Well, the waters have pretty much settled from my first “Listomania” entry wherein I discussed why many fundamental churches were growing increasingly irrelevant. So, with some degree of trepidation, I will now offer a list of “ideas” for your consideration on what we might do to “revive” fundamental churches. (By fundamental, I mean churches — self-identified as fundamentalist or evangelical or both, who agree on the fundamental doctrines of Scripture and Christian orthodoxy.) As always, I encourage you to add your thoughts in the comments section.
Things We Can Do to Revive Fundamental Churches
1. Preach the WORD.
Away with preaching on hot topics and trends and get back to sound, straight-forward preaching that exegetes the Word and boldly and practically applies it. Whether it’s stand-alone exposition or book studies or verse-by-verse series or character studies or some other form or approach of Scripture-focused preaching doesn’t matter, but focusing on the Bible will never fail. Those who have said that “expository preaching will kill a church” are idiots and time has or will prove the fallacy of such a ludicrous statement.
2. Break out of Denominationalism
Many fundamental churches claim to be “Independent”, but they aren’t. If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck — it’s a duck. If it acts like a denomination, fellowships like a denomination, gives like a denomination — it’s a denomination. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists who claim they are “independent” are members of fellowships — like the BBF, GARBC, FBF, Shepherds Fellowship, Southwide, IBF, WBF, IFCA, etc…, etc… These “fellowships” have “headquarters”, publish curriculum, have missions boards, hold conferences, issue declarations, have officers, take offerings, own/recommend/start/affiliate/endorse colleges and hold elections — so someone PLEASE tell me how they are different than a denomination. (And don’t say “control” cuz’ some “fellowships” are more controlling than denominations and some denominations have no control whatsoever over their churches.) Denominationalism and Fellowship Loyalties (particularly exclusive participation) create camps, conflicts, control, comparison and competition — none of which are healthy for the Body of Christ.
3. Answer the Liberals
There is a difference between answering a liberal and attacking a liberal. (This would probably be a good time to ask someone to “define” what a “liberal” is in these circles anymore.) Many of us choose to savage the messenger rather than to rebut a wrong message. Usually, in the end — both remain intact. Good scholarly rebuttals to the error that regular flows from genuinely liberal colleges, seminaries, publishing houses, etc… (and those who are drifting that way) will make us part of the dialogue and conversation and will give us the opportunity to espouse Truth from a historical, Biblical perspective.
4. Lose the Attitude
An evangelical brother recently asked me what kind of Baptist church I attend and I reflexively said, “Independent”. As soon as I said it, I saw the familiar flicker that can only be described as surprise tinged with perhaps a little fear or at least concern. So I quickly added, “….but not the MEAN kind.” He laughed long and loud. I think that’s sad, but I knew it was necessary. Many fundamentalists were born fighting — we had to fight. There was something for which the fight was worthy — the Supremacy of Scripture and the Sufficiency of Christ. Too often the fights we see today are not against theological liberalism, modernism, ecumenicism, humanism or whatever anti-Christ “ism” being promoted. The fight is over secondary and tertiary matters that are often unique to Western churches in general (American churches specifically), practices, secondary associations, etc… Too often, we have become mean, angry, bitter, hostile, intemperate, volatile and unkind as we “claimed” to be defending the faith. But whether we are disagreeing on majors OR minors, certainly the commands to “speak the Truth in love” and “as much as lieth within you live peacably with all men” shouldn’t be ignored. How much more influence might we have if we could Biblically and intellectually defend our positions with a smile on our face and optimism in our voices. Or could it be, as cynics have suggested, that our fiery passion and angry rhetoric is sometimes a substitute for a scholarly response?
5. Reach the Needy with Good Works
I am NOT a proponent of the Social Gospel. NOT at all. I understand the dangers of “rice Christians”. I acknowledge the failures of the welfare mentality. But, in this commentator’s opinion, many of us have grown calloused about things happening around the globe that are gut-wrenchingly tragic. The genocide in Darfur (much of it against professing Christians), the AIDS orphans of Africa and Asia, the vile sex trade industry, the slavery of Northern Africa at the hands of the Muslims, the imprisoned believers in China, Cuba, North Korea and elsewhere (and their families), the village pastors in India and Central America and the list goes on and on. While we bicker over inconsequential preferences and traditions, genuine needs that would save lives and reach souls go unmet. We make excuses and create smokescreens for why we don’t get involved, but honestly, should liberal denominations who no longer embrace the True Gospel be doing a better job of giving and sharing than those who still lay claim to Truth? Will those who are starving or are naked or are in bondage to chemicals or are homeless be in a position to hear or understand the Gospel? Might we address their physical needs as we address their spiritual needs as well?
6. Invade the Devil’s Turf
For too long, our belief in separatism has given birth to isolationism. We are not “of” this world, but we are “in” this world. We’ve created the Christian ghetto for our own comfort where we enjoy Christian radio, Christian books, Christian music, Christian TV, Christian retirement centers, Christian Entertainment Venues, Christian social circles, Christian recreation, Christian media, Christian education on our massive self-contained campuses. We really don’t have to venture out of our “safe zone”. So how do we fulfill the Great Commission if we never interact with unbelievers. Are even our mature believers so vulnerable that they cannot influence for good and Truth unbelievers without succumbing to the temptation they might introduce? Are our answers so frail that we cannot argue for Truth against those who may never have heard it? Do we not believe that the antidote to poverty, crime, addictions, abuse, violence, pornography, materialism and a host of other sins the GOSPEL? Then why do we avoid the poor sections of towns, the AIDS clinics, the treatment centers, the areas where “sinners” congregate? Should we be surprised when non-believers act like non-believers? Can we not show them a better way? If so, then we should invade their areas and SHOW them the difference Christ makes.
7. Teach our Children Well
The vast majority of practicing believers today were raised by practicing believers. Sadly, many of them have a weaker commitment to their faith than their parents because we failed to teach them well. Teaching isn’t just lecturing, it’s living. It’s not just explaining it, it’s modeling it. It’s not just teaching, it’s mentoring. Discipleship begins in the home.
8. Reach our Children Well
Research says that 80% of kids in evangelical churches do not return to the churches in which they were reared after they leave home. Many great churches are great for only 1 or 2 generations as the founding generation(s) age and ossify, they forget to make way for those who will fill their seats next. We’ve turn generational preferences into tests of fellowships and too often communicate to our coming generations that they are not welcome if they want to do things a bit differently than we did them. We keep our kids isolated from the adults with separate programs, separate leadership, separate services and even separate buildings. They feel no real connection to the heritage of the church family because they’ve been consigned to “eating in the basement” for years. Older generations too frequently refuse to reach out to, or interact with or listen to the younger folks creating walls that are simply unnecessary. We spiritualize traditions and preferences at the expense of teaching principles and expanding outreach.
9. Emphasize Conversions rather than Decisions
For too many years there was such an emphasis on numerical growth, numbers of baptisms, etc… that a mentality and strategy of evangelism developed that was misguided and even heretical. “Pray the magic prayer” and get eternal life (but can be counted on a tote board) became a form of evangelism that created legions of false “salvations”. Repentance, acknowledgment of sin, a knowledge of grace, the responsibility of Lordship were left out of evangelism and discipleship and tares filled baskets intended for wheat. Genuine salvation is a conversion, not a decision. We’re changed because of the Holy Spirit, not because we “will” it. We come to Christ because He draws us, not because we had someone present a handy-dandy plan replete with a charming personality and a disarming method of explanation. Salvation costs us everything while it cannot be purchased with anything we could possess. Decisionism leads to a false sense of security and salvation and should be rejected.
10. Re-emphasize Discipleship
For too long churches have neglected the third step of the Great Commission — Teaching. Discipleship sifts those who make decisions from those who simply “prayed a prayer” for quick relief. To neglect discipleship is the spiritual equivalent of child-abuse. It is like giving birth to a child and then leaving it on the sidewalk with hopes that someone else might come alone and take care of it. Our failure to disciple new believers has created a generation of Christianity that knows little of the “what’s” of orthodox Christianity and even fewer of the “whys”.
So those are my thoughts. Tell me where you think I’m wrong and fill in what I’ve missed. Looking forward to reading your thoughts.