“Church Hunters”: I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry!

 

Remember when going to church meant dressing up, then going to a brightly sunlit church auditorium and singing some reverential hymns of praise to the Lord from the hymn book with Christian brothers and sisters before listening to the pastor preach a sermon from his Bible that pointed to sin and failings but was followed by messages of grace, forgiveness, encouragement, and empowerment in the Lord?

If you attend a church where that’s still the norm, you might not be aware of just how much things have changed elsewhere.

Following the Hybels/Warren/Drucker model, many churches are competing in the Sunday attendance numbers race by catering to the young, casual “seeker” with a “I’m on my way to dig a ditch” dress code, along with rock concert-style CCM music replete with light shows in a darkened auditorium, and a sermon that’s short on doctrine and sin and very long on cheery feelgoods from a pastor who sports the latest avant garde haircut and is dressed in sneakers, skinny jeans, and a t-shirt, who doesn’t even know your name.

Check out the these two videos from comedian John B. Crist showing what today’s young evangelicals are looking for when they’re hunting for a church. I know from experience that there’s a lot of truth mixed in with the comedy. Yes, I’m an old fuddy-duddy in many respects and I agree the cut of clothes you wear to church is not the litmus test of spirituality. But the church seems to have gone to the opposite extreme in trying to blend in with the culture to boost the attendance numbers.

 

Some rambling thoughts about “tithing”

“The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoevertt sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” – 2 Corinthians 9:6-7

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior back in the early 80s and began attending a Gospel-preaching church shortly afterwards. Three or four times a year the pastor would preach on financial giving to the church. He stated that although the New Testament doesn’t command tithing – giving a tenth of your gross income as the Israelites were obligated to do in the Old Testament – that tithing should be our minimum practice since we New Testament saints have so much more to be grateful for. I wasn’t familiar with tithing since I came from the Catholic church where contribution amounts weren’t mandated.

When pastors appeal for funds they often omit mention of 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. Christians are not obligated to tithe as the Israelites were. The Old Testament tithe was, in essence, a tax used to support the theocratic Israelite government of priests and Levites. When all the offerings were included, an Israelite actually gave about 20% of their income/possessions each year. The United States is not a theocracy and the average citizen already pays about 20% of their earnings to the government.

Yes, I fully realize the church needs the financial support of its members. It’s a privilege to support God’s work. But the only New Testament passage that speaks directly to financial giving is 2 Corinthians 9:6-7. A Christian should prayerfully consider (with their spouse if married) how much income to give to the church each week. For some it will be less than 10%, for some it will be more. A tenth of an annual $25,000 income means a lot more to the earner than a tenth of a $250,000 annual income.

I’ve heard pastors put the squeeze on their sheep as if the tithe is still binding. Well, if you believe the tithe is still in effect you had better be following the other 612 Old Testament laws. Our previous pastor said from the pulpit that anyone who criticizes the tithe doesn’t tithe. That’s probably true but it’s not the point. Are New Testament Christians commanded to tithe or not? Is our guide the Old Testament tithe or 2 Corinthians 9:6-7? Many Christians bear a heavy guilt trip because they can’t tithe. Statistics show evangelical Christians give on average about 4% of their yearly income to the church. That means there’s a LOT of non-tithers out there. Are those who tithe “better,” more obedient Christians than those who don’t? Some pastors would have you think so. And let’s not forget the televangelists! The whole TBN prosperity gospel empire is built on the promise of gaining great financial rewards if you send in your “seed money” check, even if you can’t pay your bills. Many people send their money, some on credit cards they’re already struggling to pay off, fully expecting a financial windfall from God based on the promises they hear on TBN.

When we were looking for a church three years ago we considered a popular non-denominational church just five miles from our home. I checked out their website which required potential members to “Commit to giving the tithe (10% of your income) or taking faith steps to move toward the tithe.” Hmm. What happens if a new member makes the commitment but stops giving 10% because of financial difficulties? Do the tithe police pick them up for interrogation? Is their membership rescinded? How unbiblical! Giving should be between the giver and the Lord. Period.

Everything we have belongs to the Lord and we are commanded to be good stewards of God’s resources. Some of us are better stewards than others. Some people get hit with a heavy financial burden. But God doesn’t want us getting puffed up about our ability to give nor does he want us giving grudgingly or by coercion. What a privilege it is to be part of the Lord’s work! Give cheerfully and ignore the arm-twisting.

Does God require me to give a tithe of all I earn?
John MacArthur, Grace to You
http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA144/does-god-require-me-to-give-a-tithe-of-all-i-earn

Small groups: “You can run but you can’t hide!”

When my wife and I and our two sons attended an indy fundy church back in the 1980s, thesg worship service schedule, typical of many other evangelical/fundamentalist churches at the time, went like this:

Sunday
Sunday School: 9-10 a.m.
Worship Service: 10-11 a.m.
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m.

Wednesday
Evening Service: 7-8 p.m. Many churches often referred to this mid-week service as a “Bible study” although at our church it was the exact same format as the Sunday morning and evening worship services.

It was somewhat expected that a committed church member would attend all four services.

Back then, I hadn’t heard of such a thing as a “small group.” Frankly, there was no time for a small group meeting during the week given the above church schedule. Just about everyone in that 150-member congregation was on a first-name basis anyway with all that contact. Well, we left that church and I subsequently walked away from the Lord for many years but when I returned to Him a couple of years ago I found the church landscape had changed quite a bit. For many churches, especially the increasingly popular mega-churches, the worship service schedule consists of a single Sunday morning service. Period. There’s no Sunday School or Sunday evening or Wednesday evening services. Large churches offset the impersonal environment of their single Sunday service with mid-week small group meetings where members can disciple and support each other in a much more personal setting.

About fifteen months ago, we began attending a non-denominational mega-church (with Baptist roots) and we initially appreciated the anonymity afforded by such a setting. We could nod hello, shake a few hands, worship the Lord in song, hear the sermon, and leave. No muss, no fuss. We didn’t “bother” anyone and no one “bothered” us. After a couple of “sour” experiences at our previous churches, my wife and I had pledged several times to each other that we would never again be in anyone’s back pocket when it came to church, even though we knew our preferred anonymous, arms-length relationship with others in the congregation wasn’t Biblical.

Our new church regularly encourages people to join a small group. The idea began to appeal to me but I wasn’t going to bring it up to my wife. If the Lord wanted us to join a small group, He would work it out. A couple of months ago, a person at church caught us before we could make our getaway and asked if we were members of a group. She turned out to be a group leader and invited us to join. My wife confessed she had been agreeable to joining a group but, like me, wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up. All I can say is the Lord MUST have a sense of humor

Since joining our 18-member group (quite a bit larger than the “optimum” 12) we’ve shared a meal at a restaurant, did some Christmas caroling at a nursing home, and attended the first meeting of the new semester last week. At the meeting, we discussed the previous Sunday’s sermon and what it meant in our lives followed by the men and women splitting up into separate groups for prayer. My wife and I are slowly getting to know everyone and we’re already receiving blessings. Christianity isn’t living life in an isolation booth, it’s reaching out to the lost with the Gospel and it’s also reaching out to brothers and sisters in Christ and allowing them to reach out to you.

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45.

The bottom line for groups and everything else in the life of a believer: The focus should be on Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord! He will never disappoint.


Postscript: I looked up the history of the concept of small groups at church and found smatterings of information here and there. Small church groups have been popular for decades so, once again, I’m late to the party. It would make sense that large churches would incorporate small groups to complement the large, impersonal Sunday service.