I was recently at a dinner with some of the Executive Team of an international ministry. We were discussing their incredible impact on the world and how God was doing “exceedingly, abundantly beyond” anything anyone could imagine.
At some point, our conversation turned to what we do at Sherwood. I was asked about what makes up the DNA of the church. What are the things that are important to us? When I’m asked these kinds of questions, I usually have no clue where the questioner is coming from. But what I discovered in that conversation was a lot of like-minded people.
They say you should never move a fence until you find out why it was put there. I don’t want to sound like an old, out-of-touch Baby Boomer, but I think we’ve moved too many fences in our churches. In an effort to “reach the lost” we’ve taken down fences that were placed there for a reason. In my denomination, we’ve been moving fences for 25-30 years, and we are baptizing less people than we did in the 1950s. If we were seeing cultural impact, I might say, “Yes, it was right to do that.”
However, seeing the divorce rate in churches the same as the culture, seeing kids walk away from the church in record numbers, seeing a decline in people willing to serve, seeing a generation that doesn’t even consider tithing, I think I have a valid case for putting some fences back up. It couldn’t get any worse than it is now.
We are losing the battle for the souls of men. We are losing the battle for the culture. We have already lost the battle over marriage, sexual issues and morality. America today is as pagan as first-century Rome, and we have social media to back up that statement. My humble and accurate opinion, which I highly respect, is that we are producing a Christian faith that is nowhere near New Testament in its commitment, outreach, prayer and understanding of truth. The largest denomination in America is the “Ignorant Brethren” and the “How little can I do and still get to heaven?” follower.
We moved fences, and we lost our children. They’ve got more activities than any generation in our history, but they aren’t learning to be salt and light. Why? Parents are more interested in travel sports teams and other extracurriculars than in raising up the next generation of preachers, teachers, missionaries and soldiers of the cross.
We’ve accommodated and compromised so much that our methodology is accommodation methodology even if our theology is not. We want people to like us, so we water down the sermons, and fall short of calling sin what it is.
We are in a crisis in our country, yet there are very few calls to be a people desperate for revival. Our churches across denominational lines are in decline or closing their doors, but we do little to honestly address the issue. We’ve given up the inner city because churches don’t want to make the changes necessary to do “whatever it takes” to reach the city. We’ve taken the steeple out of the inner city and it’s been replaced by strip clubs, night clubs and gangs. We will be held accountable by God for this shameful decision.
We are more interested in church growth than church health. You can grow a crowd with what we are doing, but are we making disciples? Are we developing people committed to the lordship of Christ? It is my belief that we are merely building churches that attract people who want miracles—“Give us more bread,” “Fix my life”—but aren’t interested in going to the cross. Jesus had those followers, and the overwhelming majority left Him when He started to walk toward the cross. Their descendants are in our churches today.
What fences have we moved? I’ll be called an old-fashioned, out-of-touch preacher for this one, but most churches have done away with Sunday nights. I’ve heard all their arguments. People in the cities are traveling…it’s the one day families have together…blah, blah, blah. So the church did away with Sunday nights. The end result is that we don’t have better dads. Sunday night “family time” is dad taking in a late round of golf, mom in the kitchen, and the kids watching TV, playing video games or searching the Internet (probably without a filter). Sunday night has become a night for people who aren’t doing much as a family and are certainly lazy after God.
So what if the crowd is not big? Read the Gospels. Much of what Jesus said was to His inner circle, His core group. When a pastor gives up Sunday nights, he automatically loses the opportunity to speak to the core that, in essence, is the heart of the church. Let’s be honest—we can all count on one hand the number of great soul winners, disciple-makers, servants and workers who just give God one hour a week.
We learn life, faith, grace and hope in community. If you read Paul’s letters to the churches, he’s writing to the body, not to individuals. He’s writing about how a church, a body, a family should function. We are better together than we are individually. We learn from one another. We encourage, challenge, stretch, pray for and love one another in community. There’s accountability when the body is together.
Every week I prepare two completely different messages. It takes me countless hours to prepare these series, but it’s worth it. We have about 55-60 percent of our Sunday morning crowd come back on Sunday nights. We do discipleship on Wednesday nights and have about the same number as we have for House of Prayer and Worship on Sunday nights. I love our Sunday night services. Why? People choose to come back because they want to grow. They aren’t observers watching us on stage; they are participants, seeking to go further and deeper in their walk with God.
I need Sunday nights. Given a choice, I’d preach Sunday night and let someone else preach Sunday morning. No matter how tired I am…no matter how exhilarating the Sunday morning service has been…Sunday nights are where I find my stride. I put more work into Sunday night sermons because I want the folks who come back to feel it was totally worth the time and effort.
Another fence the church has moved is prayer meeting. It seems that if you have a prayer meeting, you are considered irrelevant. Yes, prayer meetings deteriorated into little more than a list of those in the hospitals. But for the love of all that is holy, pastors, you can change that. Where’s your prayer meeting for the lost in your community? When do you have an organized meeting to pray for prodigals, those on mission trips or for the vision of the church?
As long as I am allowed to serve as a pastor, I’m going to emphasize things that make disciples and allow the Shepherd to speak into the lives of His sheep. I don’t want the sheep that know my voice to be under-nourished. I don’t want to be in a prayerless church where prayers are confined to the offering and benediction. Jesus said, “My house shall be a house of prayer for the nations.” I’m going to keep my fence up and continually look for ways to make the church I serve that kind of praying church.
One last word for pastors… “Peter, do you love me? FEED MY SHEEP!” One meal a week won’t cut it, pastors. When I read what Wesley, Whitefield and others did and how many times they preached a week, I’m embarrassed to think that I’m only preaching twice a week to the sheep God has entrusted to me.
Just a thought.