10. Can’t find a polyester leisure suit anywhere.
9. Relate to jazz and rock more than Handel and Bach.
8. Would rather sleep in own bed than in pew.
7. One word: hypocrites!
6. Already served time as a child.
5. I gave at the office.
4. During organ music, start craving ballpark hot dogs.
3. Can only remember three commandments.
2. Feel guilty enough already.
1. Because they haven’t tried church x…
As is often the case, even though the list is intended to be humorous there is still quite a bit of truth to these sentiments that many people hold about the church. Why has the church become so irrelevant to so many people in our day and age?
It used to be that you were the odd man out if you weren’t attending church in your community, and now there are more and more people who don’t go than who do. According to Gallup polls, as recently as 2010 church attendance did inch up in the United States to 43.1 per cent. But still, well over half of Americans don’t attend.
Contrast this with countries such as Nigeria and Ireland where 89 per cent and 84 per cent respectively still attend regularly, while in Hungary only about 21 per cent do. The Hungarian number seems incredibly low in light of the fact that most consider the country to be historically a Christian nation with a significant Roman Catholic background. Of course in recent years Hungary has not really helped the situation with its law that significantly limits what a church is.
A tarnished reputation
But over the years why are more and more people leaving the church? Why have they found it to be irrelevant and superfluous? For one thing the church itself has not helped its own reputation. For instance, the Catholic Church, with all the stories and rumours of sexual misconduct and financial scandal, has been plagued with horrible PR for most of the modern age.
Many are hopeful that with Pope Francis the church will be able to turn over a new leaf and set itself apart from all the negative rhetoric. We have to recognise that there is scandal to deal with within the church both real and perceived. As we all know, perception is nine-tenths of the law. If people in general perceive that the church is corrupt, then in their view it is corrupt whether that is the case in reality or not.
From an evangelical perspective, the two main objections to attending church that I have heard are “all the church wants is just my money” or “the church is just full of hypocrites”. Let’s take a closer look at the first objection. With respect to this, it is true that churches do need money to function. There is usually a facility that needs to be rented or maintained. Someone has to cover the cost of electricity and heat.
There are other people who help maintain the church facility who also need compensation. Of course there is the need to provide for specially trained people, clergy, who are offering spiritual care and guidance for parishioners. Unlike a business, the church really has no tangible product to sell. So if there is a financial shortfall it can’t just sell more product or fire its pastor to make up the difference. The church must turn to its constituents for the financial resources it needs to continue its course of ministry.
Add to this a few bad apple churches that abuse their financial integrity, and you end up with ongoing perceptions of fraud and mistrust by the public. Of course the only way for you to overcome this would be to get involved with your church and work to ensure that its resources are handled judiciously and ethically.
Again, there are churches and church leaders who have failed miserably in the area of financial integrity, but at the same time there are many more churches that haven’t.
I have been a deacon, elder and pastor within the evangelical community for over 25 years. My personal experience is that I have never seen anything that smacks of financial fraud or misrepresentation. I have seen some poor business choices that churches have made over the years but this is different than outright criminal corruption.
But still mostly white sheep
So not every church is full of leaches trying to find their way into your wallet. Most churches are trying to eke out a meaningful and responsible existence of ministry in an effort to help people with their spiritual and faith-related concerns.
The apostle Paul offered this practical and now famous advice to the Church: “So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness.
“Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
If we understand that we are really giving to the church so that people can really be ministered to, then I think it is much easier to give. So don’t give to support a church. Rather give to support the ministries of the church. If the church isn’t ministering to anybody, then find a church that is, in a Christ-centered and biblical way.
Up next: hypocrisy
Next week we will look at the allegation of hypocrisy but for now maybe you could reconsider attending church. Find out who the lay leaders are. Invite a church elder or even your pastor to lunch and find out where all the money goes. Don’t let the failure of a few churches keep you from the spiritual growth and encouragement you need in your life.
Ultimately the church is God’s chosen vehicle for spreading the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Don’t miss the opportunity that you can have to be a part of God’s great work in this very dark, dangerous and lonely age.
– Reverend Bradley S. Belcher is the senior pastor with the International Baptist Church of Budapest, www.ibcbudapest.org. Should you have a question or comment regarding this column, email firstname.lastname@example.org.