A few years ago many were amused or irritated by teenager Ethan Couch’s legal defense of ‘affluenza’ in a deadly drunken car crash. They were certainly not amused by the damage and death he cause, but by the seemingly preposterous defense he offered. Affluenza, while laughed at by many, seems to be a modern day affliction that has, arguably, grown into an epidemic.
According the online dictionary known as Merriam-Webster (well that is familiar), one of the definitions for affluence is the “extreme materialism and consumerism associated with the pursuit of wealth and success and resulting in a life of chronic dissatisfaction, debt, overwork, stress, and impaired relationships.” All of this brings me to my definition (according to “Watts” dictionary that I’ve written in my heart), “Being so accustomed to getting one’s own way that one feels they deserve all the best things in life to the exclusion of the interest of others.” This definition is confirmed by the number of publicity ads which include the two words, “You Deserve”. You can get the computer you deserve, the car you deserve, the spouse you deserve, and the money you deserve, if only you will do it OUR way. Truthfully, this attitude plays to the basic instinct and desires of all human-kind so this should not be a surprise about how powerful this approach is to people at large.
The real surprise is how easily this attitude has made its way into the modern-day church. For the life of me, I cannot imagine Paul, Peter, John, James, or any of the rest of those first-century believers taking a stand on ‘what I deserve’, because they were keenly aware that, without Jesus, they were deserving of a place designed for the devil and his demons.
When a people gets consumed by an ‘I deserve’ mentality and then ‘when they don’t get what they ‘think’ they deserve,’ a problem develops that, in the words of a really OLD children’s song, is both ‘deep and wide.’ Complaining, bemoaning, and (as David Ring loves to say) belly-aching follows. For instance, we have long enjoyed the luxuries and amenities of the modern day church building such as heat, air, and padded pews. So today, this generation has come to believe that we ‘deserve’ to have heating & air to be comfortable. So, they church must provide that OR, the attitude is, “we will have to do something else.” While you may think this is a somewhat trite illustration, it begins the downward fall.
For many years, Southern Baptist churches were generally ‘cookie cutter’ type of churches. The programs and schedules were very similar, no matter where you lived (well – at least in the south – GRIN). Sunday schedules went like this: 9:45 SS, 11am worship, 6pm – Discipleship Training (I.E. Training Union, Church Training, etc), 7pm – Evening Worship. Renegade churches began to ‘dare’ to change their schedules 9 or 9:30am and the church world begin to come apart, more accurately, the ‘programmatic church’ began to unravel.
I said all of that to say this: Sunday School and the “Training” (no matter what it is named) are both really good ‘tools’ if they are used correctly. However, the purpose or goal of God’s church or God’s people has never been to promote, maintain, or build a program or establish a tradition, but rather, it is to make disciples. These words were the ‘marching orders’ of Jesus when He left Planet Earth. It is not to make sure each church has a comfortable building (which most churches in America do), technology (which many, if not most, do), a Sunday night large group worship time (which fewer and fewer do), or even Sunday School (which – well you know). Making disciples, ‘people who act like, live like, talk like, and care like’ Jesus, is our prime directive.
Add to these truths the fact that most churches (we all know the numbers – 70% to 90% plateaued or declining) are struggling and in trouble. Additionally, many of the church that are in trouble are unaware of just how vulnerable they are. Yet, the things which are ‘bemoaned’ the most by many are NOT lack of disciples being made or people saved by the changing power of Christ.
The number one complaint or regret seems to be (and I quote), “Nobody is having “Discipleship Training” any more” or “No one is having Sunday evening service any longer.” Now it is true that training disciples is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do when He left the earth, however, the regret has little to do with the abandoned process, rather, it is the loss of a program which they are bemoaning. Additionally, while we should never “Forsake the assembling or the assembly”, the rub about Sunday night has little to do with authentically meeting God is a corporate time of worship as it is the loss of yet another programmed time.
Years ago, I heard a pastor say, “People aren’t afraid of change, they are afraid of loss.” If God could and would bless anyone because of ‘programs’, it would have to be Southern Baptist because we have programs for everything. Programs, in and of themselves, are not bad. They make great tools (as long as they work, but a program makes a horrible god.
Maintaining a program is hard work, making disciples is hard work, but one produces man walking with man while the other produces man walking with God. I pray that we are not so far ‘down the road’ that our ship of motivation, perception, and commitment can’t be turned around.
Let me illustrate what I am trying to say: My wife and I seem to do more traveling (mostly for ministry) today than ever before. Inevitably, we leave home and one of us forgets something. It may be something we wanted to carry or something we wanted to do, but we forget it. Candidly, it depends on how far we have made it on our trip as to whether or not we will, ‘turn around and go back.’ I see this as a picture of where we are in the church today. Have we gone down the program road so far that to return to a process and lifestyle is beyond our thoughts or thinking? Have we bought into the “Institutional church’ and given into the “gravity” or “pull” of the institutional church that to change the direction is seemingly impossible?
Today I began writing another article entitled, “Let Stop doing the business of being a church”. My fear that is we are so far down the road of making the local church and her ‘programs’ our focal point that to turn around and make the ‘manifest presence of God’ our priority, to see Him work powerfully, and to expect Him to do what only He can do, is beyond belief. The work of God’s church, by God’s church, in God’s church, and through God’s church is not something that should one should be able to explain, but rather something that is only explained by God. The only way someone can be saved is if God does the ‘heavy lifting.’
Perhaps what we should be ‘bemoaning’ is that too much of what we do is easily explainable by man and not attributed enough to a divine, supernatural, and all-powerful God in heaven. Perhaps we should be ‘bemoaning’ that we have little expectation of God showing up. Perhaps we should be ‘bemoaning’ that the reason these things are true is because we are living in Mark 6. Mark 6, to this preacher, is one of the saddest passages of the entire Bible.
Jesus went home to Nazareth to help those people who had helped Him when He was growing up. Verse 5 and 6 intimates that, “Jesus could do NO MIGHTY WORK there….because of their unbelief.” If that wasn’t bad enough, verse 6 follows with (the famous Watts translation) “so He went someplace else to do what He WANTED to do in His hometown.”
My prayer is that we will relearn or rediscover what is important and what is not and reclaim the mission, ministry, and mandate to which our Lord has called us.