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I recently figured out how to get people to read my blog!  Two blog posts recently addressed the flagging fortunes of my tribe and got massive amounts of feedback – Good, bad and ugly.  So all I have to do is talk about the Churches of Christ disappearing and the readers will come!  🙂  I wanted to make some remarks about both posts so here goes:

Last November Joe Beam wrote an interesting article where he defines a series groups most people in a Church of Christ fit into. This upset some people, raised some eyebrows, but on the whole created some dialogue, mostly good.

I am not sure a new set of labels helps things but what I took out of the article is that, generally speaking, the extremes have shut down the dialogue, with all the groups in between.  I think Beam is spot on there.  There has been a decline, it seems,  in our capacity to hear and talk with each other when we don’t agree, particularly when it comes to speaking to people at either extreme.  This has been my experience for the past 10 years.  It seems like we as a fellowship are losing the ability to talk to each other (Left, Right and Centre).

No matter how you read the Bible, Jesus makes it clear that unity is primary for us moving forward as a fellowship.  We aren’t going to agree on lots of things but Jesus still invites us into dialogue with each other.  It must break God’s heart that we can’t even talk about cooperation with other church groups, innovations in worship, women’s role in public worship, communion practices, etc.  One extreme or the other is so outraged, or so hurt, that they won’t even talk . Here’s what I wish:

  1. I wish we could recognize that, for some of us, these issues are intensely painful to discuss.  It’s going to be slow going so can we be gentle with each other? It’s going to take a long time but can we lovingly wait for each other and take the place of the servant? We might not agree but surely we can love each other anyway.
  2. Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all my sin – all of it.  And that includes my theological sins.  All those things I am wrong about: praise team, cooperating with other denominations, women making announcements before the closing prayer, etc . As God as my witness, with a clear conscience I have supported these things and even  if I am wrong I am still forgiven.  God’s grace is abundant and true.  God will forgive me for these things and he will forgive you too.

The second blog post that caught my eye is related but different.  James Nored wrote a post yesterday on the Missional Outreach Network website titled “Why are Churches of Christ Shrinking?” I may be over simplifying here but what he says is that a 21st century culture is looking for a more experiential worship service. That’s true. 20’s and 30’s don’t just want to hear 5 hymns, a reading, a prayer, communion and a three part sermon. They want a multisensory experience so that means the lights may be dimmed; there might be a video that sets a theme for the day’s worship. They may need to get up and participate at some point. What Nored is saying is that 20’s and 30’s aren’t going to fight about this. If they are part of churches that refuse to do these things they aren’t going to debate and proof-text resistors, they are just going to leave.
You can say that they are being childish and inconsiderate, whether you’re right or not, Nored’s suggestion for moving forward misses the point. Nored suggests (I am over simplifying here) that we need to have more experiential worship services. Use video and lights more, make things more visually appealing and more experiential. I don’t disagree. Those are helpful for reaching 20-somethings but this isn’t why Churches of Christ are shrinking.
I am reluctant to make sweeping generalizations because no matter how you qualify your statement there are going to be some Churches of Christ that defy your categorization. And the truth is that our tribe has not cornered the market on declining denominations. Churches everywhere are hurting. I will go “big tent Christianity” on this and say, in general, churches are shrinking because we have forgotten the gospel.

We have forgotten that we are loved by a God that treats us better than we deserve. When we consider a worship style as an unforgivable sin we have forgotten how it is that we have been saved – by grace! If not having a praise team is necessary for right standing before God then it is your stance on praise teams that saves you – not the gospel.

If playing a video in worship that has instrumental music in the background is going to be an unforgivable sin that is charged to your account, then you are saved by your righteous use of media and not the gospel. I am not trying to be trite or offensive to make a point (forgive me if this offends, it was not my intent) but if we are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-10) then no worship practice, or doctrinal opinion can make us inelligible for salvation. If it did then having the right doctrinal opinion would be our salvation and not Jesus.

Many churches have forgotten their first loves.  Look at Rev 2:1-7.  The church in Ephesus was legit.  They were doctrinally sound.  They had great leadership and were diligent in weighing people’s conduct against the word.  But Jesus wrecks them on not having a heart that loves him.

Hip and Funk worship will not satisfy forever.  We need to lead worship with excellence.  Yes.  We need to be effective in reaching people who are more experiential and visual. Yes. But we will be the clanging gong or resounding cymbal with out love (1 Cor 13:1).  Love for Jesus and love for each other