Church Doesn't Work

Sometimes I find a post that hits me in the gut. On Tuesday I saw "Confused Christian" on the new and anonymous My Bloggerings, and read expressions of what many evangelicals feel these days. It made me ask whether God's eye has left his people. MB, the blog's creator, wrote that she grew up charismatic but turned away from the sign gifts movement after she got married. "I just didn’t think that is what the Bible was all about." But now she feels that she can't replace it with anything.

At her current church, she says, "I am so unsatisfied with watered down preaching and 'anything goes' philosophy because God after all will still love you.  I want more than this." She sees professing Christians living as immorally as non-Christians, being focused on their careers rather than their children. "My church has lost the art of mentoring younger people and feeding them spiritually.  Instead, the goal is to make friends who drink and have poker games at their house and hit on girls at the Champs restaurant in our city."

MB says she wants a deeper community where life with Christ is more vibrant. "But I’m afraid that this is only a dream.  For I have visited so many churches only to be let down by them all.  Am I just expecting too much?"

Her experience is depressingly common. I often look at the demands of ministry and echo her question, adding another of my own. Is there any tool for nurturing spiritual life that works?

Morality doesn't work. Parents and church leaders who focus on raising standards of behavior only have scare tactics to motivate people. There's a wealth of material to use -- a culture that is spiraling into anarchy, case after case of self-destruction, evidence from medicine and social science about the effects of vice. But the reality is that people are not primarily motivated by fear. If future danger and immediate pleasure compete for people's attention, who wins?

Community doesn't work. The old line that embers burn when they're close together is true as far as it goes. But a pile of sticks won't make its own spark. Strong community without vibrant spirituality just strengthens people's selfishness under the cover of love and loyalty.

Family doesn't work. The fumes of human sin are most toxic when inhaled up close. The flame of the tongue, the heat of anger, the slow burn of bitterness have a way of suffocating all godly aspirations. Far too many families, if we're honest, have a well-preserved skin of faith, but their vital organs have been pickled.

Doctrine and preaching don't work. Neither do programs, buildings, or media. Truth be told, I can't think of a single spiritual tool that makes any impression on a heart that refuses to seek God. The tools only make that heart worse. Which means that, when people will not listen to the claims of God on their lives, the tool that is so useful at so many other times, the church, doesn't work.

There is only one thing that affects hearts like we have among evangelicals today. It is a single moment, the moment when the presence of Jesus Christ becomes frighteningly real, when a professing believer raises his face and discovers that God's eye, far from leaving him, has been locked on him all along, and has seen everything.

For that, MB and the rest of us have to pray.