For most of my early ministry, if I had read last week’s post, I would have comforted myself that as a faithful Anglican priest I was part of a church that was keeping all the things mentioned in the last paragraph as central. I would have thought I was seeking “first the kingdom of God,” and remaining loyal to “the apostle’s teaching and fellowship.” But how wrong I was, if the outcome of our efforts had been measured in the light of the clear teaching of the Lord Jesus. In those years I could not see that truth.
We did measure some things, of course. Had I known how to evaluate it, however, I would have seen that what we measured was what our church culture had come to expect. The cultural behaviors that dominated the life of the parish that I served, largely unconsciously, did not measure our faithfulness to the kingdom of God. They measured denominational organization and loyalty.
What did we measure? Most of all we measured attendance. How many people came to Sunday worship? Secondly we measured financial giving. Was it up or down? Were we on track to meet our budget for the year or not? Close behind we measured the number of children in Sunday School, and the adults who came to the Adult Class at the same time. Once a year we summed up the number of baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and burials. We had to send in the the past year’s budget as well, and all by the end of January, so the diocese would be able to make their assessments for the new year. The report measured many other things as well, but they all showed what our church leadership culture valued.
But how did any of these things show us if we were seeking first the kingdom of God? How did any of these metrics help us to faithfully evaluate if we were proving to be, and to make, disciples of the Lord Jesus? These questions were not asked. These we did not measure, and so for many years – I now see – we were far from seeking “first the kingdom of God.”
Modern statistical sampling has long made very clear, to those who would pay attention, that the church life that we were unconsciously encouraging was not producing people noticeable different from unbelievers. Church people go home to the same neighborhoods, read the same newspapers, eat at the same restaurants, send their children to the same schools, watch the same sports events, and spend money in the same ways as their neighbors. Statistically American “Christians” are not behaving differently than non-Christians. And so in a nation with over 70% of its people describing themselves as Christian, the wider culture is in a cataclysmic season of moral decline. Meanwhile much of the church goes on rearranging the deck chairs of a sinking ship.
Today the organized Western church is almost completely and utterly ineffective in challenging that declension by its own witness. By the majority of its people living in the light of the kingdom of God. She is trapped in a cultural paralysis leading unto death.
Next Week: Leadership Paralysis