The American Church Magazine - October 2014

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Dedicated to helping the church in America find their purpose, define their mission and reach their community. Vol. 3

October 2014


Editorial Gay Marriage and the Cost To Pastors


Article The Church’s 2 Imminent Threats


Reviving the Small Church Part 5 – Reviewing the Church Structure and Ministry

No. 10

By Steve Hewitt

By Thom Schultz


By Michael Henderson


Staying Power Working within Ministry Realities


From Church Hoppers Time to Think Horizontal


No Longer Church As Usual The Religious Spirit

Part 2 - Because Christians come across as “mean” when online! By Steve Hewitt Editor-in-Chief

Contributing Editors Thom Schultz Tim Kurtz David Murrow

Copy Editor Gina Hewitt

© Copyright 2014 by The American Church Magazine. All Rights Reserved Written materials submitted to The American Church Magazine become the property of The American Church Magazine upon receipt and may not necessarily be returned. The American Church Magazine reserves the right to make any changes to materials submitted for publication that are deemed necessary for editorial purposes. The content of this publication may not be copied in any way, shape or form without the express permission of The American Church Magazine. Views expressed in the articles and reviews printed within are not necessarily the views of the editor, publisher, or employees of Catholic Technology Magazine.

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The American Church Magazine®

Why Is The Church in America in Decline?

Steve Hewitt -

By George Cannon

By Jerry (Doc) Bentley

Cover Story

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October 2014



Gay Marriage and the Cost To Pastors It is fascinating to me that some pastors have refused to marry young people if they have already been living together, or if the woman is pregnant. I don’t agree with these policies and their beliefs, but I certainly respect them. I always figure that if they have been doing the wrong thing, and now want to do the right thing, I should provide counsel, advice and help them along the right path. And, I will now confess that I have done weddings for some that were turned down by other pastors. Yet, I was always careful to lift up the beliefs and policies of those I disagreed with. In the past, no one would have thought to bring charges against a pastor for believing it is wrong to marry a couple that has already been living together or if a pregnancy was in the works, but it is quickly becoming a serious legal issue if a pastor doesn’t want to marry a gay couple. By refusing, based upon their own belief system, it appears they will now be subject to fines and/or arrest. Why is it that up until now, people with differing beliefs, simply moved on to find someone that would agree with their belief system. But now that homosexual marriage is becoming legal, lawsuits and pastor imprisonment seems possible? Why do they believe that their rights outweigh others beliefs? Why are their rights and The American Church Magazine®

beliefs greater than that of those who have dedicated their lives to the belief system of Christianity? There was a time when homosexuality was actually illegal in many states. When there was a change in our national belief about this, the cry went out that we shouldn’t care what two consenting adults did in their own lives and homes. We were asked, “How does it hurt you?” Well, now that we have slid down this slope, it appears we have the answer. It will hurt us if you take away our livelihood, our homes and imprison us because we don’t agree to marry two homosexuals. What does this change in belief system up against one’s rights say about the direction of our nation? Together We Serve Him,

Steve Hewitt

October 2014


Cover Story

Why Is The Church in America in Decline?

Part 2 - Because Christians come across as “mean” when online! A new series by Steve Hewitt


oon after I started Christian Computing Magazine in 1989, it was exciting to see CompuServe and AOL take off with millions using their services. One of the things that seemed like a great idea at the time was to have a “Christian” discussion board amidst all of the other discussion boards. However, it wasn’t long before I noticed we had a problem! Instead of Christians using such discussion boards to ask questions about scripture, or explore ideas of faith, it soon became clear that the “Christian” discussion boards were going to be very embarrassing. It seemed that Christians could be mean; and, it seemed from our online presence, we loved to fight. Soon the boards were filled with name calling and condemnation. Those that “sprinkled” were fighting with those The American Church Magazine®

that “dunked.” Those that baptized babies were fighting with those that just dedicated them. And of course “once saved, always saved” were at war with those that questioned if a person could lose their salvation. And, of course, you didn’t even dare try to have a discussion about the “last days” without falling into the pre, mid, post or nongroups and were immediately blasted by those with a differing opinion.

October 2014


The American Church Magazine速

October 2014


I wrote on this several times in the early 90’s, to no avail. What seemed interesting to me was that Christian bookstores normally offered books from authors and theologians with differing opinions on the very subjects causing a bloody war online. Yet, if you were in a Christian bookstore and saw someone pick up a book that had a varying opinion than your theology, you would never have considered picking up Jesus pencils and start throwing them at the person. Yet, for some reason, while online, as we sat in the darkness of our homes in front of our computers, we could feel completely justified in attacking our Christian brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, when the Internet came about, the problem only became worse, and as social media has exploded, so has the problem. People like being able to leave comments in Facebook or after reading a blog. But what is amazing is that it seems in the Christian community, we seem to express our differing opinions with such anger and, frankly, meanness. Many churches and Christians are actually afraid to post their opinions, express a thought, or ask a question concerning the Bible or their faith, for fear of the war that will most likely ensue. Why is this? Probably the most important question is to ask, what has it done for our image? It became apparent to me early on that non-Christians discovered our eagerness to do battle with one another, and soon began to infiltrate Christian discussion rooms and chat rooms. They would post something with the intent of stirring up a conflict. You could find evidence of this in non-Christian discussion boards where they would discuss the enjoyment they would have in getting Christians to easily do battle with one another. And, sadly, many non-Christians that have observed our fighting have had to ask themselves, and Google, “Why are Christians so mean?” In fact, if you go to Google, and you type in “Why are Christians so”, leaving the next word blank, Google will provide you with the next word indicating the most popular search that matches your input, and unfortunately, the number one search that fulfills that phrase is why are Christian so “mean”? While 85% of our churches have either stopped growing or are in decline, and some report that 50% of our churches are in decline, The American Church Magazine®

many are trying to do something to turn things around. However, new contemporary worship, or outreach programs, Saturday night basketball will probably not overcome the damage we are doing if our memberships continue to feel the need to fight or be rude to one another while out there in cyber-space. It is not just the non-churched people we are driving away, but we have driven many of our own brothers and sisters away from church due to the fighting. I recently watched the movie, “God has Left the Building” by Group Productions. In the movie a Christian shares all of the comments from other Christians he hears about the hurt and damage they have felt from other Christians. One even made the comment that whenever they see a steeple they feel physically ill just remembering the pain from church conflicts and fighting. How can we change this problem? Obviously I can’t change it, since I have written on this in the past and observed little change. I think this problem needs to be addressed from the pulpits. Somewhere along the way, Christians have come to the belief system that the right thing to do is to feel free to correct, admonish, and even judge and condemn people (other Christians especially) if they don’t agree 100% with their belief system. I think there is a time to debate differences of opinion and beliefs, but not in a public chat room, or in public comments on Facebook, YouTube, or in response to a blog. The damage done by appearing to be judgmental and mean far outweigh any potential result one might feel could be accomplished. I think the scriptural instructions in Matthew 18 would be a good starter for a sermon, and give an application that a response needs to be personal and not a post for everyone in the world to see. It might also do us well if we can remind our congregations of the many scriptures that remind us that the world will only know we are His by the love we have for one another. Right now, the appearance we have given to the world is that we are seriously divided and that we love a good fight. Let’s be known for our love, not our anger or by how mean we can be towards one another.

October 2014



The Church’s 2 Imminent Threats By Thom Schultz


hat does the future hold for the church in North America? What are the church’s major weaknesses and threats going forward? ast week church leaders, reporters and analysts gathered to discuss the church’s prospects at Group’s annual Future of the Church summit. Participants grappled with a wide variety of factors affecting the health of the church. These included changing attendance patterns, the growing population of de-churched Christians, cultural shifts, other religions, morphing congregational models, and generational transitions. At the end of the summit, after hours of conversation and scrutiny, the group identified two major threats looming before the church. They are: 1. Fear of change 2. Same-sex debate These two things, more than many other factors, are predicted to inhibit the church’s progress. The first one, fear of change, is cerThe American Church Magazine®

tainly nothing new. But the rate of change in the culture around us is contributing to heightened angst among church leaders. Faced with threatening trends, imperfect options, and fears of members’ discomfort, leaders increasingly are choosing to refrain from making any meaningful and necessary changes. A summit participant said, “A lot of churches are willing to die comfortably, rather than live dangerously.” Another said, “We’re all too afraid.” For many, they’re praying they can

October 2014


weather the declining status quo until they retire. Then what’s left of the church will be someone else’s problem. Fear also fuels the other big threat–the same-sex debate. What position should a congregation or denomination take on inclusion or membership for gays and lesbians? Who may serve in leadership positions? How will requests be handled for same-sex marriages? After frank and wide-ranging conversations on these issues, I asked the participants if they’re having these discussions in their congregations. Only a few indicated they’d ventured into this topic with their people. “We hate squabbles,” one said. Most recognize the risk involved with entering the fray. Some churches and other Christian organizations have experienced upheaval and losses after taking stands on same-sex issues. But the controversies are not going away. One participant said, “The conversation is being had without us.” But not for long. Hiding from the same-sex conversation does not protect the church from the threat of dis-










What’s your SWOT analysis for the church?

Will They Use Technology to


1 IN

cord. Author Leonard Sweet told the summit participants that the root meaning of truth is “to come out of hiding.” This conversation poses a threat. How a congregation handles this challenge may well shape its future–for better or worse. Summit participants framed these issues as part of a SWOT analysis for the church. The SWOT acronym, familiar in organizational strategic planning, stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Fear of change was chosen as the leading threat–as well as the leading weakness for the church. In coming articles, I’ll share other findings from the Future of the Church summit, including participants’ choices for the most promising church strengths and opportunities.






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October 2014


Reviving the Small Church

Part 5 – Reviewing the Church Structure and Ministry By Michael Henderson


n the first four parts to this series, we looked at things that clearly position Jesus to be the head of the church. We honored His position, we took a high view of Scripture as He desires, we looked to Him first for wisdom, and we looked for His work in raising skilled laborers to give us a picture of where He is leading. We now need to focus on structure, service and ministry. It is at this point we will see the church beginning to experience growth, both spiritually and numerically. Church Structure All organizations need an organizational structure in order to operate as the proverbial, “Welloiled machine.” Organizational structure always goes hand-in-hand with a sharply focused serving mentality. For instance, it means nothing to have good organizational structure if there is no one to organize around; likewise, it means little to minister and serve others, if there is no structure which allows for the assimilation of the ones you serve into the church. The revival of a small church must be built upon the foundation of ministering and serving others. People need to see genuine Christianity in action. This is why the church is often viewed more as an organism than an organization; the church is meant to grow and adapt to the environment in which it is seated (more on this in a moment). With this in mind, we can easily define organizational structure, The American Church Magazine®

as the architecture that is put in place to foster spiritual growth in the life of a believer, with the key goal of igniting a “discipleship mentality,” in the body. We serve others because we have been served by God; it’s where Christians got their start; and it is the serving nature of God that brings us back for seconds. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NKJV). This always involves the three step process of reviewing, cleansing and renewing. Reviewing-Cleansing-Renewing When I was a child growing up in a rural community we were allowed to dispose of our own yard waste and even household rubbish by burning it in a designated area. It was always an ongoing process of elimination and replenishment. It kept our home clean, attractive, and free from unnec-

October 2014


They’re “spiritual but not religious.” They’re eager to talk about God, but done sitting through sermons. Want to reach young adults? Start a conversation. They’re looking to participate, not to be an audience. So let them ask hard questions. Grapple with tough stuff. Discover how God is reaching out to them. And Lifetree Café is all about conversation. Relaxing around tables, Lifetree participants hear inspiring stories, tell their own stories…and draw closer to God and each other. On college campuses, at coffee shops, and even in churches, life-changing conversations are underway. When you’re ready to connect, connect with us. We’ll help you provide tested, ready-to-go, hour-long guided conversations that let young adults experience God in a fresh, new way. Call 877-476-8703 or visit to learn more. “ D o i n g l i f e . D o i n g g o o d .”

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The American Church Magazine®

October 2014


essary clutter. The same holds true in a church assembly. The old adage,” if you keep doing what you have always done you will continue to reap the same results,” hold true. Sometimes we need to clean house. If what we have been doing is not working then get rid of the rubbish and renew. This means the leadership needs to meet and decide together, through a reviewing process, what stays and what goes in order to accommodate what will be coming in. Church Structure and Obedience This is where the structure will start to develop—where the church begins to look more like an organism that is growing than just an organization or a club. To begin with, I always remind leaders of this one solid principle of church growth: God will never add members to the church, if the church is not prepared to assimilate them into the body. Why would He? Isn’t the Lord looking out for all who come to Him? It is very similar to the spiritual principle involved in personal sanctification: Why would God feed a new believer meat, if has not yet learned to digest the milk? Or, put another way: God will never allow a believer to grow one step further in spiritual maturity, beyond the last step of willful disobedience. The same holds true for the church. God purposely stages the growth of the body, based upon our willingness to respond to His directives. Church growth is directly proportionate to existing church structure. If we are not preparing for targeted assimilation then the likelihood of growth will be very slim. A good leader will recognize these principles of limitation that God uses and respond accordingly. The Lord doesn’t do this to frustrate us, but to grow the church body into a maturity that will bring Him glory. Recognizing these spiritual barriers will make it easier to bounce past them. **Point to remember: The common denominator in each of these principles is that God is the one doing the work. If this be so we need to follow His lead. Recognizing the Structure that God Leads us to Build Around We have all heard of the invisible, yet visible, “revolving door” that many churches have, i.e., there are many more visitors who attend our services and never return, than those who visit and stay. It’s a valid question to ask why? Leaders need The American Church Magazine®

to take time to analyze key data that is freely available to them in order to gain insight in taking the next step forward. Here are some pointers. Recognizing key factors will clue leaders in on the direction to build. First we will need to gather data. Start by asking some key questions. What age groups have most visited your church in the past 6 months to a year? Answering this gives us an understanding of who the seekers are. Other key questions are: What is the demographic of the community? Is it a senior community? Is it a community with many young families? Is it a community with a strong mix of people of all ages? What about ethnicities? Then step back and look at the businesses. Is it a rural community with farming as the major industry? Is it a bedroom community with little business but a lot of technologically oriented people? Is it a low income community with a lot of people in need? Is it an inner city community that has a lot of families with broken homes? Is it a community with a majority of well-kept homes, lawns and, believe it or not, “paved driveways.” Sound silly? It’s not. People gravitate to what they are used to having. Build upon the Demographic First analyze who is dropping by for a visit. Are they young couple with kids? If so do you have a children’s program where kids can be ministered to? Remember most parents are not theologians; they will do their best, but they also look to the church for any could help they can receive. What about the Nursery? Is it staffed? Is it on standby? What if the visitors are seniors? Does the worship music fit their genre? If your church is a mixture of ages then, by all means, make sure the worship music accommodates all ages. Mix in some hymns with the contemporary worship music. What about technology? Remember we live in a high-tech world. Make sure the church is using projection for the music and if possible the sermon texts. People also like maps … give it to them. Make sure the sound system is also up to date. Do you have a website? Is it up to date? Collecting data on who is visiting and on the environment in which your church is situated will be your best indicator of which direction to grow. One last thing: make sure the congregation catches the vision!

October 2014


Staying Power

Working within Ministry Realities By George Cannon


n a world obsessed with simplistic strategies and slogans, the fact remains that pastoral ministry is complicated. These complexities arise because there are no simple answers for the difficulties pastors face. As pastors, we like to blame our frustration or discouragement on our leadership board or church. We jealously compare ourselves to more “successful” pastors because we feel that they were lucky in their pastoral ministry choice. Attending conference after conference, we come back finding that the simplistic “steps to pastoral success” fail within our church context. This results in anger toward the congregation because they refuse to adopt the program. In search of simplistic answers, we overlook the complex nature of our pastoral ministry. Unique Realities Just as no two pastors are alike, just as no two churches are alike. The factors that bring success for one ministry will likely bring failure for the next. While a church can experience success under one pastor, they may see major decline under the next. The unique characteristics of the pastor and his church makes pastoral ministry complex, not allowing for the application of simplistic answers to the ministry challenges. So how can a pastor unravel the complexity of the ministry of which he has been called? How can he avoid the frustration of trying to apply simplistic strategies to his congregation? The pastor must grasp the complexity of his ministry situation by recThe American Church Magazine®

ognizing the certain unique realities of him and his church he pastors. These unique realities will define the nature of his pastoral ministry in the church at present time. 1. Your Personality/Skill Set The most obvious reality that pastors overlook is their own unique personality and skill set. We cannot look at a successful pastor and think that we can do exactly what he is doing. Each pastor has a unique personality and skill set that defines and limits their abilities. In an idealistic world, everyone would have the ministry of Rick Warren or Bill Hybels. However, reality dictates that not everyone has personalities or skill sets to do that type of ministry.

October 2014


2. Education/Training Another reality that defines the complexity of ministry is the education and training received by a pastor. Older pastors typically understand the nature of this reality when they compare their earlier years in ministry with the present time. A pastor has to minister with the reality of his education, training and past experiences as he deals with the normal difficulties of ministry. 3. Personal Sin Personal sin is another reality that is often overlooked because it can define what we can do in ministry. For example, when King David wanted to build the Temple, he was not allowed because of his past sin (see 1 Chronicles 28:1-3). Personal sin defines our capabilities as pastors. Though there is forgiveness for sin, there are still consequences. 4. Marriage/Family Marriage and family life are realities that define the scope of pastoral ministries. Frustrations within ministry families emerge when the pastor pushes the family in order to achieve ministry success. Regardless of our efforts, our spouse and children will define what we can do as pastors. When we try to function outside of family boundaries, pain and dysfunction always emerge. 5. Your Socio-Economic Background The socio-economic background of a pastor is another reality that contributes to the complexities in ministry. While we like to think that a pastor can minister anywhere to any group of people, that is simply not true. A pastor will typically minister among people from the same socio-economic background as him. Ministry to other socio-economic groups is possible, but that requires a shift in the pastor’s approach to ministry. In those circumstances, ministry becomes cross-cultural. Frustrations and problems arise when a pastor fails to adjust his approach because he does not recognize this reality. 6. Your Church In addition to the realities that emerge from a pastor’s life, the very nature of an established church will define the scope and success of the pastoral ministry. A pastor needs to look at his church as more than just an organization. Reputation, budget size, facilities condition, the worship services, and church members determine the scope The American Church Magazine®

and supposed success of a ministry. The pastor has to grapple with ministering within the reality of his church’s history and nature. 7. The Sub-Culture of Your Community The sub-culture of the surrounding community is another reality that a pastor must also acknowledge. Methods that work in a suburban culture may not work within an urban or rural culture. The pastor needs to understand the sub-culture of his community in order to contextualize an approach to ministry. When a pastor who is from one subculture tries to minister in another sub-culture without considering his methodology, frustration is guaranteed 8. Your Denomination Finally, the pastor’s denomination is a reality that will define the scope of his ministry success. Frequently moving pastors from church to church is one denominational practice that will have an effect on the church as a whole. This is due to the lack of stability that a church experiences when they have a tenured pastor. Denominational forms in worship and polity are major factors as the pastor feels constrained in his ministry by them. Functioning with the Realities There are two approaches that a pastor can take concerning these realities. First, the pastor can approach them negatively by ignoring them or going against the grain. Usually this results in a continual state of frustration for the pastor and his church. Sadly, in many cases this can lead to the end of one’s pastoral ministry. Second, the pastor can approach these realities positively by making the decision to minister within them. As he understands them, he can find the freedom to be himself by allowing the Holy Spirit to use his uniqueness within his unique church to accomplish that God called him to. Before making hasty simplistic assumptions concerning pastoral ministry, we should take time to consider the realities that define our ministry. Only then will we find the freedom to minister within them. George Cannon has served as the pastor of the Curwensville Christian Church in rural Pennsylvania since 2001.

October 2014


From Church Hoppers

Time to Think Horizontal By Jerry (Doc) Bentley


hurches have a form they follow with worship, teaching, programs, etc…that make it simple to attend different churches without confusion. People can walk into most worship experiences and understanding that there will be music, a time of giving, a sermon, some type of sacrament, and an invitation. The presentation comes from what the universal church is supposed to be doing vertically. The scriptures are very clear about the purpose of the church when it comes to its responsibility before God. The New Testament uses the word “Church” that pertains to individuals, a local body of believers, and the universal body of believers (Ironically never a building). The commands are used across the board that we are to worship, teach/preach, give, etc…because it is the reason for our existence. The commands are vertical commands that guide all churches, which creates the use of a similar form. This can be a serious problem especially when churches take the vertical model and try to compete with other churches. Churches try to define themselves as different when in actuality they are all the same in regard to presentation. Not all churches are the same, but in form they are because of the way they think they should do church. The problem is complex but the solution is simple. The local church must find out what her purpose is horizontally so then she does not have to duplicate or compete with other churches all the while thinking vertically. The American Church Magazine®

So how does a local church find what it is supposed to do horizontally? First, the local church must go back and READ its articles of incorporation, constitution, or historical documents to find out WHY it came into existence. The truth of her creation is still a thread that runs through the church. It does not matter if the people are still there that started the church because the reason it exists is what has attracted the actual people who are there today. Knowing why the church exists can lead to an understanding of your past so that you can embrace the current needs in the community that align themselves with your true purpose. Second, the local church must listen to its community. Successful churches do NOT COPY other churches – they COMMUNICATE with their community and strategize to meet their community’s needs. The community is screaming out their needs

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and desires but churches spend far more time trying to figure out their doctrinal perspective instead of tailoring themselves through relationships to attract those in their community. Our heavenly father wants His church to engage the community with his love that is void among the people. 1 Corinthians 13 is clear on how we should love, so no need to go there, by acting with love we meet people where they are and help them to get where they need to be. Lastly, the local church must be OPEN to CHANGE. Understand change is NATURAL but churches define it as “Never done it that way before.” Change is only a new presentation of the core of beliefs to the present world. Jesus did it when he came to present God as a God of love. He never changed the judgment of God, the destruction of God, or even the jealously of God, but he presented the love of God to a world that was missing love. Jesus’ change was simple “I must die for the people.” now can you imagine the angels saying, “We have never done it that way before.” The local church is the life of the community so she must wake up to her horizontal position or

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purpose to meet the needs of the people. Churches across our country spend so much time on knowing about other churches and never spend anytime knowing their own communities. Those in the community will have questions and through community engagement local churches have the solutions. If churches will look back and rediscover why they exist and listen to their communities then the local church can understand the purpose of who she is and what she is to do. Communities are crying out for the people of faith to awaken to the reality that the community needs them. Churches think that communities are rejecting the gospel when in reality the community may be rejecting the presentation of the gospel. Communities want love, worship, teaching, and even the opportunity to give. The church must embrace that want and revitalize their horizontal presentation in order to engage its audience. You can contact the Church Hoppers at www. if you need assistance in building balance in your church.

October 2014


No Longer Church As Usual

The Religious Spirit By Tim Kurtz


he religiousness of the church in all denominational sectors is attempting to undermine the purposes of God in the earth. The religious mindset is eating away at the Body of Christ – little by little – piece by piece. The sad truth is that most people have no clue what a religious spirit is, and its destructive impact in the church. In fact, some actually embrace it as a normal part of Christian life. May I suggest that when you see the church through the eyes of Jesus, it will become clearer as to why the religious spirit is a problem?

Religion keeps people out of the kingdom of God. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them” (Matthew 23:13 NRSV). The scribes and Pharisees considered themselves to be the religious elite of Jesus day. They did not write the law, but positioned themselves to be its interpreters. You could not do anything without their approval. They held all the ‘righteous cards’. They enforced strict guidelines that The American Church Magazine®

gave them the authority to determine who was worthy, and who was not. This is eerily similar to what happens in many church systems. Several years ago, I was at a worship service where the guest speaker preached a powerful message. Many were moved by the Spirit to give their lives to Jesus Christ. It was a glorious response to the gospel, that is, until the pastor made his remarks. Before him was a group of people genuinely seeking a new direction for their lives; they were weeping and praising God for their new found faith. Instead of encouraging

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them, the first thing that came out of the pastor’s mouth was, “We got rules in this church”. He then went on for several minutes outlining dress codes for women, where they could or could not go, and he threw a few barbs at some other churches for not having his perceived level of holiness. Sadly, you could see a change in those at the altar. They had come seeking Jesus, but got a list of man-made rules. This is what Jesus condemned the scribes and Pharisees for doing. A person comes to the altar and has a genuine experience with Jesus Christ; but become subjected to a plethora of guidelines that determines their worthiness for the Kingdom of God (Matthew 23:15). Am I against boundaries? Absolutely not. They may be necessary as you disciple new believers. But those boundaries should point to a life in Christ (Romans 8:29; Galatians 4:19), not conformity to a religious human system. Religion is publicly pious, but internally inept. “… you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28 NKJV). Religiousness has often confused image with character. The outward appearance is groomed to reflect our perceived idea of holiness. Outward appearances can mask deviancy and immorality. When we see prominent Christian leaders fall into sin, we are shocked. The fact is, they were living as Jesus declared a religious spirit would. The sin was always there. Hypocrisy and lawlessness lurked beneath the surface. Rather than being washed in the blood of Jesus Christ, they were covered under a blanket of religious images. This religious image spirit has consumed many in the church. People learn to function in the church, maintaining an image of righteousness, while at the same time they cover all kinds of personal corruption. My personal belief is that part of the problem is the operational structure of the church. It allows people to perform a task, or serve in a capacity without having to deal with hidden sin. In other words, what they do becomes more important to the church, than who they are. Religion is repetitiously void of life. The Lord taught me this truth on a trip my wife and I took to Atlanta. On an earlier trip The American Church Magazine®

there, my brother-in-law had recorded a cassette tape (I’m giving away my age) of a jazz station I enjoyed when I was in the city. He simply turned on the cassette and let it record the music, advertisements, news, and Atlanta weather reports for several hours. On this particular trip, I decided to play some of those cassettes as I drove. My wife fell asleep as we made our way down the highway. As we drove through Cincinnati, about five hours from our home, she awakened to hear the voice on the cassette giving the weather report for Atlanta. She was amazed. “Are we that close to Atlanta already?” she asked. “No”, I explained. “This is one of the cassettes our brother-in-law had made for us during our last visit, and what you just heard was an Atlanta weather report from months ago.” We laughed, but then the Lord used that to show me how we can get trapped by religious repetition. Although the tapes had been recorded several months before, they still sounded fresh. This was the same music, the same news, the same weather report from months before on the tape, but totally out of touch and irrelevant to the current moment. This is often a pattern found in churches. In an attempt to maintain momentum, we try and make old and outdated information fit into a time where it is irrelevant. Jesus said it is hypocritical to use vain repetitions when you pray (Matthew 6:7). I would suggest to you that the church should scrap the religious cassettes we tend to play over and over again in an attempt to repeat a time that God has moved beyond. Religion has trained the masses to be entertained rather than effective. And as for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking together about you by the walls and in the doorways of the houses, saying to one another, Come now, give ear to the word which comes from the Lord. And they come to you as my people come, and are seated before you as my people, hearing your words but doing them not: for deceit is in their mouth and their heart goes after profit for themselves. And truly you are to them like a love song by one who has a very pleasing voice and is an expert player on an instrument: for they give ear to your words but do them not. And when this comes about (see,

October 2014


it is coming), then it will be clear to them that a prophet has been among them. (Ezekiel 33:30-33 Bible in Basic English Translation) Ezekiel was the topic of conversation in the community. People would trek to wherever he was speaking to hear his latest message. Over and over again Ezekiel prophesied warning against their rebellious way of life. But there was a clear problem. They would hear him preach the Word of the Lord – but they only did what was profitable to them. This is another religious trap. Week after week, people attend some variation of ‘church’ and cherry pick from the message whatever is the most beneficial to them. They get excited about the style of the message more than the message itself. The Lord said that Ezekiel’s words sounded to the people like a love song sung by one with a pleasing voice. They listened, but they didn’t respond. They heard the word, but they didn’t do it. This still happens today. It is sad to see people ‘go to church’ week after week and come out with little more than religious sound bites and talking points. A study released in September of 2010 by the Pew Forum, found that many Christians could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths. They were outperformed in this by atheist and agnostics. If learning is done through repetition, we are forced to ask, “What are people learning in churches today?” If the Pew Forum study is accurate, it points to the fact that people are attending church for reasons other than the purposes of God. They are entertained, but not compelled to become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Most church goers have no concept of what it means to ‘take His yoke upon themselves, and LEARN OF HIM’ (Matthew 11:29). Like the people in Ezekiel’s day, they want the rhetoric without the responsibility. Religion makes it hard to discern between those who are ‘hungering and thirsting after righteousness’ (Matthew 5:6), and those who have ‘itching ears’ (2Timothy 4:3). My friends, I am not innocent. I deal with traces of religiousness in me. In 1992 the Lord clearly said His purposes for me were being hindered by religion resident in me. He went on to say that religion deadens sensitive ears (Hebrews 5:11), and that religion puts Him in conflict with the will of man. Whenever I recognize traits of religiousness, I repent and seek the Lord’s will. The American Church Magazine®

I believe God is continually speaking. He is speaking through men and women who are heralding the fact that the church, as we know it, is changing. The church system most of us are familiar with will soon have its theological and structural capacity challenged. It will be shaken to its core. Everything that can be shaken, will be shaken (Hebrews 12:27). Shaking will begin in the House of God (Ezekiel 9:5-6; 1Peter 4:17). Programs and events will not survive what is coming. Only what’s built solely upon the Word of God will survive. The shaking that is coming is not from the devil, it is God speaking to dislodge worldly systems from His Church (Hebrews 12:26). God is preparing a people for the true battle. I pray we don’t allow our religious presuppositions to dull our ability to hear His voice. Why? Because Jesus is still building His Church, His way in the 21st Century. Website: Twitter: @timkurtz712

October 2014