Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, presses leaders to “Confront the brutal facts, but with unwavering faith” that their organization will be better for it. My challenges to the church below are in that same spirit. When you are in the boat pulling an oar, you earn the right to be heard among crew.
Beware of these five failures of institutional faith…
1. Too private. Insiders and outsiders alike are prone to see church as an inward extracurricular, with low expectations about making much outward difference. Biblical faith is not merely private, but involves the robust, live-giving commitment to things like stewardship, accountability, and the audacious call to “die to self” and engage the world. Relationship is the heart of faith. When it’s merely private, it dies from disconnection.
2. Too public. Others make the opposite mistake. Their faith seems like a Christian version of politics as usual. Truth becomes ammo for Gospel guns. Without question, biblical faith is about human design and community, not just private morality. But Christian community should influence without crossing the line to leveraging power. We’re called to serve, not control.
3. Too institutional. Some churches do a lot of “what” without a clear “why.” When we lose our why, we tend to lose our way. The “what’s” of church can become sacred cows, ends unto themselves. I think it was Leith Anderson who first asked, “What are seven last word’s of a dying church?” Answer: “We have always done it this way.” Formality can be a thin veil over mediocracy. Every organization, especially the church, must balance continuity and change.
Find your why and you’ll find your way.
4. Too touchy-feely. In an effort to warm up their cold maintenance mode, some churches just get mushier rather than purposeful. They turn up the arts and the emotions to help people connect on a more personal level. It is one of the reasons “Why men hate going to church,” as David Murrow put it. Actor Robert Duvall said once to a young actor he was mentoring: “Don’t push emotion that isn’t there yet.” Emotion is welcome when it’s real.
5. Too “members only.” Some churches seem “all dressed up with nowhere to go.” They have a certain culture which only they understand. If you want to belong, you must figure it out on your own. Every organization develops some bit of corporate culture. We are creatures of habit who steer towards the same spot we sat in last week. But churches exist for the glory of God and the benefit of members and non-members alike. They must be intentional to work against insider talk and culture.
Have you given up on church? Care to share?