“God, in his grace, may be keeping new believers from coming to your church.” Kevin Harney said this during an Organic Outreach intensive at Amplify in 2016. At first I was shocked. Here was a major evangelist at an evangelism conference essentially saying that God may be opposing the evangelistic efforts of a church. Then I realized he was saying that God my be protecting these tender believers from a church that would hurt their faith. What would this kind of church look like?
A Church God Opposes
In the letters to the seven churches of Asia recorded in Revelation 2 & 3, we get some hints at the types of churches God might oppose:
- Churches that have lost their first love.
- Spiritually dead churches.
- Churches that hold to false teachings.
- Lukewarm churches.
- Churches that allow sexual immorality.
In Revelation 2:5, Jesus tells the church at Ephesus, “Repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” In the context, the word lampstand represents the church. These churches are not being lights in the world, therefore Jesus threatens to shut them down.
What might these churches look like today? What types of churches are not really shining the light of God’s love? In the following list, do you see the character of the churches listed above? Do you see aspects of your own church?
When comfort is a priority, the church’s mission suffers. These churches are doing things the same way they were twenty years ago. They only change when forced to. Their worship services are about inspiring the people for their lives rather than preparing them for the mission of Christ. In comfortable churches, ministry is done by the pastor and a few hard-working people, but the majority do little more than attend worship irregularly.
These churches are out to make the world in their own image. They often seem angry and uncaring. Authoritarian churches are about gaining and holding on to power. They rarely have empathy or listen deeply to the struggles of others. They attack doctrinal error with great fervor but rarely show compassion for sinners.
Churches That Do Not Respect Authority
In these churches the pastor is a hired hand not a shepherd leader. They are more concerned with democratic decisions than submitting to the clear teaching of scripture. They see prayer as a way to get things from God instead of a way to seek God himself. They don’t read the Bible for heart transformation but use it as a proof text to confirm their opinions. This church does not fear God or see Christ as its head.
Churches with Power Groups
Power groups are usually a small but influential set of people who may or may not hold official office. They are often characterized by dysfunctional relational patterns that intimidate others – gossip, complaining, shame, or other controlling behaviors. Secret meetings or a meeting after the meeting by this small group is a sure sign that they see themselves as in control. These churches often turn into “pastor eaters.” Pastors who oppose the controlling group don’t last long.
Churches That Abuse Their Pastor
Abusive churches cause complex relational trauma in a variety of ways. They may neglect to care for their pastor, play power games, treat him like a hired hand, continually criticize, or otherwise diminish him as a person. Consider the volume of books written for pastors who have been hurt by people in their church: Well-Intentioned Dragons, Belligerent Believers, Pastor Abusers, Antagonists in the Church, Clergy Killers, Pastors at Risk, The Wounded Minister, When Sheep Attack, and the list goes on. I am beginning to wonder if there should be a category of psychological care for clergy who have been traumatized by their churches. I know of many pastors who would benefit from such care.
Churches with Abusive Pastors
It’s painfully obvious that pastors can be abusers too. The #ChurchToo movement shows how prevalent clergy sexual abuse has become. However, this isn’t the only type of abuse that pastors commit. Some pastors are controlling and power hungry. They see themselves as the sole authority in the church. They don’t stand on the authority of Scripture or submit to the authority of Christ. These pastors are more like cult leaders than shepherds.
Churches That Don’t Know Jesus
It’s sad to see how many churches just use Jesus to accomplish their political agenda. They don’t stop to ask, “Who does Jesus love?” or “How would Jesus love in this situation?” They often have pet sins that they love to preach against, but they rarely, if ever, confess their own sin. In these churches you will hear more about theological issues than developing the character of Christ within.
Churches That Don’t Follow Jesus
In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Some churches are so focused on church growth that they rarely teach people to obey Jesus. This doesn’t mean that church growth is bad, but it can get in the way of making true disciples. A disciple doesn’t just confess Jesus; they actually follow him. Sometimes it’s the small, stuck-in-their-ways churches that don’t follow Jesus. They refuse to change, making it impossible for them to reach the changing culture.
A graceless church is a terrible place to be. Its teaching produces guilt and shame without offering relief. Like the authoritarian churches, there is no empathy for the struggles of others. Graceless churches forget the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery:
“Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more’” (John 8:10-11).
In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” A church that doesn’t love isn’t following Jesus and isn’t really a church.
The Church God Approves
Perhaps you see your church in some of these descriptions – all churches probably do to some degree. In Revelation 3:19-20, Jesus said:
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
The church that God approves is one that invites Jesus in, that sits at his feet and learns from him. I like to say a true disciple is someone who lives, loves, and leads like Jesus. The only way to do this is to spend time with Jesus through his Word and by his Spirit, to seek God’s will in study and in prayer just as Jesus did. We need to have our hearts transformed to be just like Jesus so we can love like him and lead others into his love. That’s a church God approves!
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