(written for IMAGE around 1975?)
HINDERANCES TO CHURCH GROWTH
R. D. Ice
“If it is so obvious that the Church is dying fast, how come God doesn't work a miracle or two to shake things up?”
In less than an hour, I was sitting at my old wooden desk reading about a Person who wanted to give me eternal life. For years the Gospels had gone in one ear and out the other as they were read during church. Yet now, as I read each living word, the person of Jesus was coming alive.
Finally, at the end of the Gospel of John, I looked up at the clock on the wall: 2:45 AM. Leaning back in my chair, I closed my eyes and tried to hold back tears that were welling up. Turning out the light, I sat in a sea of darknend tranquility. And in a whisper I began to pray.
"God, it's been so long since I've really talked with You. I'm sorry. Yet somehow it's all different tonight. All my life I've felt that You were high and holy and unreachable; that's why I gave up on You. And now I see that all my life You've been waiting for me to realize how much You loved me. Oh, Jesus, I want Your love...I will come unto You. Please help me, Jesus..."
And I wept - like I hadn't done since a little child.
About a week and a half later, I drove home and found my father sitting down. He had just gotten home from the bank where he was a custodian and had been too tired to take off his blue uniform.
"What have you got there," he asked, as I walked into the dining room.
"The books under your arm. What are you reading these days?”
That was surely the signal. "Let me show you." It was a thick paperback Bible - The New American Standard - that I had purchased the day before.
"The Bible?” Fanning the pages quickly, he handed it back like it was a hot 'potato. "What do you want with this?"
"Well, all I can say is, I've been studying it for the past month. And it's opened up a whole new world to me."
"Eh, the Bible is full of contradictions," Dad replied.
"Well, I haven't found any so far," I said, as I held out the Bible to him. "But here, show me one."
Dad turned away from my outstretched hand.
Pulling a piece of paper from my Bible, I said, "Listen to me, Dad. This is a statement about church growth. ‘We earnestly and specifically urge all Christians to learn by frequently reading the Bible. We must again be a people of the Book. Not only that but it also is becoming increasingly clear that many of our church people have no real commitment to a living, risen Jesus Christ. They have never received Him into their hearts as a Personal Savior.’"
"Received Him? A personal Savior? What are you talking about?" Dad asked. In my zeal I was getting a little ahead of myself as well as Dad.
"I'm talking about the fact that just because you are part of a church, that doesn't make you a Christian."
"What?" Dad said. "I'm a member of the Lord's church."
"So was Billie Sol Estes and that other man," I said.
"But I've been baptized," Father retorted, "and I eat the Lord's Supper every week."
"So did they!" See Dad, some are members of the church outwardly simply because they have never decided not to be. They go through the motions of taking the Lord's Supper each week and get nothing out of it. God isn't real to them. Attending church, praying, even reading the Bible are all boring if you don't know God personally, and there is only one way you can know Him personally - and that’s through His Son, Jesus Christ."
"Since when did you get so religious?" Dad snapped.
"I haven't gotten religious," I pleaded. "I just found Jesus. I made a commitment to Him as my Savior almost a month ago, and He's transforming my life. He's my Savior and He's given me the gift of eternal life."
There! It was said! But my father didn't understand one word of it. Worse, I could tell by his lips twitching that he was about to blow his stack.
To calm us both down, I went to the refrigerator for a couple bowls of chocolate-chip ice-cream, his favorite. But it was too late. His words followed me into the kitchen.
"Look, young man, I'm almost 60 years old. No 20 year old punk is going to tell me about my religion, understand!"
"But Dad, look in your own Bible. Just check out. . Dad . . Dad!" And the front door terminated another family discussion.
After I settled down, I began to think things over. Dad thought I was leaving the Lord. I was sure he did not understand what he thought he believed. A number of we young people really love our Lord and we can’t be satisfied with anything less that giving our all to Him! That led us to question everything. We questioned all that we had been taught and carefully tried to match things up with what the Bible actually said.
Many of the rules were inevitably rejected after being questioned. But since our relationship with God had been based solely on our relationship with the Church and our ability to obey its rules, then rejection of the Church rules mean rejection of God. We could not understand.
Everybody was so uptight about all the kids who had turned off the Church, the steady increase of preachers who quit, the millions who had become inactive and given up their faith.
The fact was we hadn't given up our faith at all- we had never understood it! What we gave up was our allegiance to what we had understood as only a noble, venerable, superstructure called the Church of Christ Church. The question I felt like standing up and shouting was: What happened to Jesus Christ in this superstructure? What happened to the Church's original commission - to proclaim the Gospel to everyone that they may have eternal life and that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the only answer to man's deepest needs?
Unless the Church quickly recovers its God-given mission, the present specter of the defection of frustrated members abandoning a once-august, fortress Church would accelerate, until what we were experiencing would seem mild compared with the earthquake to come.
We were a people starving for a heartwarming, personal faith, a vital experience with Jesus Christ. Yet who would listen to me - a 20 year old kid?
Churches in general, must
deal with three generations
among their followers.
Builders - born before 1946
Boomers - born 1946 - 1964
X-ers born 1964 - 1983
Can they work together?
in worship style?
in budget priorities?
Small groups style?
Sing traditional hymns?
Subdued and quiet?
Loud and boisterous?
What is “reverent?”
What is “informal?”
In Michigan two Churches,
One “white middle class”
Became one in diversity
Two points of view and
Two lifestyles, but
Were “one” Church.
They worshipped One Lord
In their different styles,
As they praised
God in heaven.