5 Questions for Your Church

It’s undeniable that here in the Bible Belt, we have an abundance of choices when it comes to church. More often than not, where we settle boils down to our personal preferences on programs and style. When our preferences are satisfied, we tend to accept the status quo instead of digging deeper and thinking critically about the church.

I’m convinced that now is the time to ask tough questions. As someone with a mediating personality, I’ve often tried to smooth issues over and appease people rather than confront them with conviction and grace. However, we’ve reached a point where we are relegating the Gospel in the name of Christ, which should alarm us.

I want to be clear that my intention is not to cause divisiveness or rebellion against biblical authority. However, it is time for followers of Christ to ask hard questions, insist on legitimate answers, and respond with wisdom. I propose five areas and questions that are long overdue to ponder ourselves and ask of our leaders.

1. Go and Tell or Come and See

Is our church built upon a paradigm of going and telling or coming and seeing? Is our mission to invite people to visit our church or to invite people to Christ? Does the great commission command believers to proclaim the Gospel and disciple people, or to build winsome programs?

Too often, we treat the church like a big tent attraction instead of an embassy for ambassadors sent out to represent another kingdom. The absurdity is lost on us because we’ve been swimming in the waters of consumerism too long. Here is our logo, podcast, praise team, app, children’s building, welcome kit, and our three-step method of getting you on board and engaged. Come and see what we have to offer and become a participant.

If a church’s goal is to attract people to services or programs, isn’t that just marketing? Isn’t it devoid of the supernatural? Instead of relying on all our effort and working with our advertising savvy to increase the numbers, we’re in desperate need to trust in the sheer power of grace delivered by the lips of friends who speak of Christ.

It’s time to ask the difficult question of our leaders. Are we go and tell or come and see? 

2. Christ-centered Exposition

What is the purpose of the sermon? Are we focused on practical application, theological acumen, historical commentary, or proclaiming again the faith once and for all delivered to the saints? I’ve been a believer in and a part of churches with each of those emphasized in preaching.

There is quite the spectrum on this aspect of Christianity. One side de-emphasizes the sermon altogether. Others place the sermon as the center yet turn it into a motivational speech, theological TED talk, or seminary lecture. Messages like that are a far cry from Paul’s resolution to know nothing except Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

What about Christ crucified, risen, proclaimed, and offered to weary and struggling sinners? Christ-centered exposition is much more than tracing parallels or identifying typologies. It is bringing real-time peace and forgiveness in Christ through the proclaimed promises of God found in his word and spoken on the lips of his servants.

What is the purpose of preaching? If it’s not proclaiming the Gospel, then it’s time to ask why?

3. Faith Alone

Is salvation by faith alone? No caveats, no clarifications, and no equivocating. Is it or isn’t it? Churches, and even denominations, tend to ardently affirm sola fide for initial belief, then shift gears to a pietistic illusion of moral performance as they live out the Christian life.

If salvation is by faith alone, and it most certainly is, then our perpetual inclination toward merit, performance, and achievement in the Christian life is as absurd as it is idolatrous. Faith is a gift. Works are measurable. Faith is supernatural. Works are attainable in our strength. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Works are the result of things striven for and the visible aftermath of effort.

We’re pragmatic, so looking outside ourselves and what we can practically accomplish is alien. But that’s the point. Our righteousness is totally outside ourselves and in Christ alone. It is alien. Thanks be to God!

Is the Christian life by faith alone from beginning to end?

4. Priesthood or Papacy

The priesthood of believers is a major aspect of protestant Christianity. Have we traded the papacy for a tiered system of professional ministers? Is a seminary degree the prerequisite for proclaiming the Gospel, studying and discussing theology, or formulating a biblically informed opinion on church governance?

Pastors are not CEOs, elders are not corporate boards, and congregants are not investors. Pastors are under-shepherds that care for souls. Church members are the sheep of Christ’s pasture, which are also living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).

The beauty of the priesthood of all believers is that waitresses, seminary professors, telemarketers, and pastors are equally empowered to fulfill the mandates of God’s word. There is no higher class of Christian with special access to God or with unique revelation. We all have direct access to God through Christ.

Is the gifting, call, and authority to read, interpret, and share Scripture for all believers?

5. For Sinners or Saints

Is the Gospel for sinners or saints? Yes. Churches transition to attracting unbelievers instead of equipping sinner saints for the great commission. The good news of Christ crucified for sinners is necessary, spiritually beneficial, and efficacious in strengthening faith so long as we are still sinners.

We are always sinners in this life. However, we are simultaneously saints in Christ, and the Gospel is needed to reorient our merit-based, idolatrous bent all our lives. When churches operate as if the Gospel is only for unbelievers, they fail to extend believers grace, peace, and transformation.

The good news doesn’t cease to be good once we believe because we never stop being bad. The Gospel is a perpetual spring of water welling up into eternal life. Our need for it never dissipates.

Does the church proclaim the Gospel only so people will initially believe, or to continuously nurture faith from beginning to end?

Like shoppers blindly accepting the advertisements on deals and sales, we’ve succumbed to the philosophical and societal influences on our view of the church and the core elements of its mission. The great commission, Christ-centered preaching, faith alone, the priesthood of believers, and the sinner/saint dynamic of belief are Christianity 101.

These five questions only scratch the surface of the western church’s need for self-reflection. If we take the time to ask them, we may also find that many leaders are shrewd enough to have a veneer of answers to pacify us, at least temporarily. Don’t settle for biblical clichés or theologically shallow explanations.

My encouragement is to think harder, dig deeper, and wrestle through these and other questions like Jacob wrestled with the angel. You may find that you walk with a limp moving forward, but you’ll also walk as one touched and blessed by God.

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

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