The biggest difficulty facing the church lies in two distinct but related areas each of which impacts the other.
The first difficulty has to do with the level of teaching which is offered to a congregation. The typical church behaves and functions in terms of its teaching ministry as if sermons are lessons presented to a beginners language class which never progresses beyond the level of the newest and least competent and experienced learner. All lessons assume no knowledge at all therefore nobody progresses or is allowed to progress unless they teach themselves in their spare time. Intelligent and curious and sincere people leave for lack of a compelling reason to stay.
The second difficulty is that the typical church appears not to know what to with people once they join the congregation. Even in churches which appear to have impressive education and learning programmes there is often very little or no emphasis at all on anything other than belief and dogma. There is no programme specially designed and intended to address the need for personal change and transformation.
Jesus called his disciples to follow him. He invited them to take his yoke upon them and specifically to learn from him. A lot of churches appear simply to value the potential member until he or she becomes a church attender and perhaps articulates some kind of belief and then does nothing thereafter other than to affirm the very basic teaching with which the new church member was initially presented.
At a recent conference on evangelism, I was concerned that there was no explanation or mention of what the church’s job is once someone has become a member of the congregation. It appeared that the church was viewed as an outreach machine in which members invited others in but there was no suggestion or even hint that it is Jesus’ teaching which when practised in a consistent manner which changes us and transforms how we see and how we act and think.
The future of the church will depend not on huge numbers being churned through the turnstiles but on a genuine appreciation that discipleship does demand a huge sacrifice and that Jesus’ teaching does demand and bring about the death of the ego. A transformed church or a church which recognises that the discipline of discipleship is a transformative process of radical conversion to a renewed mindset needs to offer an education programme which goes beyond the basics. This programme needs to be limited to those who are ready for it and open to it but it is essential if we are to rediscover a theology of church and to offer in the twenty first century a church which can introduce its membership to an experience of as opposed to a belief in the eternal Christ.