Why Churches Die

19 11 2008


I received the following email… 


Why Churches Die is the title of a book recently written by Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, and Ergun Caner, dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. The subtitle of the book is “Diagnosing Lethal Poisons in the Body of Christ.”

The chapter titles of the book use medical terms to describe behavior among members that can cause problems within a church. As an example, the excerpt given here is from Chapter 11,  “Anorexia and Bulimia: Eating Disorders of the Word of God.”

In writing under the header, “The Contemporary Church and Young Saints,” Ergun Caner and Mac Brunson analyzed a problem that has troubled many pastors and churches. —Robert Ashcraft (The author of this post via email.)

For twenty years, since the second “Jesus Revolution” movement of the mid-1980s, our churches have fed them a steady diet of “lite” sermons. As our churches exploded in growth and we became focused on trends and movements, one of the first “traditions” to be jettisoned was the clichéd long and winding sermon. Our pulpits began to confuse relevance with truth. We began to expound sermons on “Fifteen Reasons to Get Up Tomorrow” and “Thirty Ways to Get Over a Headache.”

            We decided that people needed truth in small doses, and we left the heavier and deeper truths for small groups, cell groups, and Discipleship Training. The problem is that the Christian audience in general developed an aversion to the most profound and deep truths of Scripture.

In addition, the worship experience also exploded on our culture. Hundreds of thousands of young Christians have attended thousands of concerts and meetings, and their praises have reached the heavens. Truly, Christian music and worship have entered the mainstream, and bands have become our new heroes. Sadly, many of these bands are so talented that the last component they consider is the lyrics. They find a Christian songwriter, a good beat, and three chords, and the next thing you know, they are headlining.

Tragically, as these youth look up to these bands as their spiritual mentors, many of the bands are starved for the Word of God as well. They are so busy traveling and playing, they rarely have time to attend church, much less get deeper in their biblical knowledge and wisdom. Thus, the milk-fed musicians are writing milk-fed songs, and feeding spiritually lactose-intolerant youth.

Please take note that these are not the words of two elderly curmudgeons, whining that things are “not the way they used to be!” Both authors not only speak in youth conferences and events, but Ergun commits ten weeks a year to youth camps and events. We have a passionate commitment to youth and college-age Christians and have spoken at state fairs and amusement parks, as well as civic auditoriums. We share the stage with the very people and the very culture we are discussing.

You see, it is not the musicians’ fault either. They are also victims of a culture that demands results, releases, and success. The Christian carousel is spinning faster and faster, and yet not getting anywhere. If we are not careful, we will become casualties of our own popularity. The Christian culture’s fame will become our poison. We will encounter an entire generation of Christian leaders who have developed spiritual anorexia and bulimia.

Hebrews: Lactose-Intolerant Babes in Christ

All the spiritual eating disorders begin in a small manner. The development of an allergic reaction to the milk of the Word takes time, and only after time does it become noticeable. Christians who should be strong and vibrant become stunted in their spiritual growth, and the cause is clear. They have neglected the steady diet of the Bible.

After quoting Hebrews 5:11-14, the authors made the following pointed observations:

        * They had much to learn but could not.

        * Their predicament was difficult to explain because they were slow to understand.

        * By this time, many of them should be discipling other Christians, but instead they themselves needed someone to walk them through the basics in the Bible.

        * They could not handle the deeper and more profound issues of Christianity. Instead, they needed the basic “milk” which was easily digested and simple in formula.

        * “Milk-fed Christians” are unable to handle the doctrines and profundity of God, because they are spiritual infants.

        * “Solid food,” the true meat of the Word, is only for mature Christians.

        * “Solid food” is for those who have developed spiritual wisdom and discernment, knowing right and wrong without having it fed to them in the passive sense.

The resolution of these theological problems was almost impossible, however, because they first needed to get the basics settled… Intense study was beyond them, because for Christians to get deeper they must mature in their walk. One of the marks of Christian maturity is the ability to distinguish between truth and error, as well as biblical truths and unbiblical deceptions.

Some Christian students enter our Christian universities and seminaries, and immediately they have a difficult time in classes, because their understanding of the essential and fundamental elements of Christianity is flawed. They have only an experiential understanding of Christ. We are not doubting their salvation; we are lamenting their lack of maturity.

Neither are we blaming the pastors or churches completely. The blame for our predicament is spread evenly throughout the contemporary Christian world. Churches make demands on the pastors to “go easy,” because they cannot handle the “meat.” Pastors notice that churches grow when they preach less intensive, less demanding sermons. Offerings go up when we keep everyone happy. We hear of church growth methods that make a sustainable play for discipleship, but only for a radically small percentage of the body. We begin to form the assumption that maturity in Christ and His Word is not for everyone.

We are deadly wrong.

The consequences of Christian immaturity are dire. Every year in every church, we receive reports of new members (and sometimes older members) being carried away into a cult. Our churches begin to fight over issues that are clearly settled in the Word of God, simply because the members (and sometimes the leaders) do not know the Bible. Thus, they act on feeling and experience. Churches adopt unbiblical standards and doctrines, and no one is the wiser, because they have never discovered the truths in serious and systematic Bible study.

As this pattern continues, the problem becomes even more pandemic. These spiritually immature, milk-fed Christians rise to positions of leadership. The church, confusing man’s talents for God’s gifting, sees certain attributes in these people that would make them effective leaders. But without a foundation in the Bible, these new leaders begin teaching, and they can take their classes and their students only as far and as deep as they themselves are. Thus, the milk-fed teachers try to bring their converts to their level, but even that shallow depth is too much. The second generation of shallow Christians becomes lactose-intolerant. They cannot even handle the very basic issues.

Something has to fill their need. Something has to satiate their hunger and thirst for righteousness. Where truth, doctrine, and Scripture cannot fill, experience enters. The generation of superficial Christians then begins to measure their Christianity, not by what they believe but by how they feel.

This is a profound error. Measuring your Christianity by your experience can lead to a myriad of related ailments. Without a true biblical marker and measurement, one is easily deceived into measuring by the amount of tears one cries or the sharpness of the tingle that transverses your spine.   

This condition is made worse when we realize that our culture measures truth by the same standards. Think about it, These days, it is rare to find anyone use the phrase, “I Believe.” Rational thought is scorned in the marketplace. Instead, it has been replaced with the phrase, “I feel.” The person speaking develops a serious look on his face. He attempts to look genuine as he feeds you his rational for his position. Regardless of how ungodly his belief system is, he will attempt to convince you of its authenticity because of his sincerity,

Therefore, sincerity becomes the measuring standard for truth. Unfortunately, people can be both sincere and sincerely wrong. Hitler was sincere. That did not make him right.

Enter the worship dilemma. Musicians, many of whom are actually very mature Christians, discover that a generation of lactose-intolerant Christian youth cannot and will not imbibe deep theological and biblical truths in their music. Though the artists attempt to discipline the youth with weighty teachings, these truths go right over their heads. Instead sensory-measuring youth seek sensory-satisfying worship. Does the song make me cry? Does the melody make me jump up and down? Is it a catchy tune? Then it will become a big hit, whether or not the words make sense.

Currently a popular Christian group of singers has had great success at crossing over into both the Southern Gospel and Contemporary Christian markets. Their concerts sell out, and their albums are best sellers. Unfortunately, all the members of this group come from a Christian sect that has cultic tendencies such as teaching that their sect alone is going to heaven. Still, the people will say, “Stop talking about it. Those types of discussions divide and separate. We need to be united.”  

The symptoms of spiritual infancy (and being “milk-fed”) are the same for physical infancy. They cannot feed themselves but are wholly dependent on others for nourishment. They can take the “milk” only in small doses. Perhaps most telling, they cry when their needs are not met, because of their total self-centeredness. How can they even consider others when they themselves have a need for constant attention?

Mac Brunson & Ergun Caner, Why Churches Die, pp. 173-180  




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