As I watched the State of the Union address last night, I realized it would serve us well as ministers and churches to reflect on the state of our churches just as the president does every year with our union. It’s hard to reflect objectively on the work we do as ministers because it means examining the very core of who we are as well as the call we heard. At the same time, it’s very easy as ministers and churches to get distracted with the life and the work of the church rather than the life and work of being Christ followers because whether we would like to admit it or not, church has become a business.
In some cases this is good because churches provide jobs to a lot of people, but the more people the church is responsible for caring for as a business, the less resources can go to the important work of doing ministry in the community. As a minster and a wife and mom, I feel this tension all the time. I accepted a call to ministry not to make a career and a living, but to serve God and serve God’s people. At the same time, I had a family and I have financial responsibilities I need to honor and pay. I know I am not the only minister who feels this way.
But the cost of doing church is not just concerned with employing ministers, paying the power bill, or paying for the buildings we gather in, the cost of doing church at this point in our history is extremely expensive. It’s costing us our lives.
The church has long been the place people go in order to be challenged to do better and be better. Our churches aren’t doing that and haven’t been challenging people to do better or be better for a long time. Instead, people now go to church to have their heads patted and told they are doing good although we are not taking care of our neighbors or our communities as is evidence by the poverty rate. People go to church on Sunday mornings to say that they have been to church, and they keep coming because they are reassured they are right as they gather on Sunday morning. They are right in their prejudices. They are right in their hatred of people who are different than they are. They are right.
The state of our churches is weak.
Because as ministers we are scared to tell the truth. We are scared to challenge people to do better and to be better because either we ourselves are scared of that or we are scared of losing our jobs. Just like many of our politicians, we are ministering based on the popular vote because we know when the winds change that we will be out of work. In our fear, we are not doing what we are called to do.
It’s time that we stop blaming the politicians for the mass murders and the hatred spewing from the lips of our people; people who come to our churches on Sunday. It’s time to take responsibility for the role we have played in perpetuating divisions and extremes.
And if we can’t, then it’s time for us to close our doors and let someone else try to change and transform the world. Church is not about more people, bigger buildings, and bigger salaries for ministers. Church is about doing better and being better, but we can’t expect our people to do that if we as ministers aren’t willing to do it.