The American Church’s Five Most Pressing Needs

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The CrossIf you haven’t already noticed, this blog is about the Church, especially the American variant. In my search for an authentic 1st century faith in a 21st century framework, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are about two dozen ways in which American churches have gone off the path. For anyone new here, this blog isn’t about complaining about the problems; it exists to galvanize believers into action to remedy those shortcomings.

Over the years, folks have asked me many times what I think are the most pressing of those two dozen problems that are afflicting today’s Church in America. Rather than go into detail about all of them, I’ll list the five I believe are key:

5. We need to “de-materialize.”

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
—Matthew 6:24 ESV

As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.
—Matthew 13:22 ESV

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
—Luke 12:16-21 ESV

If there’s a sign of the times in the Church today, it’s that we’re possessed by things. Our desire is for what worm, moth, and rust destroy and not for what is eternal. This is the great deception of the Enemy that we should trade eternal riches for earthly ones. The Church in America is caught up in the materialism of an age that cries, “More!” Rather than simplifying our lives, we clutter them. Death purges all materialism; everyone dies a pauper in the eyes of God save for the ones who abide in Christ and gain His riches forever.

4. To be real disciples, we need to abide in Christ.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
—Luke 10:38-42 ESV

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.
—John 15:4-9 ESV

The Church in America is troubled by many things that have little eternal value. We get caught up in quibbles and quandaries when we should be caught up in dwelling at the feet of Jesus. What draws us away from real discipleship is our desire to explore the boundaries rather than staying near the Master. This means that no deviation from the words of Christ is allowed, nor should we allow those words to be perverted by those who seek to corrupt them. We need only one thing in our lives: to abide in Christ.

3. We need to put into practice what the Lord has taught us.

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
—James 1:22-27 ESV

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
—Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—1 Thessalonians 5:11-23 ESV

Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
—Matthew 25:37-40 ESV

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
—Hebrews 5:12-14 ESV

Why do we need the basics taught to us over and over again? Because we are not putting those basics into practice. The reason we’re not moving on in maturity and taking America for Christ is that our outward service isn’t growing with what we know. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up, and love is what drives us to put our faith into action—love for the Lord and for those who so desperately need Him. And who is it that loves the Lord? The one who has His commandments and keeps them.

2. We need to develop a true Christian counterculture that questions all worldly systems and seeks to live outside them.

To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.
—Luke 7:31-35 ESV

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
—Colossians 2:8 ESV

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
—Romans 12:2 ESV

When the world sings, why is it that most Christians dance to the tune? Why do we so easily conform to the culture around us without asking if the very culture itself is bankrupt? Christians blindly follow far too many systems that have their origins outside the perfection of Christ’s wisdom. Certainly, we question the blatantly antichrist ideas that infuse the modern world, but only if they don’t benefit us. Far too often do we assent to ways of living simply because we’ve been too lazy to discern their deadly outcomes or we’re too comfortable with what they provide—even if what those systems provide isn’t as good for us as what Christ has purchased. Living counterculturally forces our dependence off of ourselves and onto the Lord and the community of Faith He has created for His good purpose.

1. We need to return the cross to its central place in the message of salvation.

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
—1 Corinthians 2:2 ESV

For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
—1 Corinthians 1:17-18 ESV

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
—Galatians 2:20 ESV

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
—Matthew 16:24-25 ESV

Many of our churches no longer preach the cross. The cross demands too much for the majority of people, so they bypass it altogether. As a result, we have too many fleshly, half-baked disciples who may be deceiving themselves as to the truth of their actual conversion. What could be more deceptive than to believe that Jesus is ours without a trip to Gethsemane? Only by that journey can we take that next step in making our calling and election sure. Preachers who do not preach the cross are not preaching the Gospel. If they were, we’d have a whole lot fewer megachurches and a whole lot more folks who have died to the world and are now doing great things for the King and His Kingdom.

As I see it, if we address these five needs on the Church today, we’ll be living out exactly what the Lord desires of us.

Disagree? Are there other priorities you would substitute? Drop a comment below and let me know what you think.

17 thoughts on “The American Church’s Five Most Pressing Needs

  1. Burttd,

    Yes. But I think the differences go much deeper than that. You need to get to the cross before you can truly abide. In #1, I’m also pushing for our preachers to do this before the people do.

  2. Tracy Bowden

    Bravo! I concur with your list of 5 wholeheartedly. Found your blog through Rich Tatum, at the recommendation of our A/G pastor, Curt Dalaba, here in Lansing, Michigan. Currently I’m teaching an adult Sunday school class about developing our devotional time, which is your #4. The “One Thing” that is so important is really the number one thing those of us who have been to the cross need to do — that is — STAY at the cross and soak in His Presence. Oswald Chambers’ writings are laced with this truth, and bring it home most beautifully. I believe that if we will individually seek the Lord on a daily basis in this way, all of the other reasons the Church is off-center would melt away and be replaced by the manifest presence of God in us and the outflow of His Spirit through us, advancing His kingdom at much greater speed. (Matt. 6.33) That’s really my favorite definition of ministry: Time spent alone with God whereby we are filled up with Himself so that streams of Living Water flow through and spill over into the lives of others. More of Jesus, less of me — the very Life of God flowing through yielded vessels. Then all the good works would flow forth, and we would be very effective doers of the Word, not just hearers.

    Didn’t mean to get on such a bandwagon, but my passion is that all believers would get into the presence of God more and more. There, as you know, we will find the answers to ALL of our questions and explicit instructions for each day’s living.

  3. jared

    Aren’t the answers to our questions and explicit instructions for each day’s living found in the Bible?

    I’m all for “getting into God’s presence,” but I’m not even sure what that means.
    Isn’t God omnipresent? Or is God’s presence some mercurial “experience” we have to look for and get “in tune” with and what-not?

    I think sometimes we make things more complicated than they ought to be, both for ourselves and for each other. I think God’s will for us might be as “simple” as 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

    I like the idea of soaking up the flow of the Spirit and all that, but I’m still working on loving my neighbor. Not to mention loving the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength . . .

    Not trying to be contrary here. Just wondering if we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel.

  4. Gayla

    I think Jared makes a good point.

    Still, that said, Dan I wholeheartedly agree. As an aside re: the megachurches, apparently Joel Osteen sees no reason to even display a cross in his church. !!

    The church has truly watered down the gospel, to be sure. It seems to be all about an emotional, feel-good experience. Recently, I had a co-worker tell me that she just loves J.O. ‘Not a negative word every comes out of his mouth’ and ‘He’s so positive.’

    Yep, people would rather ‘feel good’ about themselves and God, rather than be challenged with the Truth, or have to be confronted with their cesspool of sin.

  5. John

    Dan, there isn’t much difference between the Church in America and the Church in Australia, we suffer the same things as you do.

    I wholeheartedly concur with your 5 needs. Thank you for this post.

    GBYAY

  6. Scott

    Good stuff Dan. I’ve had similar feelings and have blogged about it recently myself…

    “http://scottcheatham.blogspot.com”

    Blessings!
    Scott

  7. Jared, et al.,

    I wrote a brilliant reply with tons of hotlinks, previewed it, confused the preview with publishing, then closed the window—Aaaaaaarrrrgh!

    Anyway…

    What I basically said was that I think that abiding in Christ goes deeper than what many people do. The classic book on this is from Spurgeon’s Sout African counterpart, Andrew Murray. Murray’s Abide in Christ is a marvelous work available in HTML format online here. The CCEL does not have that book, but it has several other classics by Murray. Phil Johnson loves Spurgeon and I love Murray; the former may be the Prince of Preachers, but latter is the Potentate of Pastors. Anything by Murray will fill your soul in a profound, yet gentle way. Awesome, awesome stuff—in fact, I’m trying to figure out why I don’t have his books listed in my “Essential Reading” category. His With Christ in the School of Prayer is considered one of the finest books ever written on prayer.

    In short, read Murray on this subject of abiding and you’ll have an epiphany.

  8. Ted Gossard

    Dan, your list is good.

    Living in community is needed if Jesus’ words are true in his discourse and prayer before his disciples in John on the eve of his crucifixion.

    You sound anabaptist, though certainly the message of God’s kingdom critiques all that is of this world- politics, entertainment, goals, etc.

    Christians need to be in the world while not of the world. Culture I see as in need of God’s kingdom, yet has, as every human has, something of God in it. We have to be careful to avoid thinking that to be spiritual is to avoid the good that is still resident even in a fallen creation. Of course “the world” as in 1 John 2 is referring to the world system that is antithetical to God’s kingdom. But I am referring to the good of creation which Christians in pietistic, holiness, anabaptist (and believe me, I think there is true good in each of those tradition) have often shunned or at least have been hard on. This is pseudo-spirituality, as Paul says in Colossians.

  9. Ted Gossard

    Let me add something to my last point.

    The Christian faith is incarnational, of course. Jesus, the incarnate God, God become human. Our expression must be a material, human, cultural expression; though certainly countering the spirit of the antichrist which really is at the heart of all that is false.

    That is the direction I was thinking of on my last point.

  10. Ted Gossard

    About my last point (this is it; yeah right).

    I know many Christians basically agree on my last point while disagreeing on how to carry it out.

    “What Would Jesus Do?” can be a way of simply “sanctifying” what one thinks is right. But I think it is a valid question here.

    Jesus did not go into isolation. He rather ate and drank with the outcasts as he showed them a holiness that they would have never imagined as “holiness”. We must do something of the same. And this doing involves all that Scripture teaches us (e.g., in 1 Thes).

  11. Scott

    Good list, Dan. Another area I would put high on the list is Individualism, which might fit in one or two areas in your list and compass one or two others.

  12. Ted,
    I am no way one of those “hands off” folks. It is possible to be holy and still appreciate a fine Pinot Noir with one’s planked salmon.

    That said, holiness within the Church in America is almost forgotten by most people who self-label as Christians.

  13. Scott,

    My countercultural idea (#2) embraces community and goes against the rugged individualism that has its wicked talons in American Christianity. If you’ve read enough of my posts, you know how vehemently I preach the need for better community.

  14. Anonymous

    I think that all of these can be summarized in Christ’s simple message:

    “Follow me.”

    He did not tell his disciples to confess their sins and be baptized, et cetera. He simply said, “follow me.” And, to paraphrase Ben Hillel (I think): “all else is commentary.”

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