I am an unashamed lover of God, His Word, and—though some days are more challenging than others—His people. And like most people, I get obsessed with things I love. One of the ways my obsession for all things God comes out is through my avid love of reading. I’m particularly drawn to articles and books about the church.
Before we go any further, let me make a distinction about what “church” I am referring to in this series of posts. I define “the church” as the organization established for the purpose of sharing the gospel, discipling its attendees, and leading those disciples into maturity and a missional mindset. This lowercase “church” has leaders who run the organization, cast the vision, and ensure that troops are gathered to carry out their vision. This is distinctly different from what I call “THE CHURCH.” THE CHURCH cannot be contained in the walls of the building. THE CHURCH is made up of every believer on earth. Every believer who takes their unique vision and marching orders straight from the King, Jesus Christ.
The job of both are the same: share the gospel and make disciples. One carries it out primarily in the confines of a building during a weekend message and perhaps a few other times during the week in small groups. The other carries it to the highways, byways, bus stops, and business meetings. One delivers through Sunday messages and small group meetings while the other through personal connections and divine appointments.
Sadly, you don’t have to read very much to find a myriad of articles on the decline of the church. These authors claim everything from busy lives, to decay of the family unit, to culture as the reasons for many churches’ decline. But these articles go beyond those reasons to place the primary blame on their congregations. If I read only those articles, I would believe everything they say and would feel defeated about the state of the church (aka God’s plan to redeem the world). Yet over the past few months, God has led me to Scripture after Scripture, which also talks about the decline of the church. Interestingly, much of what the articles’ authors have to say doesn’t line up with what God has to say about the topic. While the church is experiencing problems and their individual visions may be sidetracked, the vision of THE CHURCH and its fulfillment seems to be right on track.
Since the Fall (see Genesis 3), the decline of any person, city, or nation has been from one thing alone: sin. Consider Adam, Sodom and Gomorrah, David, Babylon, and even Israel, God’s chosen nation. I’m sure you could add a few more to my list of fallen. Yet when you read articles from pastors and other well-meaning theologians and researchers, most of them focus on everything but their sins or failures as the leaders of the church. As if they and/or the church they lead are sinless. Instead of a discussion of sins or leadership failures, most articles point to the culture of the people in the pews. The habits, happenings, and hang-ups of the members are the noted reasons for the decline.
Pastors and theologians pointing fingers at the congregants, as the problem for the decline, is the equivalent of a CEO pointing his or her finger at the company’s customers as the reason the company is going under. It’s laughable. To quote John Maxwell: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” Yet no one in churchdom seems to see leadership or their failure to lead effectively as playing a role in the decline of the church.
As a Christian coach for women leaders, it is my mission to help women remove the roadblocks that keep them from growing and fulfilling their God-given purp
ose. It is in this personal mission to help leaders fulfill God’s purpose that I bring the Scriptures that God has revealed to me about the decline of the church. I pray that it will bring self-reflection and in turn help to remove the roadblocks that are keeping churches from fulfilling their mission.
Let’s begin with two verses (one from each Testament) that point to God’s judgment and connection to the rise and fall of the church.
It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall. – Psalm 75:7, NLT
The time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household. And if judgment begins with us, what terrible fate awaits those who have never obeyed God’s Good News? – 1 Peter 4:17 NLT
Another passage I find particularly telling:
If you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. – Galatians 5:4, NLT (emphasis added)
In this Galatians passage Paul urged the churches of Galatia to remember the freedom that was theirs in Christ. The churches had returned to the bondage of the law and were requiring circumcision, a Jewish ordinance. Paul was reminding the churches that their connection with God did not come by “doing” things a certain way or by any external appearances. God did not care about the status of their male anatomy, and because of their focus on that, God responded by removing his hand of grace.
While the church no longer requires circumcision, one issue they have continued to struggle with, which has aided in their decline, is that, for many churches, they are still focused on the male anatomy. Not so much whether those particular body parts are circumcised or not, but whether a person actually has them. Do we really think God is searching to and fro the earth for someone to speak his message and as he looks, he utters the words, “Nope, not that one. She doesn’t have the right parts for the job. Sure, she has a mouth and a heart for God, but she’s missing that essential male body part. Next!” It’s absurd. Yet in many of today’s churches, they still strictly dictate issues that are not biblical, based solely on gender—such as the fact that women are not allowed to preach or become elders. In some churches they still cannot teach (other than school-aged children or other women), read Scripture aloud, or even pray in mixed groups. And from my experience, I’ve found that although many churches claim they have no problem with a woman preaching, they rarely allow it to happen.
While I suspect some churches still adhere to many other laws that have them under bondage and have fallen from God’s grace, this one referring to women is especially dear to my heart. As the founder of the National Association of Christian Women Leaders, I continually hear from women who have a deep burden to fulfill the purpose they feel God is calling them to, but are unable because of the limited and restricted roles they are offered inside their churches.
Here’s my message to the women whining about the church.
Could it be that today’s churches have fallen from God’s grace, and as a result are in decline, because of their stiff-necked adherence to the law rather than walking in the freedom that Christ died to bring us?
While God has been incredibly patient with the church, he will at some point draw the line and allow them to bear the consequences of wrong choices. From my view from the pew, this issue boils down to pride. Here’s what the Bible says about that: “Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall” (
Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall – Proverbs 16:18 NLT
Those self-inflicted wounds, as well as the cultural changes, will have dire results. In fact, one political commentator predicted recently that 50 percent of churches will be gone in five years. If that is true, then it would seem that God’s plan for redeeming the world is falling apart.
So what are we to do? Will the church begin to address their leadership issues? Including the inequality of women in church leadership? Does the decline of the church mean God’s plan is falling apart? No, I believe it’s actually starting to come together. This quote I saw recently on Pinterest sums up my thoughts about the church in decline:
Sometimes when things are falling apart, they are actually falling into place.
In tomorrow’s post we will unpack how God reveals the truth of this quote in nature, what I think it means for THE CHURCH, and why I believe it could be what’s happening in the decline of the church.
What do you think? Share your thoughts on the decline of the church and the role of leadership in its decline.