As we enter the second half of 2021, we see the world starting to return to a new normal. We are not returning to 2019, but we can get back to regular routines and activities. However, we see in this new reality our society moving further from the truth of God. The church seems impotent to address the world around us. We have a lack of trained pastors, elders, and leaders.
It is easy for us to start pointing to churches outside our circles and blame them for the problem. We are seeing churches that make people the focus of their worship instead of God. Numbers have become their goal. Leading pastors have been caught buying their sermons from services rather than doing their work of preparation. These make for easy straw-men to us who hold to biblical worship and orthodox theology.
But what about us? Why are many solid Reformed and Biblical churches still impotent in our day and age? It is easy to cast stones at others, but we need to take a hard look at ourselves. Here are some reasons from my reflections on this question. I am sure these are not original to me, but they are helpful reminders:
- We do not know enough about God. This lack of experiential and theoretical knowledge about God is a severe issue in many churches. We are trying to depend on a God about which we know precious little. How many people in our churches are ok not knowing why we believe what we believe? The Bible becomes a list of things to do or a source for hopeful quotes. Gone is the understanding of who God is from the Scriptures. Gone is trusting in this God for all of life. We have become unclear in our knowledge and our thinking. As a result, we have become fuzzy in our practice. Our vision is blurred because we do not know enough about our God. It is hard to trust and obey the God you do not see clearly. For too many, they have not spent enough time with Him to see Him.
- We are not a people of prayer. The Bible is clear: "You have not because you ask
not" (James 4:2b). Dr. Will Norton told us in seminary that Reformed Theology should make you pray. How true this is! Has your church not seen the lost converted -- have you diligently prayed for God to do this? Are you seeing your young people graduate and drift from God-- Have you prayed for the Lord to keep them close? What is the greatest need your local congregation has right now? Is there a movement of individuals, families, and groups praying to the Lord to meet that need? Oh Church, how we fret, how we complain, and how we are given to worry and even despair. But prayer is not a priority.
- We are too worried about the worldly impact of the church and not the spiritual impact of the Gospel in our communities. There is a part of me that wants to go back to the Twentieth century, to live in that world where people acted like Christians. But much of this was a facade. Covid has taught us that many of our members had no true religion in their hearts. They have wandered off during the pandemic and never came back. We need to be focused on the Gospel, one soul at a time. We need to know that the Gospel is the answer to the needs of our day.
How do we address these issues?
I think the answer is found in prayer. Pray that pastors and teachers will study and teach the whole counsel of God. The people of God need meat, they need doctrine, and they need more than an executive summary or Sparknotes of the Bible. We need to encourage, exhort, and demand that our people read and study their bibles. A drill Sergeant would not be polite about a soldier who could not use his weapon. Why are we so reticent to push our people hard to study the Word that is the foundation of our hope and life? Pray for pastor, elders, and teachers who will teach and lead us to know God through His Word.
Pray for your church to have a gospel impact on your community. Yes, we want to see God work in missions and church planting, but you should also be praying for God to work around you and in your life. Are you praying for the lost to be converted? Are you praying for them by name? Are you praying for your people to grow in grace and sanctification? Are you praying that the Lord will make you, your family, and your church more faithful? It is safe to pray for health needs, and you should pray for them. However, we need to be a people praying to the Lord to open up the eyes of His people to see the Lord Jesus and believe His Gospel.
Pray that you, your family, and your church would be a people of prayer. Does your church have a Prayer Meeting? If not, lead the effort to start one, and then be there. Do you regularly have times of prayer as a church outside of worship and classes? If not, encourage and request prayer. Prayer should always be in order. It should be our first motion and our heart's desire and comfort.
Examine your own prayer life. Pastors, are you leading by example? In my 22 years of ministry, not once has anyone from my congregation asked about my prayer life. Dr. Harry Reeder taught us in seminary that prayer is a significant part of what we are set apart to do as pastors. It is not to just read theology, argue on Facebook, or visit the sick. We are to be men of prayer. Elders, are you men of prayer? Members, are you a people of prayer? I know my struggles, and I know I am not alone. Let us resolve to be a people who pray—looking for God to bless us with greater faith and practice as we follow the Lord Jesus Christ.