Earlier this week I was at a meeting where men from churches all over our county were present. At the beginning of the meeting a nice, older lady who had prepared food for us said that she was really encouraged to see so many Christian men in one place. By the time the meeting was over I was anything but encouraged. Gravely concerned would be a better description.
It started when we worked our way around the room with a representative from each church giving a mini state of their church address. Having spent several years going to meetings like this one, I knew what to expect.
“Hi, I’m Chuck and I’m from CrossPointe. Things are blowing up at our church. We’re all really stoked. Last Sunday we saw 32,000 people give their lives to Christ and at our Vacation Bible School in June we put an end to childhood poverty. God has really favored us so top that, losers.”
I braced myself when the first man stood up to talk. But I was surprised. And it wasn’t a pleasant surprise.
“Well, we’re struggling. We need a new pastor, the choir is on strike and the parking lot needs to be paved.”
And then the next church.
“Things are no good for us either. The good news is that we had 100 people at our church last Sunday. The bad news is that 90% of them were there because the pastor was being arrested for running something called a Ponzi scheme.”
But wait, there’s more!
“Well, I’m the only one here from our church because all of the other men are sorry. And I mean sorry. I guess they were all too busy getting their nails done to come. Idiots.”
When it was my turn to speak I felt like the guy I always hated to hear at these things just because I didn’t have any affairs or church splits to report. I started to wonder what happened. Some of these churches seemed to be doing okay just a short time ago. How did they get to this point? And what do I need to be looking out for to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen at the church that I pastor?
The next day, I found my answers in Philippians. The Philippian church wasn’t perfect. There’s no such thing. But they were on mission. As long as a church is on a biblically-grounded mission, that church is alive. Again, it won’t be perfect but it also won’t be dead.
But if you prefer the dead church, all you have to do is the exact opposite of what Paul and the Philippian church did.
1. Run and hide at the first sign of opposition (Philippians 1:12-30).
Paul used opposition as just another platform for spreading the gospel and making disciples. He knew that whenever the Spirit was working, Satan was too.
But opposition is hard. So the next time some lady who sort of goes to your church complains about you not drawing out the invitation with “one more verse,” cave in to her demands. Worry more about pleasing those on the fringe who, by the way, are never pleased, than you care about pleasing Jesus, the one in charge of the church.
2. Divide and be conquered (2:1-3).
Paul urged the Philippian church to be unified.
Surely that doesn’t apply to your church so go ahead, divide things up. Make sure that the families who homeschool and the families who prefer a private education and the public school families have little to nothing to do with one another. To help things along, pick the style of education that you prefer and preach it as gospel truth.
And then just sit back and watch the destruction.
3. View Jesus as a historical figure to admire rather than the God who demands full devotion (2:1-11).
That’s really sweet of Jesus to be a humble servant but that sort of thing doesn’t fly in today’s world. Feel free to talk about Jesus, sing about Jesus and even promote a What Would Jesus Do? culture in your church. But if you really want to see everything go down in flames, steer Christians away from living out their true identity in Christ.
4. Act like the world (2:12-18).
If you don’t want to stand out in a dark room, turn off your flashlight.
5. Run-off, bore-off or scare-off as many godly male examples as you possibly can (2:19-30; 3:12-4:1; 4:8-9).
Your kids have plenty of role models that they can learn from during the week so why do they need one when they come to church? Besides, what can your son learn at church from some nobody who only sings and empties trash cans that he can’t learn from Kanye West?
6. Value tradition or religion over the gospel (3:1-11).
When in doubt, do it the old way and make sure that everyone knows that it’s the only way.
When in doubt, make a new law for people to follow and make sure that everyone knows that failure to follow this new law will place them directly under the wrath of God.
7. Assume that tension between church members will go away on its own (4:2-3).
Jesus did tell us not to judge others so that must mean that he just wants us to mind our own business and let things work out on their own. Well, unless you count Matthew 18:15-20. Or Galatians 6:1-10. Or Hebrews 10:19-25. Or James 5:16.
The American landscape is littered with once thriving churches that are now dead because leaders decided to let conflict take care of itself. If you’d like for your church to join the list of mass casualties, follow their example.
8. Worry! And when you’re done, worry some more (4:4-7).
Never make decisions based on what the Bible says. Doing that would be a major step away from your goal of destroying your church. So instead, constantly worry about what could go wrong and make key decisions based on what people might think. And whatever you do, don’t pray.
9. When things get tough, act like God has left you all alone (4:10-20).
Paul was content because he relied on the strength of Christ. As a result, churches flourished.
If you’d like to see your church’s doors closed on Sunday mornings a few years from now, try as hard as you can to keep Jesus out of the equation. Refer to the church as your church. Work hard to make it your church. And eventually it will be. But it won’t be a church. Just another empty building. Hey, on the bright side, I’m sure that the local Lion’s Club will be very appreciative for being allowed to use your facilities on Sunday mornings.
There’s this video on the Internet of trees in a junkyard. These are determined trees. They’re growing through cars and around motorcycle wheels. The cars are dead. The trees are alive and growing around and in spite of the death that surrounds them.
The same is true of Jesus’ church. You can try to stop it by making it your own. And, at least at the local level, you might succeed. But ultimately you will fail and what Jesus told Paul, the author of the letter to the Philippians, will be true of you.
“And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'” Acts 26:14 (ESV)