Today’s church is deteriorating rapidly. She is closing down meeting places, losing clergy, and hemorrhaging members (see Tearing Things Apart: Part Two). We are quickly going the way of the dodo bird, and of the carnage, there’s no end in sight.
Probably worse than that (in fact, probably the cause of all that) is the fact that we’ve lost relevancy—at least in the eyes of the rest of the world. Few people can see any reason for us to exist anymore. Indeed, many in the church herself struggle to find a reason to stay.
“Take it all apart…”
People write blogs, columns, essays and books on this subject. Most of them have an idea or two concerning how we can go about fixing the problem(s). Here’s mine. Tear it down and rebuild (and I don’t mean the physical structures). Take it all apart, and start over.
Over the past two millennia, we’ve added so much excess to the church. We’ve added things that have become institutionalized and impossible to eliminate—things that are entirely unnecessary to the life of the church. We can’t seem to get rid of them because “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
I beg to differ. That’s NOT the way we’ve always done it. I suspect if Matthew, Peter, John, and the boys showed up today, they wouldn’t recognize the church as it now stands. I believe they would have a myriad of questions for us. “What’s this?” Why do you do that?” “Who told you to form that kind of association?” “Where’s Jesus in all of this?”
Because we’ve piled on so much excess baggage, we can’t carry it around anymore. We’ve become a mere skeleton of what we were meant to be. The last time I checked, skeletons without muscle and sinew can’t function.
Part of the problem, of course, is that we can’t seem to figure out what’s wrong. Everyone has a different opinion as to what our real problem happens to be. We see the symptoms, but the disease is not one we’re used to diagnosing. That’s one reason why I think we need to start all over.
Let me be clear. I’m under no illusion that we’ll do this just because I say it’s the way to go. But it seems to me, some congregation somewhere needs to be an example of what I’m suggesting. Actually, there are several of them out there, but they are so few and far between, we seldom get a glimpse of them among the wreckage of waning flocks and failing institutions.
I believe we serve a God who will not allow the church to die. I believe there will always be an ember somewhere—a remnant (as the Bible often puts it). I also believe that the church as we know it will be gone within a few decades. The question is, in my view, what will take her place? If we don’t opt for some major reconstruction, the Lord will have to do it for us. (To be continued…)
[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently pastor of Smith Chapel in Great Falls, VA.]