The Church is failing – and not just youth!

I’ve heard and read quite a bit lately about how the church in the U.S. has been failing.  Oddly (odd to me, anyway), this discussion usually places the failure in the “last 20 to 30 years.”  Now, the United Methodist Church has been losing members in the U.S. for as long as there has been a United Methodist Church, so this matter is at least 40 years old.

There has been some really good work lately on how the church (again, recently) has been failing young people. Kenda Dean’s Almost Christian and Andrew Root’s Relationships Unfiltered are among the best reads available on youth ministry that are currently available.

Recently, though, I read head-into a failure of the church that far pre-dates any of these, though.

In a conversation over recent legal problems of a college athlete, an octogenarian United Methodist said sternly: “If you’re going to commit the sin, you should have to pay the consequences.”

I wanted to chalk it up to dementia, but I couldn’t, so I replied firmly, “That’s not gospel.”

The glare I took in return told me this person wasn’t used to having someone take issue with his pronouncements.. He asked me what I had said.

I clarified: “I said, ‘That’s not gospel.’ The whole point of Jesus’ coming was so that we, who are all sinners, do not have to bare the full consequences.”

He went on to ask me just who I thought would be in hell, then.  I didn’t know, and didn’t buy the deflection.  I reminded him again, along with everyone else around the table, that the gospel is about us not getting what we deserve.

My heart began to break all over again when, later that afternoon, I pondered just how many years this man had been an active church member.  A leader in congregations. And his answer for life ‘s “If you’re going to commit the sin, you should have to pay the consequences.”

We, the Church, have failed this man.

Let’s not lose a whole new generation the same way.

7 thoughts on “The Church is failing – and not just youth!

  1. People certainly DO (often) pay the consequences. That people always SHOULD – or always WILL – pay the consequences is a feature of Hinduism (Karma), not a feature of Christianity (Gal. 6:7 which COULD be read karmically, is relativized by the context of grace).

    So people DO pay the consequences of sin. As parents, we have the hard task of helping our kids experience consequences of doing the wrong thing, though in non-dangerous, non-lethal ways. Our desire is to protect them from all consequences, lest they be hurt in any way. But knowing we won’t always be there to protect them, we allow them SOME experience of consequences so they can learn that their actions DO have consequences.

    As Christians, our primary calling is not to be parents to people, to stand as superiors over them shaping their experience of consequences (though it sure looks like that’s what some people need). Rather, our calling is to exhibit the karma/consequence overwhelming power of God in Christ. Jesus gave his life to destroy the inevitability of the eternal lethal consequences of my sin. We’re called to take up our crosses and join in the game.

  2. You are right; people do (and should) pay consequences for sins. It sure sounded to me like this was a man who, having (relatively) no sins of his own, felt free to heap judgment on another.

  3. Maybe because I’m farther away, I sense another possibility. Here was a man who had experienced the consequences so often, and perceived others to have been delivered form them, that he was broken and unable to understand grace. But I might still be fixated on one of the points from last Sunday’s message, that one of the barriers we have to extending mercy is that we’ve never experienced mercy for ourselves. When all we’ve ever experienced is a relentless demand for performance and perfection, that crushing load would make mercilessness seem normal.

    • wow-I hadn’t thought of that possibility. But that actually means we, the Church, have failed this man even more miserably: he has been in Church for years, even decades!

      Not to have experienced mercy or grace AND to have been a regular in Church…. God, have mercy on us!

  4. Amen Steve. Did the prodigal son suffer the full consequences of his sin? What about David? Or even Adam and Eve for that matter.

    I think that is what makes God – God. Humanity is sold on the notion that the punishment must fit the crime. We do not get anywhere with that mentality at all. We do not advance toward the Kingdom of God, but only remain stagnant. Stagnation leads to death.

    Rather, if we offer Grace and Peace and if God does not allow humanity to suffer the fullest of consequences, then we move toward the KoG.

    I am sure that the disciples thought they were going to take the full consequences of their actions of abandonment of Christ on the cross and this is, in part, why they were afraid when Jesus comes to them in the locked upper room. Instead, Jesus says, “Peace”.

    Wow. What a God.

  5. Great Job Steve, my church and I are currently seeking ways to help the church as a whole evolove. Because of miss guided believers like the one you mentioned people no longer see the chappel on the hill as a place of mercy, grace, and answers. So, again filled with a world of people who don’t know God because some well meaning belivers chased them all away.

  6. I’m writing this ten miles or so from Olney where John Newton composed Amazing Grace. In my view, it comes down, firstly, to grace. Wasn’t that Martin Luther’s epiphany? That grace is abounding for all our sin? Yes, but secondly, it also comes down to responsibility, surely. It cannot be the case that we should feel able sometimes to sin, safe in the knowledge that we shall always be forgiven. This is how Pelagius put it: “That we are able to see with our eyes is no power of ours; but it is in our power that we make a good or a bad use of our eyes… the fact that we have the power of accomplishing every good thing by action, speech and thought comes from him who has endowed us with this possibility,and also assists it.” (quoted in D MacCulloch 2009. p306) This is, I believe, the balanced message we in the churches have to proclaim: that it is not a matter of us being checked continually for sin and then going to hell, as the old pastor thought, but rather that we shall always sin, because we have free will, but it is our God-given responsiblity always to try not to, and be accountable to ourselves and others when we do.

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