While the universal Church of Christ is as strong as ever, many local churches in the United States are struggling. Mainstream denominations are in decline. Up to 48% of pastors experience burnout or depression so severe that they decide to leave vocational ministry, according to Beliefnet.com. Localities are rocked by scandals at churches. Longstanding congregations split over leadership and theological differences. It can be difficult to lead a local church. And many top pastors feel isolated or insecure in their positions.
In our fast-paced world, many Christians struggle to figure out what it means to follow Christ and impact the world in their current culture. I know that I have had my own challenges with discovering this path for my life. A lot of people talk about discipleship. But actually shepherding people in authentic discipleship to Christ can be difficult.
Steve Saccone in Protege: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders, wrote, “Four critical things that church leaders continually struggle with are burnout, moral failures, irrelevance to the surrounding culture and division within.” These are certainly four crucial areas of concern in local churches and the reason why many fall apart.
But I think this book missed one of the biggest weaknesses facing churches today. And that is appearing to be successful by putting on attractive programs and services while failing to accomplish the main mission of preaching the Gospel, which is to make disciples of all nations. Worse than having no mission is for a church to have the wrong mission. The reason is that churches with no mission with die a slow death. They will not really impact the future discussion of what it means to lead a local church. But a church with the wrong mission may grow and attract a lot of people while the real aim of Christianity is ignored. Spending lots of time “doing good” can be a distraction and lead to a great delusion if churches are not oriented around the truth of the Gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit and the mission that Christ gave His Church.
Discipleship first requires evangelism. And evangelism usually starts with meeting people’s needs, relating to the unbeliever and sharing the good news of Christ. But the focus should not be on just meeting physical needs or attracting large crowds of people. Our good works must be accompanied by the Gospel or else we have withheld the greatest gift we have to offer.
Are you busy doing good but failing to do what is best? Are you really on mission and in alignment with God’s command to the Church? Christian leaders need to worry more about succeeding in what doesn’t matter than failing in what the world values and is less than God’s ultimate mission for the Church.