Do American Christians Want to Be the Church?


Church gone fuzzyFor all the handwringing about half-hearted evangelism and declining church attendance…

For all the lamentations about lack of community…

For all the conflicting PR about organic, emerging, institutional, house, simple, and traditional churches…

For all the grousing about spiritual gifts, cessationism, charismania, and talents…

And for all the preoccupation with politics, Kardashians, Dancing with the Stars winners/losers, sports fanaticism, the “right” schools, the future, the Consitutution, police states, ISIS, endless End Times “prophecies,” and every last minuscule thing that has precious little to do with being a Child of God…

I am increasingly concerned that Christians in America have no desire to be the Church. We just don’t.

We talk like we do, but it’s mostly talk.

I confess that this is true of me as well. I am not exempt. I talk big, but I struggle to find ways to make the things I talk about work. I think this is true of most people in America. Something must be done; now if someone would just do it…

It may also be true that the systems we have in place that make American Christianity what it is only complicate being a genuine Christian attempting to live as the genuine Church.

But Americans have a way of making the things they value most work and work well—which is why I wonder if we truly value being the Church.

Do we wake up and immediately ask God to make us the Church? Is that such a burning concern for us that we give it the priority it deserves?

It’s not that we don’t love God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s that we’re not so sure about people. The vertical still has value. The horizontal, not so much.

Let’s get real, though: If the horizontal isn’t there, is the vertical? Or are we fooling ourselves?

Then there are the endless battles…

For all the talk of trying to preserve the Church in America by taking on the culture and standing up for what is right, have we really preserved anything? Or did “fighting the good fight of Faith” lead us into the wrong battlefields, allowing our flanks to be decimated? Do we now find ourselves in a position where our soldiers are walking away and going back to their homes, weary and looking for something, anything, to distract them from realities they can no longer face because their wingmen went home too?

How many people out there are asking if they can do this anymore? How many have already decided they can’t?

Does anyone care?

Maybe this post is too grim. Maybe it’s not grim enough.

As for me, I think some people still care. I just don’t know if they have enough momentum to steer anyone else their way. Maybe the final outcome was always the remnant, and this is what it looks like.

I admit that I don’t have any answers beyond what I’ve posted here already on Cerulean Sanctum.

It just seems to me that somewhere we went off the rails, and instead of working to rectify the situation, we wandered off, distracted. Maybe this is the “powerful delusion” the Bible speaks of. Maybe we Americans who profess to know the Lord are falling under its spell too.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not as dire as I think it may be. God knows I want to be wrong on this issue.

Do we Americans really care about being the Church? If we still do, how do we prove it?

Maybe you have an answer. If so, please comment.

21 thoughts on “Do American Christians Want to Be the Church?

  1. Let me add this:

    I think that what many American Christians want most is to stay out of hell (which is distinct from wanting to go to heaven or to be with Jesus). I think wanting to be blessed by God comes next. Those two predominate.

  2. I am not so sure that we went off the rails but rather that we never on the rails to begin with. As for being too grim, I think it is more that a lot of the church is waking up to reality and finding it doesn’t match what we expected. That is tough for a lot of people to swallow so we just keep on pretending.

    • Arthur,

      I don’t think as a whole that the battle is lost. I’m trying to find why it is that we do groups so badly in the United States. Our rugged individualism is both a gift and a curse, and we’ve not dealt with the curse side of it at all, yet the Church demands we do. How do we do the Body thing better in the U.S.?

  3. Dan, has the church ever gotten it right? From the way Paul railed at the Ephesians, Corinthians, and Galatians I would say, “no”. People want to escape hell and God wants them to. People want to be blessed and God wants to bless them. Milk for sure, but it is part of the picture as God would paint it. Heaven will be filled with people who got there despite themselves rather than because because of themselves.

    The problem, as I see it, is that whereas Paul was willing to rail at Christians to motivate them past self-absorbancy, selfishness, and worldliness, the leadership of the American church today, in not an insubstantial measure, placates, encourages and celebrates such, and I suspect just in order to enrich or aggrandize themselves by it.

    It may be that American Christians to a large extant do not care about being the church, but I think a lot of them have never heard their shepherds implore them to be any more.

    • Stephen,

      I think that the Bible shows us that while no local church did the Church thing perfectly, they tended to have a besetting omission, as Revelation points out. As I wrote to Nestus, we don’t do groups well, and yet that’s how the Church is meant to function. How do we improve that?

      • Committment. But if we can’t keep families together in the American church, how are we to ever keep churches together? We have no stomach for altruistic commitment. We are consumer driven and never look at church the way that Jesus does. We see it (as we, to some extent, see family) as a provider of a commodity, Jesus sees it as body. We think we can take our ball and go home or to the next shop down the street. The Word says we can’t.

        • Stephen,

          The late David Wayne at Jollyblogger once interviewed a pastor from the European country of Georgia, and that pastor’s commentary stuck with me. People were born into his church and were buried next to it. There was no church-hopping, because the church had the understanding that they worked out their differences in the name of Christian fellowship. We don’t have that same desire to work through our differences. Sadly, our leaders don’t always make it possible for us to “come, let’s reason together,” which is what we need to do as the family of God.

  4. As an outsider, I would say No, American Christians do not want to be the Church. When I listen to the rhetoric coming out of the US, there is not a single mention of the kingdom of God or the example of Jesus. A threatened lifestyle seems to be the biggest issue.

    As an outsider, I would say Yes, American Christians want to be the Church. I live in South Africa in a medium-sized town (for us) and I know several Americans. They live among and care for the poorest of the poor. They share God’s love daily with the marginalized. The bring hope where there is none.

    Perhaps then, we should seek to find the seed that has fallen in the good soil, where it produced a crop as examples of the church….. and stop looking at the blabbering self-centered, self-preservation, self-seeking high and mighty as examples. The church is only visible in the servants.

    • Nestus,

      Your comment highlights the problem well. As individuals, we Americans “do” Christianity OK. As a group, we don’t do it very well at all–at least not as well as people do it in other countries. The Church is the group. How do we do that group thing the way we should?

      • Hi Dan, sorry only saw your reply today. The group thing is much more difficult for you guys/gals. You value individuality above all else and only causes seem to take you towards “being a group”. Unfortunately the causes seem to be “what-we-are-against” accompanied by a lot of rhetoric.

        Perhaps it is time to look hard at the example of Jesus, the Kingdom of God and Kingdom/earthly citizenship?

        As a group however, I think the American church will always struggle to be the Church.

  5. I know I struggle with information/news overload and the struggle has turned to a daily battle to choose to read my Bible and pray in the morning rather than scroll through Facebook. It sounds like an easy pick, but I literally cannot touch my phone until I have sat down with my coffee, my paper Bible (forget the electronic version, guess what I start thinking of?) and my notebook.

    I’ve been a Christian for 25 years and it has never been this difficult to be self-disciplined. Before the internet, I loved my quiet time and couldn’t wait to get up early before work and getting a kid to school and spend time with the Lord.

    I think I’m not that far out of the ordinary. It’s embarrassing to admit. It speaks of a priority shift that leans away from the Lord and toward the digital world. And I struggle with it daily.

    • Kathy,

      The Web has replaced the newspaper as the morning distraction, although I do think the digital pull is stronger. I hear you. I think your struggle is not an isolated one.

  6. Dire Dan: ” Maybe it’s not as dire as I think it may be”

    This is just a comment on a blog, so don’t expect anything fancy. I just want to say this is some of your direst and best blogging so far.

    CCM is worse than ever. It is slight wonder that the rest of the picture looks horrible too.

    Mark Steyn is also gloomy and pessimistic, but what makes him remarkable is his ability to inject plenty of humor into his writing.

    May I suggest that you learn to use some gallows humor in your writing as well. For example, “the lions refused to eat the American xtians. They were too bland, with no flavor at all. ‘I am better off eating vegemite for dinner,’ one lion was quoted as saying.”

    In other crazy news: the University of Georgia banned hoop skirts, deeming them “racist”. And thinking of that, may I suggest you could also spruce up Cerulean Sanctum by including news stories about all the whacky (and funny) stuff going on nowadays in American churches.

    My own observation is that the leadership pretty much operate their churches as businesses.
    And as Calvin Coolidge actually said it, ““the chief business of the American people is business.” So why not include the American church in that picture as well? I think that one thing alone explains a lot.

    Anyhow, have a good day, Dan, and keep up the good work.

    • Thanks, Oengus. Not sure I have the time to do more than I’m doing, which doesn’t seem enough as it is. As for humor, I think that’s more me in person than in print. I’m actually a funnier person than may come across in print. Gallows humor has a way of hanging the writer, though, so perhaps the ephemeral nature of the spoken word is the better option. We’ll see.

  7. Gary

    I hear ya.
    I’m battling the same thing right now. I’ve poured out my life in mission, outreach and service to the church. Now as i try to find a church in a new town, I’m struck by the lack of community;

    Church is a program—you do a job and keep the program running or you just sit back and spectate. Neither bring lasting connections.
    The gospel of the kingdom has been replaced by the gospel of personal salvation.
    God is nice and so are we—but i see a world where ‘nice’ isn’t the answer to the problem.

    I’ve decided to focus on being a shepherd to the other spectators. It seems that if you’re not young, beautiful and talented in performing, the modern church has little use for you [they still want your money though]. I’ve decided to not bow to this spirit of the age that has taken over much of the body of Christ. God wants a loving community that will build each other up and encourage, inspire and pray together so that we live the good news. That’s what I’m feeling is the solution . . . maybe I’ll be disappointed or even kicked out of the church I’m attending, but I believe it is time for a change. I’m not ready to walk away from the battle yet.
    God bless you,

    • Gary,

      “Nice” is a superb way to start. It cannot, however, be all there is.

      Cerulean Sanctum is about my only output, so I hear your frustration and echo it. Not that this blog is not a positive, only that I wish it were not the only one.

  8. Dire Dan: “lamentations about lack of community”

    I am confused, Dan.

    Everywhere I look I see mega churches are running “small group” programs. Certainly that would have taken care of the whole “lack of community” issue.

    Then what’s the problem?

    • Oengus,

      Studies have shown that small groups will attract only about 30% of a church’s attendees. Also, about 30% will never attend anything related to community, other than the Sunday church service.

  9. Hi Dan. Thank you for taking the time to post! Your comments and questions cause many of us to seek a real relationship with our Creator, and fellow believers.

    One of your comments stood out to me. You asked “Do we wake up and immediately ask God to make us the Church? Is that such a burning concern for us that we give it the priority it deserves?” The key word to me is “priority”. We prioritize ‘our’ lives (almost always using societies’ standards) instead of incorporating Jesus’ priorities. Here are a few things Jesus said that should cause us to change our priorities: 1. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” Application: Why do we usually buy the nicest house / car / clothes / vacation… we can afford and live tied to an expensive mortgage / lifestyle for almost all our productive years? 2. “In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham….” Application: If we really believed there was a hell, and that it involved unthinkable torment, would we have any problem putting away “every last minuscule thing that has precious little to do with being a Child of God”, and prioritize all our lives to follow His teachings? 3. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…” Application: Jesus left us with instructions. Did His instructions say anything about building our own little financial kingdoms here on earth? No, but isn’t that where we put our efforts? And the cost of building “our” kingdoms is that we have don’t have the resources of time, talents, and money to employ in following His instructions to make disciples.

    Bottom line: Until we decide to stop building our lives in ways that reflect societies priorities, we will never have the freedom to follow Jesus’ priorities. Most of us have tried to have it both ways, and have ended up frustrated and disillusioned. Will we continue on that path, and die in this state, or are we ready to try a different path?

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