Why are they leaving?
July 3, 2009 § 8 Comments
I have recently been pondering a question that has been put to me several times in the last couple of weeks. “Why are people leaving our church? Why are people leaving that church?” The church they are referring to is the church where I grew up. So it touches me specifically because that was my “home” church and it is where my parents are still in leadership. In fact, some of the questions and follow up discussion is from my parents. So it is very personal and I tread lightly as I attempt to answer. The question is general because my old church is a conservative, independent Baptist church located here in Winston Salem, NC and I think the answers may apply to many churches.
I believe that you can’t copy a recipe for “church” that can be cooked in any culture and have great results. Yet you can follow some simple principles that will be supra-cultural. I will attempt to address these principles over the next few blogs.
Principle 1 – Content Over Presentation
At Salem Chapel, one of our core values is to preach the word of God without apology. We expound Scripture from beginning to end. Our teaching pastor, Josh, often says, “People really enjoy the nice parts of the Bible, but avoid the hard parts. So if you don’t like hearing all of the Bible, this church may not be for you.” That is about as direct as you can get. You have to preach the entire counsel of God.
Big point here: It has to make sense to the listener. It has to be applicable. One of the key elements within preaching is helping people in our culture to make sense of a book written thousands of years ago. Mark Driscoll wrote, “We don’t make the gospel relevant. The gospel is relevant.” So we don’t change the message, we attempt to apply it to everyday scenarios that make sense. Don’t water down and tone down the voice of God. He is a consuming fire, his voice shakes the wilderness, He is the Lion of Judah, He is the conquering King, and our 45 minutes of preaching should not be warm and cuddly sermonettes about how to feel better about yourself.
However, the greater challenges are not coming from those who would sell the gospel short, but those who wax eloquent on the technical side of the faith. They preach a factual faith, but often a theoretical faith. This sterilized teaching anticipates doctrinal objections, pacifies the big givers, bribes the sermon police (those who take the pastor to task for every perceived mistake in outline or illustration) and reminds the older generation of the church legacy.
The preaching itself becomes a homiletic solar system. The preacher is the center of the galaxy and the teaching is THE highest form of intellectual expression and achievement in that universe. So the words, techniques, mannerisms, illustrations, metaphors, hermeneutics and altar calls become the source of energy and power for the ministry. Somehow the new life found in Christ becomes an old tradition found in man.
Can you see the subtle shift in focus and resulting danger? The preaching of God’s Holy Word is a foundational element of the church of Christ. But when the preaching itself begins to be the pinnacle of ministry, then it has become a detractor to the overall ministry of making disciples. Why? Because it is the content of the message, the good news of the faith and the response to that message that is the essence of Christianity.
Why are people leaving good, established, traditional churches with great facilities, full of quality individuals and extensive children’s programs to attend churches that meet in old schools? Because their pastors have fallen into this trap of theoretical preaching. Therefore, the message is no longer relevant. The pastors are not communicating the life-changing message of the gospel. They are delivering well-polished lectures with biblical points. People know the difference and they vote with their feet.