It was a grueling drive from Florida to Maryland and back over the past two weeks in summer holiday traffic. Fighting D.C. gridlock every day was no joy ride either. My nerves were frazzled dodging speeders who mistook the 495 Beltway for the Indianapolis Speedway and distracted drivers too busy texting to notice they’d drifted into the lane my car occupied. Not to mention the small windows in the back of my SUV created blind spots, obstructing my view of cars just off my right rear bumper.
Blind spots not only appear on the road but in the human psyche. We can’t see or don’t want to see what would be in plain view from a different vantage point. American church growth models have impaired the vision of most pastors, blinding them to church mandates spelled out clearly and repeated frequently in scripture. For example, every single church member has a supernatural gift that should be used to build the body, but somehow most simply come to enjoy the gifts of the pastors and musicians. Permitting regular attenders to remain spectators, thinking “let’s go see what the pastor has to say”, isn’t the least bit biblical – yet it’s a common practice among churchgoers in our nation.
C.S. Lewis wrote “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” He could have just as easily replaced the word “Christianity” with “God’s Word”. Over the next 5 weeks, we’re going to review cases where church leaders aren’t seeing what is right in front of them in God’s Word, either because they’ve forgotten or are selectively ignoring verses that don’t align with conventional church. When we look through the lens of Jesus’ instructions to His Church without natural human bias, there are no blind spots. Yet we’re witnessing the decline of the Church in growth, impact, influence and perception as a direct result of turning a blind eye to its biblical responsibility to follow the example set by Jesus and the early church of caring for persecuted Christians, orphans, deserted and widowed women, and those starving for food and the Gospel.
How Churches Develop Blind Spots
As we address each of those topics in the coming weeks, we will show that few church leaders see the persecuted church, neglected children, single mothers, hungry neighbors and lost souls in the community as their responsibility. Despite the Bible’s obvious arguments to the contrary, pastors have developed these (and other) blind spots because they….
- Don’t see those outside their church as their “customer” – Jesus healed and fed before telling people who He is, demonstrating His love and compassion daily outside the “4 walls”. He gave His disciples instructions and power to follow suit. Peter commissioned Paul to go to the gentiles but stressed remembering to care for the poor. The church for 1900 years was the food bank and homeless shelter. The idea of running churches and letting others handle compassion ministry is relatively new and ill-advised – we can’t “outpreach” Jesus so we can’t afford to detach words from actions. Although churches should take care of their own first, there’s no excuse for abandoning the church’s position on the front lines of compassion over the past century. As a result of redefining the Church’s “customer” and diverting nearly all of its resources internally, the helpless and hopeless in the community (the church’s intended and biblical “customer”) understandably feel ignored.
- Fail to recognize members as the embodiment of “church” – Jesus invested heavily in building disciples then sent them out make more disciples. His church growth model was based on exponential discipleship multiplication. Today, churches invest 98% of their time, energy and money in attracting and retaining members – positioning pastors as the primary evangelists and disciple makers. The job of churchgoers has been reduced to inviting friends to a Sunday service to hear the Gospel from a “professional”. That math is simple addition.
- Focus their attention more on what church members want than on what they need – With roughly 90% of churches not growing and so many small churches struggling to survive, the “balance of power” has shifted from pastors to members. Whereas traditionally church leaders held members accountable for the Great Commission, churchgoers now hold pastors accountable for a great worship service. In other words, to keep American church “consumers” coming back, pastors either spearheaded or implicitly allowed “church” to be redefined as a place, assuming ownership of evangelism and discipleship responsibilities intended to belong to those called to be the church personified. Even growing churches risk emptying the pews if they insist on giving people what the Bible says they need and not what they want…
- need life change, but want a better life
- need a spiritual awakening, but want a spiritual experience
- need deep discipleship, but want deep fellowship
- need to love others, but want to be loved
- need to serve the least of these continually, but want to “check the box” occasionally
- need to trust the Lord and stop worrying, but want reassurance and encouragement
- need to be challenged, but want to challenge what’s wrong with the world around them
- need personal commitment to individual growth, but want the pastor’s commitment to church growth
- need to rely on the Holy Spirit, but want to rely on their own abilities
- Watch each other more closely than scripture – How could nearly all pastors, churchgoers, consultants, authors and speakers subscribe to the generally-accepted yet fatally-flawed approach to running America’s churches? Why do so few question the obvious emphasis on institution-building and stand idly by as they witness the decimation of disciple-building? What will awaken everyone out of the collective stupor clouding our vision, blinding us to the clear biblical definition of “church” as “disciples” and the imperative for those disciples to aggressively pursue the “lost” in the community through undaunted prayer, care and share lifestyles.
Consequences of Blind Spots
That wake-up call may take the form of an eventual disruptive event like federal tax policies disallowing deductions for church giving, court rulings qualifying espousal of fundamental Christian doctrines as hate-speech, or outright and widespread persecution of Christians on American soil. Or perhaps pastors will be compelled to abandon prevailing institution-centric models once the evangelical church’s growth, impact, influence and public perception decline to the level seen at this point in Western Europe – where it became largely irrelevant for similar reasons.
Redirecting emphasis from community engagement to member engagement has convinced society that churches are exclusive clubs that aren’t concerned with what happens outside the building. Numerous studies show non-believers associate Christians with hypocrisy, pastors with money, and church with judgment. They don’t care what we know because they don’t think we care. Mark Zuckerberg recently characterized the primary value of church as creating community and contended that Facebook could step in to bridge that divide. Our ineffectiveness in showing love and compassion to a waiting world has opened the door for others to try to take our place. Millennials, Nones, Dones and countless others search elsewhere for a sense of community.
Yet Facebook won’t be the savior to rescue us. Nor will small groups and church socials that churches devised to fill the “communal” vacuum they created. The only answer lies in making disciples that work together to bring the world to Christ – which is true community.
There is a final repercussion church leaders should consider before disclaiming responsibility for persecuted Christians, orphans, widows, the poor and the lost outside the confines of the church. “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.’ Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, ‘What? Are we blind too?’ Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39-41) Church leaders are accountable for their blind spots – accountable to those suffering, to a society doubting their compassion, and to our Father in Heaven expecting those charged with leading His Church to eradicate rather than create blind spots.
It’s Your Turn
What other blind spots are obstructing the view of pastors, keeping them from acknowledging church responsibilities that are plainly spelled out in the Bible?