Why are so many churches struggling to have a healthy church life? This is a question I have often asked myself. As I look at the conservative churches across the country it concerns me. The purpose of this article is to look at this question and to look into God’s word for some answers to it.
First of all we could take the approach that we are living in the end times and the Bible clearly says that the last times will be perilous. “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Tim. 3:1). So we could choose to take a fatalistic approach to the whole problem and say it is simply a sign of the times. I would rather choose to face the challenges of the day and look to God for the remedy. One of the great things about serving God, is that He doesn’t change. We live in a changing world but serve a God that is consistent and true. May our churches be found consistent and true as well.
I would like to make an attempt at addressing 3 areas that I feel the Conservative Anabaptist churches are struggling with presently.
• Independent Spirit
• Respect for Leadership
All 3 of these are similar, but I would like to take a closer look at each one individually.
The dictionary’s definition of independent is as follows: Not dependent, not subject to the control of others, not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct. This stands in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus and the early church.
• “Blessed are the peace makers; for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt 5:9)
• “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better then themselves.” (Phil. 2:3)
• “For where envy and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (James 3:16)
• “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.” (1 Cor. 14:33)
I think we need to stop and ponder deeply what these verses are saying. Are we peacemakers? Are we esteeming others better then ourselves? Are we causing confusion? We need to look at each of these areas and think back over the past week or the past year. How are we doing in these areas?
A number of years ago I was working with a young man who was having some difficulties. We spent hours talking together over a number of years, and finally one day he said, “Reuben I am just plain sick and tired of people telling me what to do.” So he chose to ignore the godly authority in his life and do his own thing. Is he happier today? No. Sadly I see the same attitude creeping into our churches today. On a personal level and on a congregational level. Why are there so many independent churches today? Why is there so much moving from church to church? While most people wouldn’t be bold enough to make the kind of statement my friend did, their lives show that they want to have things their way. What is the solution? We will look at that some more in the next 2 points.
Respect for Leadership
The degree of faithfulness in the laity is key to determining the success or failure of a congregation. A faithful laity will sense its duty to support the ministry.
Following are a few essential duties the laity owes the ministry to insure healthy church life.
• Pray for them
• Obey willingly
• Respect and esteem them highly
• Assist them in any way we can
• Support them when in need
• Follow their worthy example
We could take the time to expound on all of these individually but I choose not to. I would encourage everyone to take this list and really put it to practice. The first thing you might think is, “My ministry are dysfunctional and I don’t trust them.” Even if that were true, would practicing this list help them or make them worse? “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Tim 5:17). I take this to say that we should honor and respect everyone who is called to the ministry, and if they rule well, we should give them a double dose of honor. Nowhere in the Bible can you read that you should honor and respect leaders only if they do what you want them to do. As a result of the lack of respect to our leaders, I see a generation of leaders who are weak in administration and discipline. If we take a look at the world and what happened when the husband and father role in the family was undermined and observe the devastating effect that has had on our nation; we see what weak leadership will do to our churches.
I encourage you as our ministry to step up and take your calling seriously. God has called you to a very important role. He has the tools for you to work with; God give you the courage and strength to use them. I encourage the laity to respect and honor the leaders God has given you. They need your support to lead out. Being critical of them has a crippling effect on them, and the whole church will suffer. If you have concerns, share them in love and humility. Approach them as you would want your children to approach you. God will hold leaders accountable for how they lead, and laity for how well they follow and submit. This brings us to our last point.
(An act of submitting to the authority or control of another.)
Why is submitting so hard? The obvious answer is that the old man or self within us doesn’t know how to submit. Only as we die to self does submission become possible. “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto the governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Peter 2:13, 14). “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Ye all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5).
One of the benefits of submitting is someone else takes the responsibility for the success or failure of a venture or project. If we insist on doing something our way we assume that responsibility. There are many examples in the Bible of people following their own ways and the terrible results that followed. King Saul is a good example of that. God could use him while he was little in his own eyes, but once he took things into his own hands that all changed. As we see in 1 Samuel 16:14, “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” It seems if we are in a leadership position, it can be even more difficult to submit. Many a church has fallen apart because the leadership failed to submit to each other. Regardless what our role is in life, we need to practice submission.
Only as Spirit filled leaders lead in a Godly manner and God fearing laity follow in love and submission is there any hope to have peaceful church life. Let us rise to the challenge and truly put our heart into whatever role God has called us to. When I get discouraged with church life, I look at all the miserable people in the world who are trying to do it alone in their way; and then I feel really blessed to be a part of a Godly church. God bless all of you and give you peace.