2017: Unraveling the Religious Church in America – A Word by Andy Sanders
Have you considered the overall condition of most American churches lately? Some churches are making tremendous progress in reaching their communities for the Lord. There are many churches out there that have remained true to finding ways to assist others with their walk with God. My motive in writing this isn’t to blast the American church and criticize her for what she hasn’t done; the intent is more-so to bring a better understanding of how the Lord wants to bring us all into a greater maturity, along with a relevancy to the culture that surrounds us.
A few months back I was sitting at a Chinese restaurant with a group of pastors after a ministry service, and out of the corner of my eye bright blue colors caught my attention. I looked to my left and noticed a young woman (18-20) sitting with her dad while eating. I could tell that they were having a peaceful conversation. What caught my attention the most was that she had dyed her hair coal black and the tips were neon blue. To me, one who has little hair left on his head, any hair looks good, but this was really distinct. Then I quickly noticed that her shirt was also quite attention-getting, black with a really remarkable orange and red flame cutting across the front. Her look was eye-catching and sharp. While observing the out-of-the box trendiness, at that instant the Holy Spirit said to me these words, “Such is the Kingdom of Heaven! I have already accepted her for who she is, but my church hasn’t received her because she doesn’t conform to what they want her to become. The church isn’t helping her become what I have created her to be.”
When He said this to me, I held back tears. The words struck a chord deep within my being that I have wrestled with ever since. Something inside me had shifted. It was like a spinal cord chiropractic adjustment, but on the inside of my soul. The comment made me realize just how many are out there walking through life with nowhere to turn because they are unaccepted, by and large, by the church—those who are right down their street.
This begs the question—why? Why can’t many of the people within our communities, in some cases, turn to our own churches for help? I believe the answer is simple: The current systems of most of our churches are still running off of the wineskins of the past. We are too often running a race moving forward while looking behind us to reminisce about our former spiritual glory days. Many of the methods of “church-anity” in America have faded and sailed long ago. Attempting to use outdated patterns when approaching the new and current generation is like attempting to eat last year’s bread at tomorrow’s dinner. Moldy bread at a fresh, hot meal! The two do not work. More than ever before, the current church systems have already become a loaf of the finest looking bread on the outside, but undeniably moldy on the inside. To make matters worse, we continue to cover up the mold on the outside of our churches in order to try to get more people in the door. The heart of the matter is that the system within our churches has changed, yet Jesus remains consistently the same. The way in which the Lord drew me in His arms over 20 years ago isn’t exactly how He reached out to my kids in the millennial and post-millennial generation. He chooses to speak to all of us in each era in a clear way that we can all understand Him. If we try to use old methods for a new generation, it defeats the purpose.
This is the unraveling of the religious churches within America. We honor these churches because we credit the old system for our spiritual upbringing, but many of these churches are still working old systems in order to produce new fruit. It is like building old machines for yesterday’s technology and attempting to work them into modern cloud systems. God is placing His care on a few matters within the local church of America in this coming year; the items mentioned below are a great place to start. There are three distinct areas to cover, briefly.
The earning-merited mentality will be replaced.
“So that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7 NIV).
It seems like the minute someone mentions grace in a church setting, several others shout out that we are preaching a license to sin. However, grace isn’t a license to sin; rather, it is a license to understand a true relationship as an heir. This is ownership privilege in the Kingdom of Heaven—not earning merits by the things we don’t do (sex, drugs, alcohol, and dishonesty) but by what we do—being born again (Christ-like). I came from a Pentecostal denomination where every time we farted wrong we had to run to the altar to repent. This isn’t the pulse of God. It waters down the power of the Cross and the ability to walk in true forgiveness based on what the Father’s Son accomplished. This bondage thinking focuses on our ability (or lack thereof) to keep to an unwritten standard made by man. The old approach (earning merit) is more of a false humility than anything else, and God is bringing this matter to light in the coming year. We are not a Christian because we earned something; we are Christians only because of what Jesus did.
Self-absorption has no place in the Kingdom.
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“Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other” (Romans 12:10 NLT).
Self-absorbed individuals or ministries are equivalent to cesspools—filled with lots of nutrients but un-channeled, having no outlet. With this in mind, there are a lot people with God-ordained ideas and concepts sitting in our pews who have such inspiring individuality that, if channeled properly, could potentially shift parts of the world for the better. Unfortunately, they can’t find where they fit in the local church because it has become the typical American church that is more program-driven, based on their own internal church operational needs and less trajectory focused. The internal operations are important; likewise, having the church assist the believers to direct them into the proper trajectory where God is leading them is also extremely vital. The latter lacks the most. It is as if we are placing the people within our congregations into brick-like walls, using them to fill slots each Sunday in order to get our own self-absorbed visions accomplished. We work them to the bone in the name of service to God, only to later leave them high and dry in regard to their gifts and talents and God’s true calling on their life. (I am not against church training or lay workers. Every Christian should work in the local church or organization on a volunteer basis for a while. If you are going into ministry, you should work every aspect of the church that you can in order to get to know how the body of Christ flows.) What I believe God is working out in many churches in this coming year is the overuse, abuse, and over-emphasis on “build my church or ministry” instead of, “How can we build the Kingdom of God together?” God is unraveling self-absorption because it’s stopping the Kingdom from bonding around the world.
An upheaval of evil will occur.
“By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord, and trouble came to Moses because of them” (Psalms 106:32 NIV).
Traveling into so many churches over the years, it is sometimes easily noticeable who is truly in authority over that specific congregation. Is God working freely, or have individuals within the group usurped rightful places? As a former pastor, I can tell you by experience that there are people within every congregation working hard to attempt to stop what God is trying to release through His children. It is sort of like a hog-tied Christian sitting in a church. This image represents a person within the church who longs to move forward with God’s Spirit, but the key influences of that church/fellowship have taken certain seats of power and influence, acting more as a hindrance to the body than a blessing. In this coming year, I believe that in an unprecedented way God will be addressing those within the church body across America who are consistently stiff-necked (unwilling to adjust and work with others/stubborn) and who are deliberately attempting to stop the different churches/ministries from doing God’s will. These individuals will have their seats of power shaken in 2017. They will rattle, they will roll, and they will eventually spin themselves right out of control. The very position that they worked so hard to usurp will in turn usurp them. The gates have been closed in too many areas of the American church where God intended the gates to be open. It is time to open wide the gates of freedom in our churches.
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