By David Allis
We’ve been asked to debate the moot ‘The church has had its day”, or maybe in product terms the debate would be that the church is ‘past it’s best by date’. With a little bit of thought, it’s obvious that at a higher level, this moot can never be true. The universal church, consisting of all the redeemed from all ages, both alive & dead, certainly can never have ‘had its day’. The NT describes the church as the body of Christ, with Christ as the head – it would be dangerous to argue that Christ has been unsuccessful with his own body. The NT also refers to the church as the bride of Christ, and no sane person tells the groom that his bride is ugly or unsuccessful or ‘past her best by date’.
But if we narrow the ‘church’ we are discussing down to the church that we are part of, and are investing our time, energy, prayers, finance & lives into, then I believe we have the basis for some debate. So, let’s consider ‘our’ church – ‘our’ part of the NZ church – an evangelical, Bible-believing, modern, western, organized, institutional church that is typically visible through aspects that are obviously of importance to it, church buildings, ministers & church services centred around worship & preaching.
Before stepping into any critique of ’our’ church, I want to affirm the hard working, godly & committed members & ministers in this church. ’Our’ church is maintained & resourced by wonderful, committed men & women of God, who are working hard, sacrificially, & are doing their best to help build God’s church, & to extend His kingdom. Any critique of our church is not because of lack of dedication, work, commitment & prayer by the committed members & ministers.
Also, I am personally committed to extending God’s kingdom, and helping establish the church as He would have it be in NZ today. I’m not a critic on the outside throwing rocks at the church – I’m a committed participant inside the church saying “Hey guys, wake up, look around, is our church really working? Let’s take a good look at it and see what changes need to be made.”
Also, I believe it is important for individual Christians to be part of a ‘christian community’, which includes having committed & accountable relationships with other Christians, and gathering together regularly for times of mutual encouragement. Many Christians in NZ, seeing major problems within the ‘organised church’, have left it. Unfortunately some of these Christians haven’t found or formed alternative faith communities, and are now living in isolation. For the sake of God’s kingdom, it is important for Christians to be connected with other parts of the ‘body’.
However, we need to look closely at the ‘organised church’. I am convinced that for our church, as with any enterprise that absorbs huge amounts of time & money, we should honestly review its effectiveness. Is ‘our’ church working as well as it could be or should be? And if it isn’t, let’s face it honestly, & consider what we can do about it, rather than continuing to waste our energy.
I want to argue that our church, the modern NZ evangelical, organized, minister-centric, Sunday-service-centric church is past it’s best by date for 3 primary reasons.
Firstly, it isn’t working
Secondly, it isn’t biblical
Thirdly, it is actually harmful
This might seem extreme, & you may not agree with all of it, & it doesn’t necessarily apply to each and every local congregation, but any glimpses of truth in it are worth reflecting on.
1. Our Church is not Working/Effective
Overall, Our church in NZ isn’t working – it isn’t growing, it isn’t affecting the local community or society overall, & it isn’t extending the Kingdom of God. Some local churches are working wonderfully, but most churches aren’t working as we would hope or dream.
a. Our church is not growing (it is static or declining)
- A few churches are growing rapidly, at 5% or 10% or 20% per year
o But most churches are struggling to remain static, and many churches are declining in numbers
- A few churches have grown and become ‘successful’ mega churches, and are apparently achieving great things
o But the mega-churches are few & far between. They are usually dependent on a unique leader, & can’t be duplicated on demand.
o Most denominations would love to grow mega-churches in major population centres, but they can’t just make them happen ‘on demand’. Mega-churches are dependent on many important factors, and can’t be easily duplicated.
o For every successful mega-church, there are hundred’s of unsuccessful, wannabe mega-churches – churches which would love to grow & become a mega-church, but won’t ever get there.
o And surrounding many mega-churches are lots of declining community churches, whose leaders wonder if the mega church is growing through transfer from their declining congregation.
- Many of the churches that appear to be growing are doing so because of transfer growth – ie they are growing at the ‘expense’ of other churches.
- New immigrants, particularly from Asia, are also boosting the church population and artificially giving the impression that the church is not declining. These immigrants are often settling in growing ethnically-based congregations.
- Overall, an annual 5% growth rate for churches would be great – but it doesn’t normally happen.
o Based on census data, the church in NZ has declined as a % of the NZ population over the past 50 years. Below is a graph of that indicates this – it uses census figures for membership of the main denominations, adjusted NZ’s population growth, and adjusted back to a common starting point of 1 in 1956. (eg a denomination with say 10% of NZers claiming allegiance in 1956, and 12% in 1961 would show as ‘1’ in 1956 & ‘1.2’ in 1961). This shows that the proportion of NZ’s population in these main denominations has decreased steadily over the past 50 years, and they now only have about 45-90% of the proportion of NZ’s population that they had in 1956. (Note – based on census data, this is only one indicator of what is happening – membership and attendance can be quite different, and the decline in church membership is partly a sociological factor as many people today consider church membership less important than their counterparts 50 years ago.)
o Other smaller denominations in NZ are typically not growing. For example, the Apostolic Church Movement (which I am part of) experienced good growth in the late 1980’s, and mid 1990’s, but has since declined and now has the same number of members as in 1993.
o The graph below indicates the relatively static state of the NZ Baptist Denomination These figures, which have been adjusted to allow for NZ’s population growth since 1956, show that overall the Baptists are not quite growing at the rate of NZ’s general population growth.
o For the Apostolic denomination, in a ‘typical’ year, 1/3rd of it’s churches grow, and the other 2/3rds remain static[i] or decline. This is also true for the Baptist Denomination (in 2005-6, 37% of Baptist churches grew 5% or more.)
o When growth is considered over a 3 year period, the Apostolic churches normally fit into 4 groups, each consisting of about 25% of the churches – 25% of the churches average at least 5% annual growth, 25% are static, 25% decline more than 5% annually, and 25% are closed or leave the denomination.
o In contrast, other religions are seeing considerable growth in NZ, as shown on the two graphs below. The first shows the growth of 3 other religions, adjusted for NZ population growth & back to a factor of 1 in 1971. The second graph shows actual numbers for these 3 religious groups & NZ Baptists according to the census. (Note – immigration to NZ is a significant factor in the growth of Buddhism, Islam & Hinduism).
o Many denominations have a huge backdoor, and there is no relevant research to see what is happening to these Christians – for example, consider the NZ Apostolic & Baptist denominations (note these are chosen because their statistics are recorded and available – there are other NZ denominations with much larger ‘back doors’.)
§ The Apostolic Movement in NZ. In 1993, it had 10800 members. Over the period to 2006, it’s churches reported that there were another 12500 people ‘saved & added to the local churches’. Yet in 2006, there were still only 10800 members in this denomination (ie 10800 + 12500 = 10800). This implies that there are more ex-Apostolics in NZ (12500 less any that have died or moved overseas) than there are current members of Apostolic churches.
§ NZ Baptists – despite baptizing a good number of adults each year (equivalent to nearly 10% of the number of adult church members), there has been little growth in membership of the NZ Baptist denomination.
- 1970-2005 à 17300 members + 46000 baptised = 22900 members (40400 died, moved or lost). The overall growth is equivalent to 0.8% per year.
- 1980-2005 à 19400 members + 34600 baptisms = 22900 members (31100 missing) & 0.7% growth pa
- 1990-2005 à 23600 members + 18600 baptisms = 22900 members (19300 missing) & 0.2% loss pa
b. Our church isn’t what we hope/dream it should be (we accept reality because things could be even worse)
- Most churches aren’t working as we would hope or dream they would. There is a big gap between our dreams for Our church, and the reality
o We dream of churches with lots of people getting ‘saved’, growing & being discipled. We dream of people queuing at the door on Sundays, of offering bags overflowing because everyone is faithfully & generously giving, of having too many volunteers so there is a waiting list to become a children’s ministry worker. We dream of releasing huge resource to mission here in NZ & overseas.
o The reality is that the local church that was 70 adults 10 years ago, is still about 70 adults. Despite 10 years of hard work, prayer, programs & planning, there has been little overall change. There are still not enough volunteers and not enough finance. The majority of our church members haven’t added anyone to the church through friendship & personal evangelism in the past 10 years. A few people move in, a few leave, a few born, a few die … but not a lot changes. We run programs to raise the level of prayer or evangelism or bible reading or discipleship or vision & purpose … & we go ‘yahoo’ … but nothing really changes. In 5 years time, we’ll be teaching the same thing in a different package to the same people ….
o But it could be much worse, so we accept ‘reality’ as the best we can do. We’re happy that our church isn’t declining rapidly. We’re happy it hasn’t closed. It might not be growing, but at least it isn’t falling apart rapidly.
c. Our church isn’t producing obedient disciples
- Overall, Christians are little different from their neighbours. Taking some examples from Ron Sider’s book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience”, he quotes George Barna –
o Divorce rate – effectively no difference between church attendees & non-attendees. In fact, in parts of the ‘Bible Belt’, the divorce rates are 50% above the national average.[ii]
o Sider also quotes US statistics on sexuality, including pre-marital sex & extra-marital sex – where church-attendees are apparently little different than non-attendees.
o NZ church-goers may be different in some of these areas from the US, but it is questionable whether we are different enough to stand out. This is apparent in one simple area – the ‘christian vote’. Despite large numbers of church-attendees in NZ, including up to 20% of the population attending church monthly, Christians are virtually ignored politically. Much smaller minority groups have much greater political influence than Christians in NZ. Why is this? In NZ, Politicians think that there is no common Christian vote, and that Christians typically vote in similar ways to the rest of society.
d. There is a leadership crisis in our church
o ‘Ministry’ is hard work and increasingly complicated.
o There is a shortage of ministers in most NZ denominations, including Pentecostal, Methodist, Presbyterian & other mainstream denominations.
o There is a high level of ministers burnout, or ministers leaving ‘ministry’ because they are disillusioned.
o Here are some statistics from the US regarding the problems for ministers.[iii] These figures are possibly overstated, and the situation in NZ is not as extreme as this, but we probably face similar problems.
§ 80 percent of U.S. pastors & their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their role as pastors.
§ 80 percent of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave in the first five years.
§ 70 percent of pastors constantly fight depression.
§ 50 percent of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
§ 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked, and wish they would choose another profession.
e. There is a membership crisis in our church – the majority of ‘christians’ are uninvolved, or outside the organized church.
- In NZ, there is a big gap between the number of people who call themselves Christians, and the number that are committed to local churches.
- About 60% of NZers call themselves Christians
o A Herald poll of 1000 New Zealanders in December 2004 revealed that 67.7 per cent of people said they believe in God, but only 20.6 per cent said they often attended church.[iv]
o According to the 2001 NZ census, just under 60% of NZers claimed to be Christian (typically through stating that they are part of a Christian denomination)
- Church attendance has been consistently estimated at about 20% of the NZ population attending at least 1x/month. These figures have been quite consistent in a variety of surveys over the past 20 years – the results for these are shown in the chart below.
- Hence, of the 60% of NZers who call themselves Christians, less than 1/3 regularly attend church – 2/3 are outside the normal church. Christian leaders often respond to this by saying that the census figures are incorrect & that many of the people who link themselves to ‘christian’ in the census are only ‘christian’ by association, rather than by belief.
- According to a Massey University ISSP study of 1244 people in 2005, surveyed on their status of belonging to a church or other religious organization –
o Belong & participate 16.5%)
o Belong & don’t participate 15.1%
o Used to belong 29.7%
o Never belonged 35.5% (this ties in well with 30% of NZers claiming ‘no religion’ in the 2001 Census)
o (3.2% didn’t answer)
- Assuming that these surveys accurately represent the Christian proportions in NZ, they make serious reading –
o A total of 61.3% of people indicating previous exposure to religion &/or faith (this ties in quite well with the 20% attending church at least 1x/month
o Of these, 48% (29.7/61.3) are no longer involved, and 25% (15.1/61.3) belong but don’t participate – a total of 73.1% of people with previous Christian allegiance are no longer actively involved in church organisations.
o This means that only 27% of people (about ¼) with a Christian background are now actively involved in organised church.
f. Society is changing, & our church is being left behind.
- Society is changing, but the church is behind
o Historically, the church led in areas like valuing human life, education, abolition of slavery. However, we are currently behind in other important areas where we should be leading, such as gender equality, ecology & the ‘green’ movement, world justice & the elimination of poverty
o Our ‘modern’ church is struggling in an increasingly post-modern society. We find it difficult to distinguish the modern-ist aspects of our current church values & culture, from those that are essential parts of Christianity.
g. Our church is not impacting society, either in the local community or wider society
- Some churches are successfully impacting their community, & extending the Kingdom of God
o But most churches are isolated from their local community & have very little effect on the community
o Many communities wouldn’t notice if the local church closed
o Some churches are valued for their buildings, for use for weddings and funerals, but otherwise are not important to the community
o In contrast, the church should not just be different from society, but it should be far ahead of the rest of society. “In light of what the New Testament says about the multiethnic character of the church, Christian congregations should be far ahead instead of lagging behind society in the struggle against racism. In light of what the NT says about economic sharing in the one body of Christ, the church should stand out in stunning contrast to the surrounding materialism as Christians give 10, 20, 30 percent and more of their income to do the work of the kingdom, including empowering Christians and others to escape poverty. In light of what the Bible says about sexual purity and marital fidelity, the love and joy in Christian homes where spouses keep their vows for a lifetime should contrast so starkly with the agony in contemporary families that millions of broken persons are attracted to the Savior.”[v]
2. Our church isn’t biblical
Our church has some theology, values, teaching, structures & practices that don’t reflect the NT priorities.
a. We don’t love the poor
o The Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor. This is obvious in passages like Matt 25, James 2:1-7
o Yet we are rich Christians who are part of a rich church. The rich western Christians & churches control trillions of dollars in assets and income, while 850 million people, including 200m Christians are currently starving[vi].
o 1.2 billion people live in absolute poverty, trying to survive on less than $1US per day.[vii] In addition to these, another 1.6 billion are very poor, living on less than $2US/day.
o 50% of people in the world earn less than $3.50NZ/day ($1300pa).[viii] This is the price of a cup of coffee in NZ – yet there are 3 billion people in the world who try to survive on that same amount each day.
o UN studies show that $70-80b US per year would be enough to provide essential health care & education for all the poor in the world.[ix] If western Christians gave just 5% of their income towards this, it would solve this problem totally.
o 30,000 children will die today from hunger & preventable diseases.[x] Another 30,000 will die tomorrow, and the day after. This is 10 million children per year – or 21 children dying needlessly each minute – a few dollars used wisely would save their lives. We rich Christians say we love people, and that the church is the body and bride of Christ, yet we do very little for the poor. It is sobering to reflect on how much we would do to save our own child’s life, and how little we do to save the life of other children.
o In the words of James (2:15-17) “If a brother of sister is doesn’t have any clothes or food, you shouldn’t just say, ‘I hope all goes well for you. I hope you will be warm and have plenty to eat.’ What good is it to say this, unless you give them what they need? Faith that doesn’t lead us to do good deeds is all alone and dead!” We live in a global village with 850 million starving people, including 200 million Christians, and say we have faith, yet do virtually nothing to help them. If we believe the words of James, our faith is ‘alone and dead’.
b. We don’t really care about world mission
Despite Christ’s command to evangelize, 2/3rds of all people from AD 30 to the present day have never even heard of his name.[xi]
We are not financially committed to world mission
o Christians spend only a relatively small amount each year on mission to the non-christian, non-evangelised ‘World A’ (Barrett & Johnson say only $250million annually is spent on mission to these 38 countries & 1.6 billion people,)[xii] In contrast to spending –
§ $810 million per year on annual audits of churches and agencies
§ $16 billion of church funds embezzled per year (of these, only 5% get caught) (Interestingly, this amount embezzled is more than the $15 billion total spent on foreign missions)
§ It is estimated that Christians worldwide spend around $8 BILLION dollars PER YEAR going to the more than 500 conferences to TALK about missions.
o 91% of all Christian outreach/evangelism does not target non-Christians but targets other Christians in World C (rich world) countries, cities, peoples, populations, or situations
o The personal income of Christians (church members) is $15.2 trillion pa
o The average Christian gives 1.74% of their income towards church and mission work (The average per capita income of Christians is $8050, the average giving of Christians is $140 per year, or 1.74% of their income).
o The average per capita giving of Christians to foreign missions is $7.80 per person each year – this is 1/20th of their giving, or 1/1000th of their income.
§ Think about this – the Christian church is spending 20x more on it’s own spiritual needs than on the enormous needs overseas. To quote the late Brian Hathaway “this is an outright crime”
§ This is obviously not a refection of biblical values
§ Note that these are international figures – but it seems unlikely that NZ is much different
We are unfocussed and ineffective with world mission
o The total cost of Christian outreach averages $330,000 for each and every newly baptized person. In the USA it costs $1.55 million per baptized person, and in India it costs $9800 per baptized person. (Based on all costs of ministry divided by number of baptisms per year.)
o It costs Christians 700 times more money to baptize converts in rich World C countries (eg Switzerland) than in poor World A countries (eg Nepal)
o Despite BILLIONS of dollars spent by dozens of denominations toward over a hundred major programs to fulfill the Great Commission by the year 2000, we didn’t even keep up with population growth, much less reach the 2 billion unreached.
c. We have built a church model that is centred around things that are extra-biblical – particularly professional ministers & Sunday meetings focused on corporate-sung-worship & sermons.
o Sermons, as we practice them, are not the same as preaching in the Bible. Preaching in the Bible is always in the context of evangelism, whereas we typically preach to the converted (week after week for the rest of their lives). The ‘preaching’ that occurs in western churches is extra-biblical (I have a separate paper detailing this), and is typically either teaching or a form of pep-talk.
o We say that one of our main reasons for gathering on a Sunday is for corporate worship. Yet corporate sung worship led from the front is conspicuously absent from the NT – what we think is so important is actually extra-biblical.
o We say we believe in the ‘priesthood of all believers’, but we practice the priesthood of a few, and typically centre our churches around a paid (or volunteer) professional ‘minister’ (or leader, spiritual guru).
§ Professional ministers are often dependent on ‘keeping it going’. Many ministers now have virtually no other vocational choice, as they have sacrificially committed their lives and working careers to building the ‘organised’ church.
§ It could be perceived that professional ministers have a conflict of interest – they are effectively asking people to give money to the church, and yet this money that is given ultimately pays the ministers salary, and the minister often decides how the rest of the finance is spent on church activities.
o Many churches say they are ‘purpose driven’, yet in practice they are usually quite program orientated.
d. We offer theology that is over-simplified & doesn’t accurately reflect Biblical values
o We offer ‘cheap’ salvation which results in untransformed lives. This salvation appears like a ‘get into heaven free’ opportunity, rather than an encounter with the living God who calls us to radical discipleship. This is more of a problem in Pentecostal churches, and can be seen in comments like “we saw 10 people saved on Sunday”.
o As Ronald Sider states “Whether emphasizing simplistic slogans such as ‘once-in-grace-always-in-grace’ or focusing on seeker-friendly strategies that neglect costly discipleship, we have propagated the heretical notion that people can receive forgiveness without sanctification, heaven without holiness. … When Christians today reduce the gospel to forgiveness of sins, they are offering a one-sided, heretical message that is flatly unfaithful to the Jesus they worship as Lord and God.”[xiii]
o We focus on narrow areas of sin in areas such as sexuality & honesty, and neglect other important areas which are common in our society and church including pride, gluttony, greed & materialism.
o As discussed in a. above, the Bible is clear that we have a responsibility to help the poor, yet our church leaders often don’t teach or practice this.
3. Our church is harmful for the Kingdom
The church is often focused on building itself, rather than building the kingdom. There is competition between some churches – the church down the road is competing with our church (it’s never our church that is competing). We see a few apparently successful versions & use them to justify the vast majority of churches that aren’t succeeding. These forms of church work for the people they work for, but obviously don’t affect the majority of people in contemporary society.
a. The local church hinders the Kingdom & wastes it’s resources
We value OUR local church more than the kingdom.
o This might sound harsh at first, but consider typical church priorities as indicated by where the time and money are spent. Where does the first of the money get spent? It typically goes towards operating a Sunday service, including the costs of buildings, ministers, sermon preparation & music equipment. Only a small proportion of the income is spent on kingdom activities outside the local church.
Our model of church is expensive
o There is huge financial cost in operating organised churches in the western world. Consider the combined factors of weekly income required to operate the church and the capital tied up in church buildings.
§ For the NZ Apostolic Church Movement, the cost per church attendee is about $500 income per year plus $3300 tied up in capital.
§ For the NZ Baptists, the cost is about $750 income pa plus $10,000 capital per attendee. Hence, for a family of say 5 people, the cost is $3750 pa plus $50,000 in capital.
§ One church in Auckland with a congregation of about 450 people has a building worth about $45 million – this is $100,000 of capital per person. Even if the same amount was invested in commercial property (at say 10% return), this would generate $5 million per year.
§ Other older denominations in NZ have much more finance tied up in property – the church in NZ is a multi-billion dollar organization.
o If we choose to view this finance as being used completely to generate growth in God’s kingdom, then the cost of this growth is very high.
§ For the NZ Apostolic Movement, typically about 1000 people are ‘saved and added’ to the church each year. This gives a ‘cost’ per person ‘saved & added’ of $5000 plus $33,000 tied up in capital.
§ For the NZ Baptists, about 1100-1500 people are baptized each year. This gives a cost per baptism of $25,000 plus $330,000 tied up in capital.
§ If all the churches in NZ operated at the same cost as the Baptists, for say 20% of NZ’s population (800,000 people) the cost would be $600m pa plus $8 billion tied up in capital.
o In addition to the financial cost, there is a huge cost of volunteer time in operating the normal organised church – in NZ, millions of hours are given to running the church & its programs each year.
We waste our resources on maintaining church for Christian consumers
o Similarly, church volunteers time is also used predominantly for activities associated with operating the local church, rather than wider kingdom activities.
o What proportion of a typical church’s time, energy & finance is spent on maintaining ‘church’ for the members? I estimate that it is typically 90-95%.
o I recall an illustration used in a business management class I attended at University – they asked us to imagine a Government office building with 1000 staff. If all the external forms of communication and input/output were removed, they suggested that these 1000 government employees could all keep themselves busy arranging meetings, committees & communicating internally. This illustration was intended to say something about Government employees, but I immediately saw it’s relevance for the church. In a typical church, what proportion of time, energy & finance goes into maintaining ‘church’ for the members, and what proportion goes outside the church into making a difference in the world? It seems to me that about 90% goes towards maintaining the status quo for the members, and only about 10% goes towards making an external difference.
Society has a poor perception of Christians & the church
o The church & Christians are mainly known in society for the wrong issues, or for minor issues, or for what we are against. For example, in NZ we’re known more as the people who are pro-smacking, than we are known as the people who love the poor.
b. Our church is harmful for Christians
o Our church insulates and inoculates Christians, usually keeping them dependent on sermons & church programs, and leaving them biblically & theologically illiterate or immature.
o Our church drains peoples time, energy, vision (some churches say “there is only room for one vision in the church, two visions equals di-vision”), finance, enthusiasm, initiative and responsibility.
o Our church generally suits ‘yes’ people who fit in & help maintain the status quo.
o We talk of empowering, but because of our structures & practices, we actually disempower & create dependency on Sunday meetings, sung worship, sermons, professional ministers, programs & buildings
§ To demonstrate this, consider taking these things away & what would be left of the church? What would happen to the individuals in most churches if they suddenly didn’t have regular Sunday meetings, centrally led corporate sung worship, a minister, programs etc? Would they get stronger? (if so, lets get rid of these things) or would they struggle? This demonstrates that we have created a dependency on these things.
§ I heard of a large ‘successful’ church near New York that tried this – it stopped their programs for Christian members for 4 weeks & asked them to get involved in their community activities (the church leader didn’t believe his congregation was dependent on these things). When the church programs restarted on the 5th week, they had lost 2/3rds of their members! (the church leader was shocked). Most people had moved to other churches in the neighbourhood which were continued to provide programs catering for the individuals consumer-based desires.
o Our church styles foster a form of consumerism, as we create and adjust programs to cater for the needs of our members & those we are trying to attract.
o Typical church members aren’t discipled, and their lives aren’t radically transformed. As discussed earlier, in many ways Christians aren’t noticeably different in their values than those outside the church.
o We typically ‘write off’ any Christians outside the organised church, and think that people only leave the church because they are ‘back-sliding’ or have unresolved issues. Yet in reality, people leave the organised church for a wide variety of reasons, including spiritual survival, and a realization that their church doesn’t accurately reflect biblical priorities.
I am convinced that the church in NZ is facing major problems which need to be bravely and honestly faced. I have given brief outlines of some of the problems – possibly only enough to stimulate reaction & disagreement – each of these areas requires much further analysis and discussion.
The parallel of the Emperor with no clothes is often used, suggesting the church is like the emperor in this story, & that we are like the crowd who believes what it is told – that the emperor is dressed in the best clothes ever. But a little boy sees the truth, that the emperor has no clothes on, & slowly other people see the truth also.
Like the little boy, I (& many of you) are suggesting that the NZ church has major problems, yet many church leaders are unable to see these, or are reluctant to face them directly, or are unsure what to do about them. Many church members have seen these problems, and have become uninvolved, problematic, or even left the church. It is easy to be a little boy, & see the problems. Hopefully you have already seen some, or this article has given you a glimpse of them.
But – pointing out the problems is always easy – doing something about them is much harder. The challenge facing us all is how to reclothe the Emperor in suitable clothes – how do we transform our imperfect church into a church that we & Jesus can be proud of? I am convinced that it can’t be achieved with minor adjustments, or addition of new programs. Major reformation is needed – the sort of reformation that would make Luther proud – reformation of the core values, purpose & methods of the church.
There will not be just one answer, or one way of ‘doing’ or ‘being’ the church in NZ. Rather, we need a wide variety of experiments & models & attempts to be relevant in this changing society. Some of these will work, and others will fail – but we need to be committed to honestly evaluating what we are doing, communicating and working together to find relevant solutions, so the kingdom of God will grow.
Note –this article is still quite ‘raw’ – please don’t use this lack of polish as an excuse to ignore any truth within the article. As someone who isn’t in ‘paid christian work’, but rather is trying to establish ‘secular’ businesses (to pay the bills), it is difficult to find sufficient time to write something like this, and impossible to find the time to polish it nicely. Happy reading (chewing?). David Allis. November 2006
The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ronald Sider, Baker Books 2005
Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Ronald Sider, 1997