Home > Christianity, church, House Church > What’s Wrong With Church I (Organized Church)

What’s Wrong With Church I (Organized Church)

Longing for a Holiday wrote a post yesterday about why staying home and reading the Scripture was more appealing than attending Palm Sunday services. She got me to thinking about why I left organized church in 1991. After immersing myself in ministry during the late 80s, I resigned in spring of 91 and walked away from organized churches with no plans to ever return.

In fall of 92, I went to graduate school and studied relationships. At the beginning, I railed against all the problems of organized church. Eventually the anger left, and I learned to love the church in all its human messiness. Over the last 15 years, I’ve grown to listen and learn from various streams within the body of Christ, but I still haven’t returned to organized church.

As I’ve thought about replying to yesterday’s post, I decided to break this “What’s Wrong with Church” into three posts, considering problems with organized church, problems with disorganized church (home church), and how might we respond. This reflects the struggles a sinner still learning to love through the cross, so it’s still filled with lots of my human flaws. I sketch out these ideas, knowing that God in His grace blesses many lives through large, organized churches (and even TV ministries).

Here are three key problems I have with organized church (specifically large organized churches).

1. The Illusion of Success
To walk through the land of Egypt still inspires countless visitors. Impressive, stunning structures such as pyramids fill the visitor with wonder. In its prime, the civilization of Egypt looked likes an amazing success. But, of course, it enslaved people. Herod, following the wisdom of Egypt, also built a pretty impressive kingdom: a great Temple and many stunning buildings. But at the expense of the people. When Jesus came Judah looked pretty successful with passionaite worshippers, intensive discipleship programs, a glorious building project, and expectations of soon return of the Messiah.

It looked successful (both physically and spiritually) and it was a complete failure, standing under the curse of God. Now the reality is that we as sinners stand under judgment and live and move and have our being by the gracious love of our Father. It’s not wrong to dream big and build big, but the danger is always that trust will transfer from the grace of God to the wisdom of our buildings, best-selling books, discipleship programs and more.

I fear many big, organized churches are in danger of believing their own press (just many of our big time evangelists). This illusion can mean that relationships with God and one another can be sacrificed in order to keep the project moving forward. Watching this pattern play out again and again drove me from organized church in 1991.

2. Sacrifice Relationships
The last point leads into this second point. Relationships become secondary to buildings, structures, org charts, and so forth.

The responsibilities of a Puritan pastor reached beyond simply delivering a great sermon on Sundays. He was in the ministry of the “cure of souls.” This required time spent with every family in the church, including nurturing the spiritual formation of the children. The bigger we grow our churches, the less relational a pastor can be. Many churches have layers of staff with some lower level folks (and often non-staff) involved in the lives of the families (if that post even exists at all).

In Paul’s Idea of Community, Robert Banks argues that Paul’s primary metaphor for the church (though implicit) is the family. His language is of brothers and sisters and our Father. Jesus also uses family language to speak of the growing community. He actually redefines the Mediterranean understanding of family as the burgeoning family of disciples.

Unfortunately, many Christian friends that I know who attend large churches, explain that their “real relationships” are outside the church. Some have told me that they would be hesitant to share their real struggles with anyone in the church where they attend. This a huge problem and seems to mock the whole idea of “forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.”

3. Superficiality
Some big churches also fall prey to the “trend of the moment.” I had one “very successful” pastor (both in planting and publishing books) tell me he questioned the church creeds and thought we might need some new creeds. I almost fell down. Whatever hot, exciting trend in culture (with its church variation) can easily become the temporary fad.

Even relationships has become a temporary trend. Instead of a long-term commitment to love through the suffering of the cross, words like “relationality” are easily tossed around to indicate the importance of a growing trend. Of course, I wonder what happens to that relationality with the trend grows boring and everyone moves on to the next big thing.

Part two coming
These comments were primarily directed to large churches but I realize these faults can show up in any size churches. While I’ve chosen to spend the past 15 years in simple churches that were focused on home-style meetings (with a bit of liturgy), I also see some fundamental problems with the home church movement. I’ll share that in part two.

  1. jeremy siegrist
    March 20, 2008 at 11:42 am

    hi doug. so i think it is neat when different people who’s thoughts i respect have conflicting perspectives on an issue. keeps me on my toes in the quest for truth. i just started reading your blog the other day, as well as a blog from my pastor here in jackson (you two remind me somewhat of each other) and you both happened to be writing about similar topics. you should check his out if you get a chance: http://www.philstout.org/phils-blog/2008/3/6/deep-and-wide.html
    i guess you’d call this nazarene church a mega-church, but i’ve grown greatly in my time there.

    also i wanted to let you know that our little community house here in jackson started a blog page: http://www.kairoshouse.blogspot.com (we just started it so there is not much posted yet)

  2. March 20, 2008 at 11:47 am

    Thanks for the note Jeremy and for the links. I visited your pastor’s reading page and I like! Looks like a cool place. Glad to see the Kairos House is moving along. Someday, I’d love to drive up and visit.

  1. March 18, 2008 at 8:51 am
  2. March 19, 2008 at 7:42 am

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