There’s no denying that there are differences of opinion among Christians about how to best worship God on the Lord’s Day. Some things are relatively innocuous and shouldn’t be argued over — things like what temperature to set the thermostat at during the service and whether to have cushions on the pews or not. Sadly, other differences of opinion steer into doctrinal issues — things like who is allowed to take communion and the authority of the Bible in the life of the church. Still other disagreements split the difference. While not reaching the level of doctrinal disputes, the following seven church trends are points of disagreement that hinder the health of churches.
7. The Desire for Authenticity
Among other buzzwords, the desire to be authentic has become somewhat of an idol among many contemporary churches. For starters, if you have to desire and strive to be authentic, well, in a word, you ain’t. Churches that aim for authenticity often come across as staged and false. What’s worse is that “authenticity” is often code for “being my true self,” i.e. who I really am. Well, our true selves are sinful and deceitful. Christians shouldn’t desire authenticity; Christians should desire to be changed into the image of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
6. Children’s Church
These next two are similar. With number six, well-meaning adults are doing their children an unwitting disservice. The thought behind children’s church is well intended: provide a time of Bible learning specifically tailored to children that is also fun and engaging in ways that will help keep their attention. However, it’s ok for children to be bored. And while it’s important to teach children the Bible, it’s also important to teach them about what it means to be an involved member of the Bride of Christ. Parents should be using the rest of the week (and Sunday School) to teach little ones about Jesus in ways that are geared specifically toward their age group. During the worship service, children should be taught that church isn’t about them; church is about God. Christians are called to hear the preaching of God’s word as a corporate body. Children should be in the worship service, listening to the preaching of the Bible. Let ’em wiggle some, it’ll be all right.
5. Youth Group
Age segregation in churches needs to stop. Teenagers should not be sequestered away from mature Christians. Not to mention that youth groups are often run by people who are barely adults themselves. Not only do mature Christians have things of value that teens miss out on when sequestered away in youth group, but teens provide perspectives, passion, and questions that mature Christians miss out on due to age segregation. The Body of Christ is one, and it should be treated as such. Church activities should include everyone as much as possible.
4. Multi-Site Churches
I’ve already written about multi-site churches here, so I won’t write a lot in this space. I’ll say this, though: Hebrews 13:17 tells us that pastors will answer to God one day for the church members under their care. How can a pastor watch over the flock they rarely see in person?
3. Split Worship Services
While I would prefer that churches large enough to have multiple services plant new churches, that’s not really the type of multiple worship services that I mean here. There’s a reason I chose the word “split” instead of “multiple” for the heading. I’m referring specifically to churches that have multiple services aimed at different types of members. When a church has a worship service for those who prefer a contemporary service (whatever that means) and another service for those who prefer a traditional service (whatever that means), that church is two churches — it’s a split church. If God’s people can’t agree to worship together in truth and spirit as one body, that probably signals a level of immaturity in the flock.
2. Not Having Bibles in the Pews
I wasn’t even aware that this was a thing until my pastor suggested it for this list. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why (outside of a lack of money) a pastor and church would forgo providing Bibles in the pews. In fact, assuming the church budget can handle it, churches should have extra Bibles on hand under the assumption (and desire) that people will be taking the pew Bibles home. Churches that don’t have pew Bibles are missing out on an opportunity to expose visitors to the Word of God. Not to mention that not having physical copies of God’s Word contributes to Biblical illiteracy among God’s people.
Put as many Bible verses on screens as you want, but also provide physical copies of the Bible for the congregation.
1. Using the Word “Grace” to Excuse Sin
Speaking of buzzwords (see number 7), the misuse of the word “grace” in many churches is so serious as to probably deserve its own article. In fact, number one is so harmful as to enter the level of doctrinal disputes. Churches (and professing Christians) that ask “where’s the grace?” when conservative Christians preach repentance are doing great harm to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
During his earthly ministry, when Jesus would graciously and lovingly confront sinners, he would often conclude with the command, “Go, and sin no more.” In the Bible, salvific grace is never separated from repentance. And repentance is more than just feeling sorry for your sin; it’s a turning away and a leaving behind of your sin. God’s grace empowers His children to “Go, and sin no more.”
Of course, sinners are welcome at church. If not, churches would be completely empty — every pulpit would be empty. Without sinners in attendance, there would be no church services. However, churches that use the word “grace” to excuse sin are so egregiously violating the teachings of Jesus as to call into question whether they’re actually a Christian church or not.
These seven things are not comprehensive. What’s more, there is probably a need for further explanation. Who knows, maybe over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write specifically about one or more of the trends on this list.