.
The Future is Bright
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, there are so many wonderful opportunities right in front of us. If we will only open our eyes and get to work, there is no limit to what God can do through us!
I love you and God loves you,