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5 Cultural Trends Killing the Mission of the Church

3. THE DEMAND FOR EXCELLENCE IMPACTS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

Who told us excellence should be our core value? It’s not found in New Testament teaching on the church. But just as society has yielded to a reliance on experts, so has the church. Our parents don’t teach us to prepare meals, Google does. We turn to YouTube to teach us how to do basic home repairs. We call in experts at the drop of a hat.

Likewise with church people. We enjoy Hillsong United on Spotify and listen to our favorite preachers’ podcasts. We won’t put up with anything half-baked or amateurish.

When we combine this with the kind of screwy ecclesiology that expects the paid church staff to do pretty much everything, we end up with a situation where local ministers are required to be Bible teachers, accountants, strategists, visionaries, computer techs, counselors, public speakers, worship directors, prayer warriors, mentors, leadership trainers and fundraisers.

But more than that, we expect them to be exceptional at it.

As churches have declined in size, and demands placed on paid staff have increased, we are seeing clergy burnout rates go through the roof. According to Barna Research, ninety percent of pastors say ministry is completely different to what they thought it would be. Seventy percent say they have a lower self-image now than when they first started.

Christians are turning into connoisseurs, demanding greater and greater excellence, and finding it elsewhere if their local church can’t supply it. But once you outsource your need for exceptional preaching and worship to Podbean or Stitcher, and your need for connection is met using social media, you’re not interested in the messy, chaotic, uncontrollable nature of serving the poor and being a good neighbor to those in need.

 

4. THE END OF VOLUNTEERISM IMPACTS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

Related to the obsession with excellence is the surprisingly quick death of volunteerism. Since volunteers are, by their very nature, not professionals they are considered second-rate. Churches started employing non-members to play in the church band, or perform admin tasks because either no one in the church would volunteer for these roles or they weren’t up to the required standard of excellence.

This has shifted the culture of the church further toward paying professionals to run our outreach programs like preschoolers groups, feeding centers, crisis accommodation units, youth programs, etc.

The quality of the program might have gone up, but engagement by congregations has dropped off completely. Today, many churches’ outreach activities are semi-professional parachurch agencies.

Instead of employing people to run programs, we need to recover our sense of what it means to be missional. David Fitch wrote, “Instead, lead people so as to commit to a place, regular (weekly) presence in a place, praying for this place, its people, so as to discern what God is doing by His Spirit, so as, when the time is ripe, to announce Jesus is Lord here, doing great things. Let us join him! This is ‘opening space for God to work” in our neighbourhoods, towns and villages.”

 

5. THE BURDEN OF REGULATION IMPACTS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH

Society has shifted in a way that requires education providers, community groups and businesses to have much stricter regulations on things like the occupational health and safety of staff, grievance processes, sexual harassment policies, child protection, disabled access, and so on. These are all good and necessary things. But the administrative burden is killing small churches, where the leadership teams are snowed by red tape as they fill in myriad forms, satisfy externally regulated processes, and try to marshal a largely voluntary organization to undertake required training.

l know of one church with around 50 members, all elderly, who are preparing to close down because no one can manage the administrative burden they’re under.

Recently, I planned a wine appreciation night for my church, an opportunity for church people to invite their friends to a low-key social event. I was told I needed to contact the local police to register the event, I needed council approval, and I needed to complete an authorized “responsible service of alcohol” course.

But not only is the burden administrative, it has implications for the mission of the church.

A recent Australian government enquiry into child sexual assault by clergy recommended that there be tighter regulations around who can be called a “pastor” and what minimum training is required for such a role. I understand why those recommendations were made but they make it very difficult for those churches that want to encourage all members to see themselves as missionaries (or sent ones) in their own neighborhoods. One of the fathers of the missional movement, Lesslie Newbigin was well known for talking about the declericalizing of the church. That is, the blurring of the line between clergy and lay people, and “ordaining” all people to mirror the work of God in the world.

I reiterate that I see why these regulations are in place and I’m not suggesting churches shirk them. But, together with the other trends I’ve outlined, they are conspiring to keep churches institutional and clergy-led. The gay lobby or the atheist society or whoever else they’re telling you is attacking the church aren’t impeding the mission of the church as much as these societal trends.

I’d really value any thoughts you have on how to address them.

This article about the mission of the church originally appeared here.

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I’m a 20-year veteran of the academy, but I still don’t call myself an academic. On my immigration forms I write “teacher” in the occupation box. I’ve taught at Morling College in Sydney that whole time and am currently the head of the missiology department there.