I am reminded of a story I heard once of a young bride who was cooking her first ham for her new husband. As he watched over her shoulder, she took a kitchen knife, cut the end off the ham, discarded the cut piece, and placed the rest of the ham in the baking dish. When the husband asked her why she cut the end from the ham, she replied, “that’s the way my mother did it”. Later, at the family Thanksgiving dinner, the young husband observed his wife’s mother preparing the ham for the meal, and just as his young bride had told him, she too cut the end from the ham, discarded it, and placed the rest of the ham in the baking dish. When asked why she cut the end from the ham, she also replied, “that’s the way my mother did it.” Finally, he was able to be with his wife’s grandmother and as he observed her preparation of the ham, he noticed, true to family tradition, she also cut the end from the ham, discarded it, and placed the ham in the baking dish. He had to know why she would do such a senseless and wasteful thing and to his question she replied, “I cut the end off of the ham because the ham is too large for the baking dish”.
This is a silly story, but unfortunately, it is true in our lives in so many ways. Do we ever ask ourselves why we do things that seem to make no real sense and may even appear senseless on careful examination? Let us take church for example. We come to church and listen to uplifting music and carefully prepared inspiring sermons week after week. We place our money in the offering plate to support a system that perpetuates our coming to church each week, to support staff to sing uplifting music and present carefully prepared inspiring sermons. We expect others in one hour to teach our children how to live Godly lives and then blame the pastor or staff when our young ones stray from the flock. But we keep coming, year after year. We keep coming decade after decade. Why? Because we do not really know what else to do and no one told us “the ham was too large for the baking dish.”
There is nothing wrong with any of the activities listed above. Uplifting music and inspiring sermons are a good thing. Giving tithes and offerings is a good thing. Teaching our children is a good thing. But have we lost sight of why we are really supposed to be doing all of these things? And how do we know if there is a problem?
Jesus said in Luke 7:35 “Wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it”. He is saying that the ones who are following Him are the proof of the correctness of His teaching. The followers of Christ lived changed lives because they embraced the wisdom that was taught. The church is to be the reservoir of the spiritual wisdom and understanding of God (Col. 1:9-10). Why? So we can walk in ways that will always honor and please God and so we can always bear fruit and increase in our knowledge of God. (Col. 1:11) From an aerial view of the church, we may see a slightly different picture than that which Paul describes.
Let us look at the “church” in our society today. Our statistics tell us even though our activities may be good in themselves, and even though we may see pockets of success, they are not really accomplishing the overall purpose intended. Even though we have many churches, on every block in some cases, we must ask ourselves if we are accomplishing our purpose or are we going through the motions without understanding why “we are cutting the end off of the ham”? Are there successes? Yes. Are there those who truly replicate the Col. 1:9-11 believer? Yes. But what is our return on our investment (ROI)?
The first national survey of the worldview of Americans conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University (@crcacu) shows that although seven out of ten consider themselves to be Christian, only 6% actually possess a biblical worldview. (https://www.biblegateway.com/blog/2020/05/extremely-low-percentage-of-americans-hold-biblical-worldview-an-interview-with-george-barna/) This same study shows that only 2% of ages 18-29 have a biblical worldview.
Another report states that 54% of all abortions are performed on women with Christian religious affiliations. (https://www.guttmacher.org/article/2020/10/people-all-religions-use-birth-control-and-have-abortions?gclid=CjwKCAjw_JuGBhBkEiwA1xmbRdO-byUT2fFJQZeYhWbOFDeyTW7qUfE0PhaXoSf3WPLPyGIVVjH0aBoCImwQAvD_BwE)
Can there be a “Pro-Choice Christian” or is this another one of our religious oxymoron’s that we throw around for convenience and absolution?
The church struggles with alarming levels of divorce, homosexuality, mental and physical health issues, addictions, disunity, and financial crises. Countless dollars go into building programs and salaries and if these numbers are correct, which there is no reason to think they are not based on what we can easily observe, most astute business owners would go into a major restructuring program to increase ROI.
So, with all these complaints, what is the solution? A few suggestions might be that we…
…understand the true purpose of the church. Eph. 4:11-12 tells us that the church is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. We often stop there and think we are to train people on how they are to work in the church and teach people how to sing uplifting songs and prepare inspiring sermons, work in the nursery, go on mission trips, etc. But we ignore the latter part of that Scripture which is the real purpose of equipping the saints and the real purpose of any work of ministry. That goal is that “we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) We are to teach people how to be like Christ, not just in action but in heart, motivation and attitude.
…go back to the basics. Acts 2:42-47 reveals the characteristics of the early church. They were devoted to the Apostles teaching, to fellowship, to the observance of the Lord’s supper, to prayer, to the reverential awe of God, to joyful generosity and to daily worship together in the Temple. Can we do all of these in our churches today? Of course we can. Do we? You decide. Looking at this Scripture, do we get the sense that God was not forced into a weekly, hour long service? Do we get the sense that worship was more than a few songs sung to “warm up the crowd”? Do we get the sense that the devotion to the Apostles teaching was adherence to the uncompromised Word that Jesus taught? And do we get the sense that prayer was more than just for opening and closing a service?
…examine our hearts to see if we are still in the faith. (2 Cor. 13:5) Remember, wisdom is shown to be right by the lives of those who follow it. Are we representing the “wisdom of God” in a way that proves to the world the truth of Who He Is. The Church is to represent God in the earth. We as believers are to do the same works of Christ. (Jn. 14:12) We are to “walk as Christ walked”. (1 Jn. 2:6) Our homes should be our first place of worship, fellowship, prayer, teaching and discipling and illustrating the Word to our children. Too often we leave the discipling of our children to “church staff” for a couple of hours a week, while we forget that most of the discipling should be done in the home. (Deut. 6; Prov. 22:6)
Does church polity matter? Yes and no. I believe that God can work through any system if we allow Him the time and freedom to do so. However, most of our operation called “church service” controls God rather than freeing Him to move among His people. Can God move in a structured service? Yes. I love what one of my spiritual mentors said to me once. She said, “Structure does not strangulate, but it facilitates the moving of the Spirit”. (Apostle Naomi Dowdy) That is if it is healthy structure and if we allow Him to move. Paul said, “all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Cor. 14:40) But he also said, “where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.” (2 Cor. 3:17)
So where did all this come from? Being a pastor and a business owner where we see hundreds of broken people on a yearly basis, my perception is a little different than most. Being the operator of a licensed Mental Health facility gives me a closer view of the results of the broken system called church. Many people have been deeply wounded by the church. Many have gone to the church and left after finding no help and ending up more discouraged and disillusioned than when they came. Many have given up on God because they found all the promises lacking in substance. In many cases, the church has done a poor job of representing the Jesus of Luke 4:18-20 who promises good news to the poor, sight to the blind, deliverance to the captives and healing to the crushed and broken.
But there are also great success stories. I wish there were more. But again, from an aerial view of the church, there is a lot of work to do to fulfill the mandate of Eph. 4:13, Luke 4:18-10, John 10:10 and countless more promises. The church must become the church and reach the lost with not just a sermon, but the transforming power o God. People need to experience the power of God and not just another carefully crafted sermon, exhilarating song, or emotional plea. People do not need more conferences and concerts. People need to experience the Presence of God. (1 Cor. 2:4)
This is our prayer. Lord come and do what you did in the Hebrides in 1949. Do what you did in Wales and at Azuza Street in 1904. Transform cities with Your Presence! This is Revival!