Closing Doors

What motivates people to come to church? I recently had this conversation with a person who attends church every time the doors are opened. We recently began a men’s group for the express purpose of promoting and encouraging men to be followers of Christ. The conversation began as a response to our men’s discipleship group. I was told, in effect, that the group was useless as it does not give men answers to the problems they face in daily life. Right. It is not meant to. It was designed for the express purpose of encouraging men to be disciples.

But, the conversation was very productive. I was asked what my goal for the church was. I explained that I want the church to become a place where people are saved (come to know Jesus as Savior), and where they learn to be disciples (learn to follow Christ), and where they are sent out as servants with the gospel of Christ. The response I received was very revealing. It began with a sigh, a lowered voice, and a slumping of the shoulders. Considering that non-verbal’s account for 93% of communication, that was a loud expression of disapproval.

Next came the statement, “I was hoping you would understand why people come to church.” Essentially I was told that the reason people come to church was to find answers for their problems. “Everyday life beats people up. They come looking for answers to their addictions, personality disorders, family problems, relational problems, etc. etc.,” I was told. In effect, I was being informed that I was out of touch with people. There was not a complaint that I had not addressed an urgent need in ones life, but just the general sense was given that I did not understand people. Hmm.

Immediately after that conversation I read an article that revealed that over six-thousand churches a year are closing their doors. The top reason given as to why this is happening was attributed to poor leadership in the church. The writer of the article defined poor leadership as one who fails to lead the church to accomplish the mission. The mission, he insisted, is to make disciples. I wanted to laugh, but instead I experienced a sick feeling in my stomach.

I don’t think the problem with our churches is that there is a dearth of poor leadership. I think there is a problem in our churches because there is a dearth of poor followership.  A disciple is one who follows Christ. I was told that others feel the same way that this individual feels. I can foresee a time when I am asked to leave my post as the pastor because I am not “meeting the needs of people.” That may never happen, and I have no fear that it will. But it could, and that’s the real problem.

Our churches are closing at an alarming rate because people fail to understand what the real purpose of the church is. Last night I was reading the thirteenth chapter of Matthew‘s gospel. Jesus was preaching in parables, and He was asked why He did this. He responded by quoting the prophet Isaiah, “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed…” (Matt 13:14-15).

Many during the time of Christ came and listened to His teachings. Many of those same people would later cry out, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” Jesus revealed that they could not comprehend Him and His teachings because they had closed their eyes. In effect, they had closed their hearts to understanding God; and they closed for themselves the possibility of receiving the salvation He was giving away. So Jesus said, “Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them.” He wanted to heal them; but, they would not let Him.

Many people come to church to hear from God. But, they come with a preconceived idea of how God will speak to them. When He does not speak in the way they expected, they declare that God has not spoken to them. But He did! Unfortunately they put themselves in a position not to hear because they already knew what they wanted to hear, and as a result did not hear what was actually said. In effect “their eyes they have closed.”

The problem with this problem is that showing them what the Bible says does not affect what they want to see. One can stand with a Bible in hand and reading it say, “Thus sayeth the Lord!” And the person who is listening for something else will still walk away and say, “Man, he doesn’t get it.” I now understand why Jesus did not chase after people. Such people cannot be reached. Even if God was speaking to them face to face (as Jesus was doing in Matthew’s gospel) they would still be unable to listen.

The conversation with the person ended cordially. He is my friend and I love Him. But, people will never find the answers they need until they learn to follow Christ. In fact, the answer to their problems will be found only in proportion to their surrender in following Christ.

Notwithstanding that, he told me that people need answers to their daily problems. I agree. Jesus is their answer. I sat and listened; then he walked out hoping to have accomplished something.  He did. I now have a better understating of the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, and I have a better appreciation for why six-thousand churches a year are closing their doors.

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