Healthy church members play to an audience of One (God). They’re consumed, not consumers. Their engagement in evangelism doesn’t stop with inviting non-believing friends to church. Their dedication to discipleship doesn’t end with sermons and small groups.
Healthy church leaders play to an audience of One. They disciple; they don’t perform. They decrease so Jesus can increase. They realize the veil has been torn and don’t dare insert themselves or the institutional church between saved and Savior.
Unhealthy churchgoers occupy some of the seats in every church. They’re the ones complaining about messages and music, more concerned with what they’re getting from church than how they’re being the church.
Unhealthy church leaders respond to unhealthy congregants with unbiblical strategies that infect the rest of the congregation. Colds are contagious. In churches, colds can quickly spread and become the flu or pneumonia. Even healthy believers can contract the most deadly disease debilitating most churches today – unwittingly redefining “church” as a place and treating members instead as “customers”. Pastors risk transmitting consumerism, contaminating the entire congregation, when their response to unhealthy members is to:
Last week, we discussed the side effects of overdosing on centralization. Today, we diagnose the underlying symptoms of depersonalization.
Why Church Leaders Depersonalize
What does a depersonalized church look like? When people speak of their church as a place they go, it’s already too late. When occasional small groups have replaced ongoing 1-on-1 or triad discipleship, the church is already sneezing and coughing. When expectations have flipped from congregational responsibilities to pastoral performance, the common cold has already mutated into a far more serious illness.
Depersonalization is an over-performed procedure for church leaders. When pastors begin seeing self-centered behaviors like infighting and consumerism, they fear factions and splits. It seems reasonable to prescribe greater emphasis on the collective good to combat self-interest. That course of action is appropriate for football teams and businesses, but not for churches. Sports teams and companies are entities in and of themselves. The Bible defines churches differently – each Christ-follower is the hands and feet of Christ, His church personified. Each “called-out one”…”belonging to the Lord” bears personal responsibility for being the embodiment of church at all times, as opposed to quarterbacks and executives who only perform their jobs while on the field or at the office.
Therefore, when pastors call for members to focus on organization goals, like size or brand loyalty, it may grow the institution at the expense of personal and Kingdom growth. Advocating loyalty to a brand may get in the way of loyalty to God and to each other. For evidence of how loyalty to organized religion can stifle personal ministry and relationships with the Lord, look no further than Western Europe. Rallying around a cause does get people’s focus off of themselves if the goals are winning or profits, but church is not a football team or company, so it should not be the “cause”.
Otherwise an event mentality may start to pervade worship services, outreach and compassion efforts. Rather than giving members what the Bible says they need, focus can shift to giving them what they want. Pastors risk inserting themselves and the church brand as a “middle man”, rebuilding the veil that Jesus tore, when they ask members to simply promote and invite. Instead of asking churchgoers to place “I love my church” bumper stickers on their cars, they should equip members to be walking billboards for Christ. Rather than leaving the Great Commission to the “professionals”, they should push each congregant to own that responsibility individually.
Appealing to the masses versus discipling the few also leaves leaders with more work to do and more bills to pay – making churches less spiritually and financially healthy.
Why Churchgoers Depersonalize
Far too many Christians take the wrong aspects of church personally…
- “I didn’t get that message today.”
- “I’m not sure I like the new worship leader.”
- “I can’t believe she had the nerve to say that to me.”
- “I wish I had more time to get involved.”
- “I’m going to find another church.”
…and fail to take the right aspects personally…
- “They should do a better job marketing our church.”
- “They aren’t doing enough to help the poor in our city.”
- “They need to plant another church on my side of town.”
- “They could attract more young families by making the children’s ministry more fun.”
- “They want me to take discipleship classes, but I’m too busy.”
Each of us is called to be the living, breathing church. It’s not about what “they” did or what we’re getting out of “it”. It’s not about how well the pastor or musicians perform; it’s about how well we perform in representing Christ as His church. Do we sneak out the back door and rarely engage? Do we accept personal responsibility for leading our friends and neighbors to the Lord? Or is that a role we’d prefer pastors and staff assume on our behalf – defining church as a place and not as ourselves – while we tread water trying to manage our jam-packed lives.
How to “Repersonalize” Church
Restoring a depersonalized church to health requires that each individual “called-out one” belonging to that church family adopts the biblical definition of “church” and as a result returns to playing to an “Audience of One”:
Pastors and Staff
Stop encouraging consumerism (taking the wrong aspects of church personally) by:
- No longer putting on performance-based events for audiences of “many”, instead leaving room for the Holy Spirit to intervene as He sees fit
- Empowering and equipping an army of disciples to fight the culture war with the love and mercy of Christ as their chosen weapons
- Carefully avoiding insinuations that God will give us a good life or get us through hard times (the message of so many Christian songs today)
- Keeping the veil torn by flattening the church hierarchy, putting structures in place that “multiply the small” and deploy disciples into ministry (e.g. house churches, neighborhood groups, mission-shaped communities)
- Challenging believers to live prayer, care, share lifestyles rather than catering to their lifestyles
- Instead of “warehousing” Christians, pointing out opportunities to serve others using each person’s skills and interests, unleashing the church to follow Jesus’ model of leading with compassion before telling them who He is
- I Corinthians 14:26 says every single churchgoer should participate in church and as the church, “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
- No one should be a bystander watching a show from the back row, then leaving to enjoy the rest of the day
- Live out the Great commission, a discipleship mandate for every day of the week, not a task to entrust to pastors on Sundays
- Truly love our neighbors, inside and outside our church family, as we love ourselves
- Turn all eyes to Jesus, our audience of One, and away from the stage, also looking in the mirror to ensure we reflect Him
It’s Your Turn
Has your church become depersonalized?