Tell Me Again Why You Go to Church?

There are some rather unique challenges in regards to making disciples of Jesus in the immediate culture and context surrounding His Words His Ways Fellowship (as there are in all cultures and contexts).
 
But perhaps one of the most unique challenges we face is the significant number of people who attend church regularly, but have absolutely no interest in being or making disciples of Jesus who imitate Him by knowing and keeping His words, teachings, commands, and example.
 

And we are not simply referring to theologically progressive Christians (that’s a whole other article). We are specifically referring to people who attend theologically conservative, Evangelical, Bible-believing churches; but demonstrate no desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple (and thereby be conformed to His image).

However, to be fair we should probably divide this overall group into more specific subcategories in order to better understand the challenges.
 
First of all, there are probably at least some true believers lumped in, who simply don’t understand what is being said and/or what is being asked of them.
 
Then there are true believers who will not listen even if they are given a clear explanation, simply because they are unable to overcome the traditions and folk theology they have sat under for so many years. These are those of which Paul wrote:
 
“…their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15).
 
They might just barely make it into heaven; and then when they do get there, they might be street-sweepers pushing golden brooms.
 
However, I would argue that these two subcategories of true believers are actually minorities in the overall group.
 
I believe that the majority of those who regularly attend theologically conservative, Evangelical churches; and yet demonstrate no desire to be or make disciples of Jesus who know and keep His words, teachings, commands, and example; are most likely false believers.
 
And as we have also written before, we should never be surprised that there are false believers in the church, since Jesus and the Apostles spoke and wrote about them regularly.
 
The reality is, we just don’t want to admit that false believers attend OUR theologically conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical churches.
 
The big misunderstanding and confusion derives from the fact that in most cultures around the world, attending a theologically conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical church would be a signal that someone is serious about imitating Jesus as His disciple. Simply showing up would clearly demonstrate their intent.
 
But in our immediate culture and context, we set ourselves up for failure when we assume that people are attending our churches primarily because they are interested in imitating and being conformed to Jesus by obeying Him as His disciple. The simple mathematical reality is that the majority of the people who attend churches in our culture and context are probably not interested in imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
To add to the confusion, there are others within our culture and context who have demonstrated their willingness to follow Jesus by ceasing to attend local churches, after they realize that what is going on in these churches has little to anything to do with learning how to imitate and be conformed to the likeness of Jesus as His disciple. To them, the churches have reached the point of the church at Sardis of which Jesus spoke, I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1).
 
As a friend of mine said while walking away from a church, “I don’t know what’s right, but I know it ain’t this.”
 
However, churches may attempt to condemn these people by quoting Hebrews 10:24-25 toward them:
 
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
 
But if these people then in turn begin to quote Scripture about all the crazy things being done within the church contrary to Scripture, they are meet with nothing but excuses and/or empty rhetoric. As a result, they just decide it is easier to stay away.
 
Unfortunately, there are probably more true believers than you realize in our culture and context who do not attend church on a regular basis because they cannot tolerate the false believers who are attending on a regular basis. Moreover, they cannot tolerate how the church leadership caters towards these unbelievers rather than making disciples of Jesus who imitate Him and are conformed to His image.
 
So, a big part of our challenge is figuring out which people attending church are actually willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple; AND which people have abandoned church because they gave up on the church teaching them to imitating Jesus as His disciple; and then trying to get them all together in the same room and get something done for the kingdom of God.
 
Of course, all of this also raises the question of how so many false believers can so easily attend a theologically conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical church comfortably.
 
Again, there are multiple subgroups of people who fall into this larger category. Hopefully, us identifying some of these smaller groups might be useful in understanding this phenomenon (however, this list will not be exhaustive and most probably combine a few of these characteristics).
 
One obvious group of false believers who attend theologically conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical churches on a regular basis are those who continue to do so because it is still the socially acceptable thing for them to do.
 
Attending conservative churches has become increasingly socially unacceptable in the overall American culture in recent history. But beyond recent history, it once was the socially acceptable standard. And for many who grew up in that tradition, it is still the standard. They simply continue to go to this type of church because they still consider it the socially acceptable thing to do. They have no desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple; they simply desire to appear as someone whom they would deem to be a socially acceptable individual.
 
Another group of false believers who regularly attend theologically conservative churches are those who have family ties to a particular church. This is similar to the first group, but rather than attending a specific kind of church, they attend a specific church building; whether that church remains a particular kind of church or not (and whether they actually believe what it teaches or not).
 
These false believers only attend because their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents attended or still attend that church and they see their attendance as an act of respect and honor to previous generations. Often this group also harbors a feeling of ownership toward the physical church building because of the amount of money that their family has invested in it over the decades. (If there is a graveyard behind the church, this grows exponentially.)
 
Interestingly, I have observed younger generations that I know for a fact are extremely progressive, attend a theologically conservative church (where the pastor preaches fervently against progressivism every week) simply because it is the church their family has always attended. (And I always wonder what’s going through their heads ever week. Do they just tune him out?)
 
Another group of false believers who will regularly attend a theologically conservative church are those who attend because of the church building. This is similar to the previous group, but without the family ties.
 
False believers in this group might attend a church because it has the nicest building in town. Or, the church might just be the closest one to them. They might just like a church building that looks and feels a certain way.
 
I worked as a youth pastor at a church that was right across the street from the beach. I finally came to the conclusion that several of the members were only attending the church because of its proximity to the beach. They certainly didn’t believe what the church was teaching and they certainly had no desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple.
 
Churches with nice facilities for children will also attract false believers who just want to go somewhere that will give them a break from their kids for a few hours. I have personally known people who had absolutely no desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple, but would willing sit through a two-hour church service just so they could get some peace and quiet away from their kids.
 
And if you think that is a good evangelism strategy, think again. You are most likely wasting precious man-hours on preaching to someone who has no desire to imitate Jesus as His disciple; and even more precious man-hours on entertaining and babysitting their kids.
 
A better strategy would be to spend those same man-hours on making disciples of Jesus who imitate Him and are conformed to His image by first having an effective strategy for identifying true believers who actually want to learn to imitate Jesus as His disciple (more on that later).
 
Another similar group of false believers who will attend theologically conservative churches are those who will take their kids to church in order for their kids to learn good morals.
 
Again, this seems like a good evangelism opportunity, but it can also backfire and be time-consuming and ineffective. There is a big difference between teaching kids to have good morals and teaching them to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple. I can tell you from personal experience the feedback you are going to get when a parent realizes that you are teaching their child that imitating Jesus as His disciple requires the death of their old selves, when the parent only wanted you to teach their child to be a good person.
 
I got dis-invited from holding a high school small group in a parent’s home after teaching one lesson on Romans 12:1-2…
 
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
 
Again, wasted time that could have been spent on discipling someone else who has openly identified themselves as wanting to imitate Jesus as His disciple; instead of spending it on trying to placate an unbelieving mother who just wanted me to teach her son to behave a little better in school.
 
Another group of false believers who will attend a theologically conservative church are those who attend because of their political affiliation.
 
Obviously, there would be some correlation between having politically conservative beliefs and being a theological conservative. Therefore, political conservatives who are false believers will often attend theologically conservative churches just to be around people who agree with them politically.
 
However, being politically conservative does not mean that someone is willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus as His disciple. It may mean the opposite if their political conservatism stands between them and imitating Jesus.
 
Another group of false believers who will regularly attend a theologically conservative church are those who receive an emotional boost from attending church. This emotional rush can be a result of engaging in familiar traditions, or from experiencing new traditions. Often this takes the form of a “worship experience” which is more about how it makes the worshiper feel than it is about “offering your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—which is your true and proper worship.”
 
The good news of Jesus coming to rescue and redeem His lost image bearers is such a powerful story that it would be difficult not to experience some sort of emotion when being in its presence. But becoming emotional while singing a song about Jesus does not equal being willing to abandon all in order to imitate Him as His disciple and be conformed to His image.
 
Perhaps the most interesting group of false believers (and the most frustrating) who will regularly attend theologically conservative, Bible-believing, Evangelical churches who are…
 
…pastors and church leaders.
 
I am by no means insinuating that all theologically conservative pastors and church leaders are false believers. Nor am I even arguing that a majority of them are false believers.
 
I am simply arguing that there must be at least some theologically conservative pastors and church leaders who are false believers because they refuse to imitate Jesus as His disciple; and they of all people should be willing to abandon all in order to imitate Jesus and be conformed to His image.
 
Again, we should not be surprised that there are false believers who are pastors and church leaders. Most of the false believers that Jesus and the Apostles spoke and wrote about were church leaders. Jesus said:
 
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 5:15-20).
 
Paul said and wrote:
 
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!” (Acts 20:29-31).
 
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
 
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
 
Think about it, how can someone who makes a living supposedly studying and teaching the Bible not know what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, how to be a disciple of Jesus, how to make disciples of Jesus, and how to teach others to be disciples of Jesus? Sooner or later some serious questions need to start being asked.
 
This of course deserves further explanation.
 
One important thing to remember is that accepting the truths of Scripture and the truths of the Gospel as factual is in no way a means of salvation.
 
To be saved one must move beyond accepting the facts about Jesus and into having complete faith in Jesus. And true faith always produces action. ‘Faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ are the same word in the biblical languages. The Bible is clear that faith in Jesus always produces the works of Jesus in the lives of His disciples. The Apostle John wrote:
 
“We know that we have come to know [Jesus] if we keep his commands. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did” (1 John 2:3-6).
 
Paul wrote:
 
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
 
James wrote:
 
“Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. […] As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead” (James 2:17, 26).
 
Therefore, it is perfectly possible for a false believer to accept the facts about Jesus and be well versed in them to the point that they can even teach them, without ever having actual faith in Jesus to the point that they are willing to abandon all in order to imitate Him as His disciple and be conformed to His image.
 
Another important thing to realize is that churches are narcissist magnets. If you want to get attention, church is an easy place to do it.
 
And among Evangelicals, our lax ordination standards practically invite narcissists into the pastorate. All they have to do is learn the right answers to the right questions and suddenly they are a pastor. And once one church ordains you, other associated churches accept their word on it.
 
If you are a narcissist and you want people to come out and hear you speak every week, being a pastor is a great way to accomplish that. And again, all you have to do is learn the correct things to say from the pulpit, and they will even pay you well to do it.
 
Even if you do not want to give up your day job to be a pastor, but you want power, influence, and authority; all you have to do is figure the right things to say the right way, and sooner or later churches will make you a church leader. Again, churches are a narcissist’s playground.
 
And if you don’t think that theologically conservative, Evangelical, Bible-believing churches can be a narcissist’s playground; catch up on some of the things coming out of the #churchtoo movement.
 
Another example of false believers who become pastors are those who want to be professional scholars and realize that the pastorate is a possible way to get there. I personally never realized this until I observed one pastor (that I believe is a false believer) that I am almost certain was trying to use the pastorate as a springboard to a writing or teaching career.
 
Because, it is difficult to make a living as a writer and/or teacher (for example I will spend several hours writing, editing, and publishing this article and will never make a dime off of it). But if you can write and deliver a good sermon every week, then theologically conservative churches will pay you well to do so. And if you give good enough sermons, you might get a book deal or get to teach at a seminary one day.
 
Also, the better the sermon and delivery, the more an Evangelical church is willing to look the other way on other matters.
 
So, how do we sort out this mess?
 
Earlier we made reference to a having an effective strategy for identifying true believers who actually want to learn to imitate Jesus as His disciple. His Word His Ways Fellowship has developed and teaches what we refer to as The Four Principles of Discipleship which helps us to sort out who really wants to commit to imitating Jesus as His disciple.
 
In the next article, we will lay out how these four principles work to sort out the mess of false believers attending regularly attending church with no intention of ever imitating Jesus as His disciple…
 
In the meanwhile, you can begin reading about The Four Principles of Discipleship here…
 
(The next article is done now, Tell Me Again Why You Go to Church Part 2…)

 

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