Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Hypocrisy Problem in Church Today

Lifeway released some interesting survey results recently. They basically surveyed specific attitudes of people that don't go to church. This was the stat that caught my attention:
  • 72% of the people surveyed said that they thought the church was full of hypocrites.
Well.... I never. While something like this can seem like an insult, I do have to admit that these people are correct. Churches are full of hypocrites. Before you think you can predict the rest of my thoughts here and think that I am going to decry the amount of hypocrisy in church today, I want to explore a slightly different path here.

What is hypocrisy, anyway? We throw it around a lot - but what does it mean to be a hypocrite? You can basically look at hypocrisy as a lie - you say one thing and do another. This ties in with something else I read today: a study that claims that the average person tells almost 88,000 lies in their life time (3-5 times per day). So, the sad fact is - we are all hypocrites. Churches are full of hypocrites because the world is full of hypocrites.

The real rub here is that one of the functions of a church is to reveal hypocrisy. And this is actually a good thing. Sure - you go to church to worship and pray. But you should also go to get your life examined from an outside perspective, so that your hypocrisy is exposed and you can actually change it. Not to have fingers pointed at you or to get judged, but to actually help you become a better person.

So what this all means is that people who don't go to church don't want to come, in part, because they see the hypocrisy in other people's lives that has already been exposed.

Great. So.... what can you do about the fact that people don't want to come to church because the church is doing one of the things that the church is supposed to do? Beats me. It's this big lie that we all believe in America that hypocrisy is worse than any other mistake you can make, and that being a hypocrite means that what you believe in is wrong because of your hypocrisy and not because of any actual truth behind it. Or that you should avoid someone because they don't actually do what they say they believe. If this were true, I guess we would all have to lock ourselves in our houses, get online jobs, and never interact with other human beings.

But such is the mindset that we have to work with in modern America. How to convince people that they actually need the very thing that is turning them off right now. Luckily, that's not the real issue here. But it's one that I'm sure will cause many discouraging conversations around the nation on a daily basis. Most churches will probably work to find a way to be less hypocritical. That's always a good goal, but one we will have to work on for the rest of our lives. And probably not the quickest way to convince people to visit your church.

Come to think of it, realizing the truth about global hypocrisy, it kind of puts an interesting spin on all the churches that are trying to reach people by just "being real"? In "being real," wouldn't that mean they would be letting their hypocrisy hang out in the wind for everyone to see? Wouldn't that mean that they are actually pushing more people away - since so many people don't like the realness of hypocrisy? Just some things to ponder on, I guess.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Nothing New Under the Son

I've been working on this post for a while. I want to make this point without hacking anyone off. I know many people, many good friends (who luckily don't ever read any blogs) that do exactly what I am going to recommend not doing. But, I think this still warrants saying, so please realize that this is my two cents and you are free to disagree if you want.

Katie and I have been going through some transitions recently. Our former church home was just too far away. We were able to find a great church nearer to us that shares the same vision and goals as our former church, so we made the eventual transition to this church. We visited several churches (including a scary large prosperity Gospel mega-McChurch that I've blogged about before) before settling on our current church.

Sometimes I get to talking to people about why we didn't choose another newer church near us that has some great ideas and does some new, different things. It is a great church that I would be glad to go to. We go where we felt called. But here is my main issue with so many new churches: they try really hard to not be like existing churches. For me, I just can't get fully behind a church that is trying to not be like others. I believe that a church should just be what they are called to be, and that's it. Don't worry if you do or don't look like someone else and just go for it with all of your heart.

I believe that we need new churches. We need new styles of churches to reach different people. We need churches to stay at manageable sizes so that everyone gets plugged in and covered. I'm all for that. I just feel that new churches need to watch their attitudes about existing churches.

I've seen many churches through the years try to be current and modern by avoiding "churchy" stuff. Slogans, structures, dress codes, songs, and anything else that smacks of traditional churchiness are all thrown out in favor of reaching people around them.

Then, some kind of problem happens. You see this historically with every new church ever started. Some just fall apart when this happens. But most come up with some ideas of how to deal with problems, and implement these ideas. Once these ideas are implemented, the new church usually ends up looking just like some other established church somewhere else. Sure, they may look different than the church that they originally came from, but they still really haven't created anything new.

And, hence my thought for the day - there really isn't anything new under the sun. It seems like for every church that tried something new, I eventually find someone else that was doing it before them. Things change, but most new stuff is really just a new combination of existing older stuff. And, like I said - I am all for that. I love that kind of stuff. As long as you are doing that because it is what you are led to do, not just because you are trying to not be something else.

Take for example, Vineyard churches. No one will deny that they really pushed "modern" worship into it's current level of popularity. But, if you look around hard enough, you will find churches that were doing "modern" style worship before Vineyard (or the churches that became Vineyard even) was even an idea. And the first churches that because Vineyard were not even aware of these other churches.

Or another practical example I have seen: some Baptist members get tired of not being able to raise hands in their church, or maybe the fact that they don't reach people of other cultures, or whatever. So, with the blessing of their pastor, they start a new church to explore these things and reach the culture around them. They do some things that are great and ground breaking (to them), but then some problems arise. They come up with something that solves these problems, and a few years after they have started, they end up working just like a Vineyard church.

Not that they is bad. It's just what I have noticed, and an example to make my point: follow God by actively doing what he calls you to, not by avoiding becoming someone else.