For many church leaders, that change isn’t happening fast enough. For others, the changes are happening too fast. For yet another group, the pace isn’t the problem – they believe the church is changing in all the wrong ways.
Last Sunday I read a blog post by an author who would probably place himself in the third group. His article was well-written and passionate. It was Why I’m Struggling With Church, by Bishop Bob Hellmann. In it, he introduced the subject this way:
“I’ve tried. I really have! In fact, I’ve tried hard! I’ve tried to wrap my mind around so many things the modern church is doing and I’ve tried to bring myself into agreement with it. I don’t enjoy swimming against the current, and swimming alone, at that. I’ve wanted to change and fit in! I wish I could change and fit in. I’ve seen others change. Why can’t I?
So I’m going to tell you what I am struggling with. Maybe you can help me!”
He then lists nine problems he has with the way a lot of churches do church today, including the casual clothes, the music, the youth emphasis… you know the list. He ends the article with, “So, I guess I’m destined to keep swimming against the current. Anyone want to swim with me?”
His article has been passed around a lot. And the comments he’s received on it are filled with “amens”, “preach its” and even one “Yessssssssssssssir”.
I wish I could be one of those agreeable commenters. I like being agreeable. But I can’t on this one. Here’s why.
Six of the nine problems he sees with the church today, look a lot like my church.
Yep. Six of nine. So, obviously I don’t see the same problems with the church that he does.
Usually, I’d let this ride. I’ve never met Bishop Hellmann. And I’ve read a lot of bloggers with similar complaints. So far, I’ve let all of them go by without comment. But this one is different.
First, since he described our church so closely, it hit a bit of a nerve with me.
Second, Bishop Hellmann stated that he’s still struggling with this and he openly asked his readers, “maybe you can help me.” So I’m going to try.
Third, he wrote his post with passion, even frustration, but without any of the name-calling that’s often associated with such blog posts. This gives me hope that his concerns are sincere and that my responses will be taken seriously.
Maybe this can open up a dialog. Old school meets new school. Without anyone getting beat up at recess.
So I step into this potential landmine of misunderstanding. Where angels fear to tread…
(Bishop Hellman’s original blog post is too long to reprint here. If you click on the title above, it will take you to his Facebook page, where he wrote it. But if you can’t find it there, I’ve also reprinted it on a page where it can always be accessed. Click here to read it on that page, unedited, just as he originally wrote it.)
My Response to Bishop Hellmanns’s “Maybe You Can Help Me” Request
Hi, Bishop Hellmann. I read your blog post from Sunday, August 31, 2014. We’ve never met, so it seems strange that our first interaction will be on a blog post that everyone can read. But you asked for help in understanding the way people do church today. Since you made your request in a public forum (your blog), I’ll write my response in a public forum, too (my blog).
First, a little about me. I’m not a young, naive, hipster, megachurch pastor. I’m a third-generation minister in my mid-fifties, pastoring a Small Church in Orange County, California. I saw God do amazing things in my childhood, at a time when people dressed up for church, prayed for revival and saw their prayers answered. So I understand your frustration with the changes the church is undergoing today.
I understand it, but I don’t share it.
My primary frustration isn’t with how we do church today. It’s with church leaders of my generation and yours who complain about how we do church today.
But it’s frustration mixed with sympathy.
So here goes. I’ll address each of your nine issues, one at a time, starting with the ones that describe my church, then ending with the ones that don’t.
This Is My Church
1. Dark sanctuaries. In my church, we sometimes worship in a relatively dark sanctuary. I’ve never heard anyone say it’s because people “don’t want to be seen in church” as your blog post states. In fact it’s hard to believe that someone would ever say that. How did they get from their car into the church on a Sunday morning? Were they rushed in by the secret service?
When our church lowers the lights while we’re singing, it’s to reduce exterior distractions and draw people into a more contemplative place. At other times, the lights stay on for more celebrative worship. But they always go up for the message so people can follow along in their bibles and take notes. And because I like seeing their faces when I share the Word with them.
2. Sloppy dress. Yep, that’s us too. But what you call sloppy, we call casual – and comfortable. And no, I don’t buy the argument in your blog post that “dressing up was mandatory for meeting the king” or that “dressing up itself is an act of worship”.
First, I don’t go to church to meet with the king. I spend every moment of my life in the presence of the king. I don’t enter his presence when I go to church or leave his presence when I exit the building.
Second, I don’t dress up as an act of worship. If so, I’d have to declare my morning shower a prayer-free zone. How we dress (aside from the issues of immodesty and pride) has nothing to do with what God expects of us in worship. The bible tells us a lot about the attitude of our hearts in worship, but nothing about “proper dress”.
If you’re more comfortable in a suit and tie, go for it. But don’t tell me I look like I “just changed the oil in my car” because I’m wearing clean jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and sneakers when I preach. When I go to church I’m not entering the royal chambers, I’m spending time with my spiritual family – including my heavenly father. So that’s the occasion I dress for – hanging out with my family.
3. (See below)
4. Too much emphasis on music. Yes, we sing in our church – a lot. And mostly new music, too. With drums and guitars. But no one is “being paid large sums of money” to lead in worship. (We’re a Small Church – we don’t have large sums of money). And yes, we also emphasize, as you wrote, that “true worship is a lifestyle and happens every day of the week for the believer.”
5. Children and youth overemphasis. Ironically, just a few hours before your blog post was put up, I talked about this very issue in our church. Over half the people in our church last Sunday were under 30. The first two rows are always filled with teens and twenty-somethings.
Why? Because we pray and work very hard to bring them in and keep them. By all accounts, the most dangerous time in a person’s spiritual life are the years between high school graduation and college graduation. Up to 70% of church kids leave our churches during those years. We’re trying to stop the bleeding!
And no, we don’t reach them or keep them by putting on a show for them. We teach them the Word, we lead them into worship, we put them to work and we train them in leadership. And yes, they do all that with great enthusiasm because we don’t require them to worship like we did when we were their age. We celebrate what God is doing today.
6. Bass fishing. No, we don’t do bass fishing. But we would if there were more lakes in Southern California. Instead, we do beach bonfires, church picnics and other fun outings. It wasn’t clear to me, reading your post, why you have a problem with churches scheduling times of fellowship together, so I’ll leave this one at that.
7. Hamburgers and hot dogs. In your post, you wrote that, “in the early church when they fished for souls they fished with Holy Spirit power, signs, wonders, and miracles. Today’s church fishes for souls with hamburgers and hotdogs. Or, fixing up someone’s house, or cutting someone’s grass…”
What’s wrong with doing both? In our church, we have prayer gatherings and we do community service days on which we fix people’s houses and feed the hungry. We also have a skateboard park in our parking lot. People have come to our church as a result of those events and have given their lives to Christ. They’ve had their marriages and families restored, been physically healed and have been called into ministry all over the world.
The early apostles didn’t just see signs and wonders happen among them. In Acts 2:42-47, where the Holy Spirit first started performing signs and wonders in the church, the church also sold their possessions and “gave to anyone as he had need.” As a result of miracles and benevolence, the church enjoyed “the favor of all the people.”
What’s wrong with starting ministry using hamburgers and hot dogs, as long as the ministry isn’t just hamburgers and hot dogs?
8 & 9. (See below)
This Is NOT My Church
3. The anti charismatic, charismatic church. According to your post, “charismatic churches now don’t pray for the sick and suffering at all or if they do, it’s in a dark corner somewhere where no one will see it.” That’s just not true. Not in my church. I assume not in your church. Not in many churches.
Plus, there are a lot of churches that would not classify themselves as charismatic, that are very God-honoring and prayerful – including prayer for the sick and suffering.
Are there some churches that have relegated prayer into a back room, if at all? Sure. Always have been. Always will be. That’s not a new thing. Four of the seven churches in Revelation 2-3 had lost some or all of their spiritual zeal. And that was a long time before casual clothes and stage lighting.
Don’t get mad at the modern church, pray for the prayerless church. It’s not a generational thing.
8. The absence of strong, biblical discipleship teaching. There are SO MANY good churches doing solid, biblical discipleship. Including mine. As I write this, I’m heading into a three month series through 1 Corinthians. There have always been churches who abandon biblical teaching and “gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Including the church in Corinth, as my church will hear about soon.
Again, this is not a new thing. We have to stop acting like every church taught the bible properly 40 years ago, but none of them do now. It’s just not true.
9. Satellite churches where one basically goes and watches television from the home church. No, my church doesn’t do that. But I don’t have a problem with churches that do, it’s just not my cup of tea. Why can’t we agree that what works in some churches doesn’t work in others, instead of acting like everything I don’t like is automatically bad?
The Gospel Is All that Matters
So there you have it. A response post that was longer than the original post.
What it may all come down to, is this simple set of truths:
- New church isn’t better
- Old church isn’t better
- Only better church is better
Methods that work in one setting won’t work in another. What worked then doesn’t work now. And what works now won’t work in the future.
What does work is the Gospel of Jesus, preached and lived through the power of the Holy Spirit. In dark or bright rooms, wearing suits or casual clothes, singing hymns or choruses… maybe even over hot dogs and hamburgers on a bass fishing trip.
So what do you think? Does this help answer some of the questions you’ve been struggling with? Or is there an angry crowd with pitchforks and torches in my future?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.