I love the church. Christ’s bride. The ekklesia, God’s called out people. He died to save her and I want to live to serve her. And in my couple of trips around the block as a church member, church planter, church elder, there are a few poisons I’d love to see get big, skull-and-crossbones warning labels so local churches don’t accidentally ingest them. The most beautiful, God-honoring of churches can be disintegrated if you introduce the right toxin (see Revelation 2-3).*
*Note: Some churches also just die a natural death, by God’s good will, having done nothing obviously, overtly sinful or wrong. No single local church lasts forever. Churches have God-ordained lifespans. What I’m warning against is “churchicide,” or, if you prefer, church suicide.
Some ways to kill a church:
- Get each person in the church to have his main concern be his role or reputation. The church will either disband within 6 months or stay together out of spite and be insufferable for 20 years. Each of the people who leave this church or who stays in her just to grumble will be perpetually disgruntled that they didn’t get to do or be what they wanted to do or be. And whatever you do, don’t let any of the people’s attitude be like this:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
- Get them away from the question “Is this true?” Make them instead always, always, always ask “Will this work?” And then get them to think it “worked” if their unbelieving friends and neighbors liked it. Before you know it, they’ll go from trying to bless people because they want them to know their Maker (Christlike) to trying to get people to like them because that means whatever the church did must have “worked” (retail-like). If you can get the church to make her decisions based solely on the world’s reactions to those decisions, you’re one or two steps away from turning the church’s leaders into a roomful of TV executives trying to figure out which type of new fall show will draw in their key demographic.
- Get the church to look in all the time. Make them thoroughly and completely overwhelmed with the church structure and the internal systems and programs. Get them to think only about the people already in the body. No church can outlive its current members if no new members are made. It’s simple math. So you can kill a church by attrition if you get it to stop obeying Jesus’ commands to preach to the unbelieving and make disciples. This method takes a little patience of course, unlike introducing outright heresy or getting a leader to fall into a massive scandal, but it’ll get you to the same end. A church who doesn’t care about making new Christians won’t outlive her current Christians.
Let me pull my tongue back out of my cheek, now: Don’t let any of these things begin in your church. And if they’ve already begun, pray and work like crazy for their removal.
The church is a blessed thing. And the cities and countries of our world desperately need local churches to minister to Gospel-believers and send them back out into the darkness, as well as to preach Christ’s Good News from the pulpit and the pew loud enough for all to hear.
I’m short, love and protect the church.
Jesus died to do the same.