“Professional” Christians love to ask each other about their churches–how are they doing, how many people are attending, what new ministries they’re starting, etc. Being a professional Christian (although soon to be ex-professional, by choice and not by scandal or force), I can tell you that we usually paint rosy pictures of their church. We’re pretty truthful about the state of our churches, but we tend to fudge a little on the truth.
Honestly, we lie. We inflate numbers a bit. We gloss over problems we’re having. Some of that is about being discreet (and rightly so), but some of it is just to cover up the fact that things aren’t always peachy.
I’m not talking about major scandals (“Local preacher guilty of embezzling thousands from his church.” “Pastor exposed for poking plenty of prostitutes.” Oh, that sounded bad… sorry). I’m talking about an answer to a simple question: How’s your church doing? If all of us professionals were being honest, we’d admit that we’ve twisted the truth, even just a little, at least once.
There’s no one reason for why we do it. For some, it’s pride–things were going well in the past, but now there are some problems… but our pride prevents us from being completely honest. For others, it’s saving face–all of our professional Christian friends say things are going well, and we don’t want to be the odd man out. For still others, it’s jealousy–we’re jealous of other churches that appear more successful than ours, so we try to build up what we’re doing to make ourselves look better. There are other reasons, but I’ve been guilty of all three of those I’ve mentioned. I regret the times that I’ve fudged the truth, even just a little. Lying is lying.
There’s tremendous pressure on guys in the ministry. Guys who plant churches feel pressure from those who support them financially–what do they tell their supporters if things aren’t going as hoped, or if they church (heaven forbid) fails? Preachers feel pressure from other preachers–to keep up with them, to impress them, etc. The people that pressure preachers the most are themselves. Most of us are Type-A, Alpha Males who don’t settle for second place. Failure is not an option. Yet, we see someone down the road doing better than we are (or so we think), and we start applying the pressure to ourselves. Some of us preach grace, but live like we’re trying to impresses God–that He won’t love us unless we meet our attendance or baptism goals.
Satan uses this pressure to discourage, to cloud our vision, and to tear us down. But God uses it for His glory.
For the most part, the network of microchurches I lead are doing well. The microchurch I lead, however, is struggling. We’re struggling to find our identity. We’re struggling with what it means, not just to go to church, but to be the church. We’re struggling with figuring out how new people will be introduced to Jesus through our church. Is it frustrating? Yes, for all of us. Is it difficult to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel? Sure.
But the night is always darkest before dawn breaks.
God uses our struggles to shape and mold us, which rarely goes according to our plans. He doesn’t just do this individually, but in churches. He uses these struggles to draw our attention back to Him. Look at the churches in the New Testament. Why are their so many letters to churches in the Bible? Because they all struggled with something. As we wrestle, as we struggle, as we get frustrated, God is glorified.
What we cannot do is quit. What we cannot do is try to cover up our struggles, whether it’s professionals talking with professionals, or within our churches. We need to encourage each other, strengthen each other, challenge each other, and when necessary we need to call each other on the carpet. And all for the glory of God, because He is glorified through our struggles as we are turned toward Him.