In an ongoing series by the Barna Group to try and capture the state of the church in America, half of the pastors cited “declining or inconsistent outreach and evangelism” as a major issue facing the church.
Sadly, this finding is not surprising. And, churches could be capturing opportunities in a time of uncertainly, discomfort – even panic. An incoming tide of receptivity to hear a message of hope is arriving at the doorsteps of professing Christians.
But, a lack of interest and preparedness is prompting many of us to remain quiet.
Our Lord and Savior who loves us beyond comprehension is already forgiving us. His grace and mercy already paid the price for our sins. And right now, with a clean slate and a heart full of love and thanksgiving, believers can be a bastion of hope and a proclaimer of Truth.
The Corona-virus pandemic is seizing the attention of the world as it should. People are looking to government leaders and science for solutions to help guide us back to a sense of normalcy.
A civilized society rests on their trust in its political institution. If people remain calm and not panic, it will be alright.
What about those who have been set apart by God to trust in his promises?
Justified by faith alone — fully redeemed through God’s grace alone — faith exemplifies itself through its confession and actions. It’s not that acts are motivated to be redeemed, but a spirit-generated response by being redeemed. Faith prompts a desire to spread the Word.
So, what’s the problem?
I believe the Barna report on the state of the church (“What’s on the mind of America’s Pastors”) is uncovering distinct patterns and clues for its problems and solutions.
For instance, a rise in the lack of interest to proclaim the gospel could be tied with a significant increase in the “low spiritual maturity among church goers” that pastors cite as a growing concern (27% in 2017 vs. 8% in 1992). U.S. pastors in the report also rank “watered down gospel teachings” (72%) as the largest issue facing the church during the America’s dramatic shift towards toward secularization.
These findings coincide with previous Barna reports which concluded that “evangelism has fallen out of favor even with young adults who are practicing Christians.” Coupled with “watered down gospel teachings” it’s not surprising that the next generation have a “distrust” of religious institutions.
When Christian churches appear more interested in aligning itself with political idealism and legislating morality, not willing to confront false teaching, and struggle with sanctified living among its leaders, then it’s going to be a struggle to reach those who distrust organized religion. A water-down gospel and spiritual immaturity sows the seeds of hypocrisy and a lack of interest to grow in God’s Word and proclaim it to others.
Like the Jewish people during the time of Christ, I wonder if professing Christians are far more interested in having a savior that promotes a return to a “moral” kingdom and prosperity rather than a Savior for our sins.
Like Jesus standing over Jerusalem, I wonder if he stands on a precipice today and weeps. How he may long to gather those he loves like a hen gather her checks under her wings through the power of his pure and unfettered Word.
When biblical truth is muddied by a watered-down understanding of God’s wrath and grace, people miss receiving the assurance and confidence of full redemption.
And this plays itself out by a lack of trust in God’s Word and a believer’s responsibility for spreading it.
Fear drives panic when there is a loss of trust in the institution of government for which God has established.
Fear drives panic when there is a loss of trust in his Word and the institution of the Church for which God has established.
A church loses its saltiness.
We can go to the Lord in prayer,
“O Sovereign Lord, Almighty Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One who establishes the universe – “who determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name” (Ps. 147:4) – we humbly place our trust in your hands. We praise you, our Savior and friend. It is during serious times it can be the time to take your Word seriously. Grasp the collar of my soul and raise me up to boldly declare your name to my community. Forgive me for any timidity that could cause me to remain satisfied in being a light without a desire to give reasons for the hope I have in you. By the power of your Word, grant me to be salty when it seems the world around me is increasingly tasteless. With eyes fixated on you, Lord, grant me peace, confidence, and everlasting hope. In your name, Amen.”