How will churches adjust to a changing world?
Seven cracks in churches have been exposed by the pandemic. Will we learn from our weaknesses and mistakes, or will we crumble and fail when a real crisis comes?
The pandemic has changed our world, and it has changed our churches. Suspicions of government officials and policies are high. Distrust of the media is at an all-time high and continues to increase. Conspiracy theories have increased. Shut-downs, masks, social distancing, systemic racism, critical race theory, social unrest, and travel restrictions have disrupted the way things are normally done.
Our church, like all churches, has been impacted by the changes in our world. How will we cope during this time of change? What should we do? How must we change in order to prepare for the change that inevitably will come, whether by another pandemic or military coup or economic disaster?
You might think a military coup is very unlikely, and you would have good cause to think this. But the French military generals and 1,000 troops signed an open letter to President Macron that threatened a military coup as the only solution to Macron’s current policies. Marine Le Pen, who is his chief rival in the upcoming 2022 elections, is encouraging the coup. As the adage goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
It is wise to learn from our past and our present. This past year, some churches have closed their doors. Others have seen their membership dwindle, and still others are wondering how they will ever recover and build back after such a prolonged period of not meeting in person. Others are wondering how souls will be reached for Christ.
Have these questions come to your mind? Have answers come to mind as well? If you have been thinking about the impact of the changes on our church or other churches, then you have some thoughts on the subject.
Churches should be like anchors
King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes that there is a suitable time and place for everything. When change comes, the church should be a place that offers stability in Scripture and wisdom for the times we are in.
The church should be like an anchored boat in ever-changing weather in the ocean. Churches have an anchor in Christ and His Word. But if the people on the ship do not use it correctly, they will drift and get carried away with the waves of change.
Born in adversity and fiery trials
The questions I have raised are surprising questions to ask in light of the origin of the church. When Jesus was here, He gathered a band of twelve disciples and a group of followers and built His church in spite of being opposed, persecuted, and killed. The early church turned the world upside down in spite of adversity and antichristian campaigns.
We have inherited the church ministry of Christ, having been born again, having made our commitment in baptism to follow Christ and to do His work, and having been added to a church that was founded by another New Testament church. Is our time more difficult than when Christ established His church? Are our conditions more challenging than those faced by the early church? Obviously not. And yet, we seem to complain and whine more due to the difficult and trying times we live in.
But perhaps whining has always been a part of the Lord’s church. I am thinking of the words in Hebrews 12:12, “Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.” Perhaps the church thrived with the same dynamics of persons that we have today. And the good thing about that is, if this be the case, then there is hope for our churches to grow in spite of our whining and complaining.
Our template of ministry is Christ and the early church. The words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19-20 are still the same: “Go, teach, baptize and teach.” Changes in the world may change where and how we minister, but they do not change why we minister or what we do in ministry.
Consider Paul’s testimony in building the church. Imprisonment did not stop Paul from his mission. He did not stop because of pain. He did not stop because of hunger and lack of clothing. He did not stop because of difficulties. Paul stayed focused. Paul did what he could where he was. There was no baptistry in jail. That was something for God to solve. There was no congregation of members with him. It did not stop Paul from sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul is a great example for us of how to respond to obstacles and difficulties.
When he had No money to travel? He sold tents.
When he had No car to travel in? He walked.
When he had No freedom to travel to meetings? He had people come to Him.
When he had No freedom to meet? He wrote and sent letters. That was the internet in his day.
When he had No strength to write? He dictated.
The only way to stop Paul was to completely isolate him from people or to kill him. As long as he was breathing, he sought ways to tell people about the saving grace of God. With an example like this, what excuse can we use to stop our ministries?
And while overcoming his own obstacles, he was helping others overcome theirs.
What drove Paul to keep going? His relationship with Christ. He was so close to Christ that he was continually reminded of and focused on the burden and passion of Christ to win souls before it was too late. It was this drive to win souls that kept him moving forward, never giving up, and persevering, regardless of the obstacles.
A relationship with God and love for Him are what we need in ourselves to survive changing times, especially in difficult times.
Likewise, a relationship with God and love for Him are what others need in order to survive. And so, by the grace of God, we work to instill in them a resolve to develop a close relationship with God.
What is it that kept Paul going strong? His relationship with Christ. Paul kept the first and great commandment, to love God with all his heart.
The pandemic has exposed 7 weak spots in our churches
This pandemic has been of great value to us as a church. It has been a test run to learn from and to make adjustments for the next crisis. We must learn from our mistakes, or we will be doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Here are 7 weak spots that have been exposed and need to be dealt with.
1. Weakness due to being Unprepared for change
The first weak spot in churches that the pandemic has exposed is the unpreparedness of many to cope with the stress of change. Second Timothy 2:21 says, “If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
The angels of God are preparing themselves to blow the trumpets. God told Israel on numerous occasions to prepare themselves for worship or battle. We are exhorted to prepare an answer for those who ask us of our hope. The lost are exhorted to prepare for the return of Christ. And Christ is preparing mansions for us. Preparing for things to occur is a wise thing to do.
There has been a lot of hand-wringing, confusion, disorientation, and indecision due to a lack of preparation. It is a good thing this pandemic was not worse. Can you imagine if food supplies, medical facilities, communication, and transportation had been shut down?
Unpreparedness of churches in the midst of crisis has led to disorientation and to hastily trying to figure out what to do. We need to resolve our commitment to Christ before a crisis comes.
Future problems will be worse when persecution is added to the crisis, especially when imprisonment comes and blood is shed. Are we prepared? Are we resolved in our commitment to Christ now? We need to determine what we will do and where we stand before the next crisis, not in the next crisis. Our response should be thoughtfully automatic, not thoughtlessly rushed.
2. Weakness due to Political distractions
Political distractions have created anger and division in churches. Democrats, Republicans, and third party members have been willing to sacrifice the well-being of the church for their politics. We must remember that we have a cause greater than ourselves and greater than our political differences. This does not mean political participation and concerns are not important or should be avoided. It means that the work of the church should not be sacrificed over political differences. We need to stay resolved to fulfill the great commission, regardless of the political environment we live in.
3. Weakness due to Anger-driven decisions
Anger-driven decisions often turn out to be poor judgment calls. Making decisions based on what someone else says or does is irrational. Decisions should be made based on what is right to do, not what others decide to do.
For example, a person making a decision out of anger might say, “The government shouldn’t tell me what to do, so I am going to do the opposite. The government mandated masks, so therefore I won’t wear one.” This makes as much sense as saying, “The government has told me to wear a seat belt in my own car. Therefore, I won’t wear one.” Or, “The government has told me to stop at a red light. I won’t obey because the government has told me what to do.”
Making decisions out of anger to spite laws and to promote rebellion weakens the church. Romans 13:1–2 makes the point that rebelling against the government is the same as rebelling against God. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” The damnation here is the guilt of rebelling and the judgment of God against those who rebel.
Romans 13 is not talking about who is in power. It is talking about who created the government and the hierarchy of power. Government was created by God and should be respected. Rebellion against a system of government is rebellion against God.
But what about laws that conflict with God’s laws? When laws are made that contradict a higher power, the higher power must be obeyed. There are two reasons for obeying the higher power. First, God is the highest power, and no law is greater than His. It is never wrong to obey God. Thus, prioritizing power is allegiance to God. Second, when lower powers contradict a higher power, they are promoting rebellion. To submit to lower powers contrary to higher powers is to participate in rebellion. When higher powers are obeyed rather than lower powers, obedience to God is honored, and rebellion is denounced.
The mantra to obey God rather than men should not be abused to justify rebellion. The mantra should be to obey God. It has nothing to do with men or politics except when they specifically contradict God’s commands. Laws about wearing masks or seatbelts or stopping at red lights do not violate Scripture.
4. Weakness due to Fear-driven decisions
A fourth weak spot exposed by the pandemic is Fear-driven decisions which have resulted in irrational conclusions. People are afraid when they do not understand. They are afraid of making the wrong decision and doing harm to themselves or to others.
The solution to fear is to stay calm and learn what to do by asking God for wisdom, to read God’s Word for guidance, and to be educated in order to make informed decisions. Isaiah 41:13 assures us, “For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.”
People are afraid of vaccines and passport tags because it is rumored that this is the mark of the beast. People are deathly afraid of the mark of the beast, and especially of the curse that comes with it. But the mark of the beast is not confronting us right now. The mark will not appear until 3 ½ years after the first six trumpets sound, after world-wide chaos ensues resulting from the six unprecedented judgments of God, after the beast of antichrist rises to power, and after the two witnesses of God are killed. And if you are pre-trib in your thinking, the mark will not appear until 3 ½ years after you’ve been taken up to heaven.
If you are saved, what is there to be afraid of? If a one-world government were imposed on us by the globalists and the United Nations, it would be no different in experience than other dictatorships and monarchies that most Christians have lived under. Christians have a long history of suffering persecution under dictatorships and monarchies. Eventually it will happen, so why fret and be afraid? Stay focused on the mission God has given to you.
There are many unknowns that cause fear. But being educated on the topic causing fear, asking God for wisdom, and seeking guidance from His Word should help alleviate fear. Trust God to guide you.
5. Weakness due to accepting Conspiracy theories
The fifth weakness exposed during the pandemic is the inclination to be swayed by Conspiracy theories. These theories thrive on ignorance, fear, and anger. We must be level-headed, be listening to the voice of God, and be anchored in the Word of God. This is a tough problem to fix because anyone can get caught up in conspiracy theories. Smart people and experts, who should know better, have been divided during this pandemic. My observation in talking to other experts and listening to them has convinced me that they have such a distrust of the government that they will not take any advice offered by government officials. In addition, their fear and anger cloud their judgments, and they readily believe what is not confirmable.
The remedy to conspiracy theories is reliable information and rational thinking. It is important to insist on facts and not to settle for fantasy.
For example, I recently received this claim: “Per the CDC, there are nearly twice as many vaccine-related deaths so far in 2021 (1,755) than all the vaccine deaths this past decade (994).” This person referenced the CDC website and the caution was that the COVID-19 vaccine is factually unsafe. Is this a true statement?
There is a one-step remedy to verify or falsify this claim. Go to the source. I went to cdc.gov and found that the claim and quote were fake. The CDC says, “A review of available clinical information, including death certificates, autopsy, and medical records has not established a causal link of [deaths] to COVID-19 vaccines.” The claim was false.
An awkward tension and misdirection can occur when someone you want to be wrong is shown to be right. For example, a medical doctor told me that he wished I was as skeptical of the government as I was of the doctors making the false claims. This statement implies that if I were impartial, I would always disagree with the CDC. This is irrational. It presumes that impartiality is based on my conclusions, not on the reason for my conclusion. I in fact do not trust the data from the government. During the pandemic, I created my own graphs to keep track of trends on the data points of COVID-19 I thought were important. For example, the total number of cases of infection is irrelevant to deciding the threat of COVID-19, but that was the number chosen by the media to give every day. It was a better fit for their agenda.
But to me, hospitalization and death rates were the most important numbers. Illness always occurs, but hospitalization and death rates reveal a trend to be concerned about.
But I had to hunt for these numbers. It was these numbers that I used from multiple sources to evaluate the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the policies being implemented and to make personal decisions. Yes, it is work to track down numbers and to compare multiple sources, but good decisions are only as good as the information you have. Jumping on conspiracy bandwagons without the effort or skill to evaluate and confirm conclusions is not a good way to make decisions.
One rebuttal to my point about going to a government source was, “Well, you cannot trust the reports and conclusions from the CDC.” So I asked, “But you are willing to trust the anonymous source who includes an obvious lie in his statement? At least the CDC reports are supported by other groups, such as Johns Hopkins University.”
In a highly politicized environment, you cannot trust the media, politicians, or friends. You must ask for and confirm for yourself information from original sources. Most people will not do this, and hence we have conspiracy theories. Making decisions based on a combination of lies and ignorance is foolish. Add in arrogance and rebellion, and you have ingredients that can destroy lives and churches.
The remedy for arrogance is humility before God and acceptance of your own limitations. We can do our best to discover facts and to draw reasonable conclusions by developing our skills of discovery and rational thought.
By suggesting that it is good to develop our skills of discovery and rational thought, am I removing God out of the equation for truth? Not at all. As I said, you must humble yourself before God, not elevate yourself. Arrogance removes God from the equation of discerning truth. Unfortunately, arrogant people also appeal to God to justify ignorant conclusions. A statement must not be accepted as true just because someone claims it is from God.
Is God anti-reason? Of course not. One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 1:18 where God says, “Come let us reason together.” Is faith anti-reason? Biblical faith is not. Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand….” Second Timothy 2:15 admonishes us to “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Hebrews 6:14 says, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” God rewarded Solomon for asking for wisdom to rule over the land. God created us to be wise, reasonable, and rational.
6. Weakness due to leaving our first love
The sixth weak spot exposed by the pandemic has been the disconnecting of church members from the Lord. Some have floundered spiritually. They were and are falling away.
Falling away spiritually exposes the underlying deficiency in personal, spiritual commitment and a much needed lifestyle of loving God. Loving God is the first and great commandment. It should be the first foundation built into our lives. It should be the focus of all our endeavors as Christians. Those who love God are solid pillars in the church. People in love with God do not fall away easily. Their resolve is strong.
Those who fall away have yielded to the temptations of the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Those who have deficient or no love for God love other things more than the Lord. God’s work is not the most important work to them. Obedience to God is a struggle. Staying focused on God’s mission for them is a challenge.
Our love for God is what motivates us to resist temptations. It is how to keep our focus, our vision, and our priorities sharp and stable in our minds.
Every sin, including the sin of falling away, begins with leaving your first love, your love for God. Every sin but one always involves a minimum of two sins because every sin must begin with the sin of not loving God first. Fulfilling this one command would resolve the seven weak spots and more. Loving God is the essential first step to being prepared for the next crisis, to not being distracted by political differences, to controlling anger, to relieving fear, to not being duped by conspiracy theories, and to avoid floundering spiritually and walking away from the Lord.
The solution is to exhort folks to fulfill the first and great commandment of God and to teach people how to nurture their love for God. This is basic discipleship. My book Multiply Your Life for Christ is built on this first and fundamental principle. And my book titled Revival and the Pastor’s Dream Congregation nails this point down. Churches that encourage a love for God are churches that endure crises.
7. Weakness due to disconnecting from the church congregation
The seventh weak spot in churches that the pandemic has exposed is the disconnecting of members from church. This problem exposes a lack of connection among the members as well as a lack of love for God.
As for the membership of a church, this is the weakness of an anemic social network among members. Relying solely on church services to build a church may build a gathering, but it does not build much of a church. Ministry is much more than Sunday morning meetings and requires much more than one or two hours a week in a church building.
Acts 2:46 shows us the way the early church was able to cope in difficult times. “And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart.” And Acts 5:42 says, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” This is what a ministry should look like. This is the kind of ministry that is resistant to change and persecution in the world.
This past year some churches have continued their ministries even when the doors of their churches were closed. Souls have been saved, souls have been baptized, and souls have been added to the church. The sick and grieving have been cared for, funerals conducted, and new ministries built. In some ways, some churches are stronger because of the pandemic.
But some churches have fallen apart. Some have closed their doors permanently. Some pastors dreaded the outcome of closing the church doors even for a few Sundays. Why? The one hour meeting on Sunday mornings was their primary ministry and in some cases the only ministry that identified them as a church. That is not the example of the early church. The strength of the early church ministry was due to much more than Sunday morning services. This does not mean assembling is not important.
Assembling together is essential and is a command from God (Hebrews 10:25). Isolation of members from one another weakens our efforts as a church. Assembling is very important for group unity, vision, and encouragement. It is essential for fellowship with those you do not see during the week and for receiving instruction and vision from God’s Word.
Ministries that have a strong social network of contacting friends outside of Sunday services thrive in spite of closed doors on a building. After all, a church is the body of believers, not the building. In other words, if a church falls apart due to closed doors on a building, there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Exploiting the Seven Weak spots
Failure to prepare for crisis, political division, anger, fear, ignorance, failure to nurture a relationship with Christ, and the disconnecting of members in the church are the seven primary weak spots in churches that have been exposed during the recent pandemic.
Not surprising, Satan has exploited these weak spots in churches. First Peter 5:8 warns, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”
Strengthening our weaknesses
Proverbs 24:10 explains, “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.” There is no reason to have small strength when we serve an omnipotent God. Philippians 4:13 explains how we can be strengthened. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” It is all about Christ, being in Christ, being of Christ, and being with Christ.
Here is what we must do to strengthen ourselves in Christ.
First, nurture our relationship with Christ. This is the first and great commandment. If we love God first and foremost, we will be prepared to control our anger and our fear. We will be wiser and less prone to accept conspiracy theories. God has given us three resources to help us nurture our love for Him: His Word, His Spirit, and His church. If we take advantage of these resources, we will remain focused, and we will be in fellowship with one another in the love of Christ.
Ultimately, the cause of these weak spots boils down to a weak relationship with Christ and a weak relationship network in the church. This is the failure to fulfill the first and second great commands of God, to love God and to love others. The result is manifested in a weak vision to reach souls, a weak response to challenges, a collapse of church ministries, and a greater vulnerability to being divided.
Satan wants us to focus on defeat, not success. He wants to draw us into political division, anger, fear, and ignorance. He wants to distract us so that we neglect our relationship with Christ and separate from other members in the church. We are not ignorant of his devices. We have seen his hand many times. For this reason we must learn from mistakes and prepare for the next crisis.
Consider this past year a trial run.
How have we fared in this battle? Have you been a part of the solutions or a part of the problems?
Are you ready for the next crisis?