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  • Writer's pictureJulie Branstetter

The Authentic Church

Updated: Mar 24

Have you ever worked really hard on a meal that smelled great, looked so appetizing you couldn’t wait to eat it, and then, when you sat down to enjoy it, you were so disappointed because it tasted awful? It was completely deceiving, it looked just like it was supposed to from the recipe, but in the end it was so bad you couldn't even force it down? I, unfortunately, have made a few meals that turned out this way. I was always left thinking, “I followed the recipe perfectly, how in the world could it have turned out so bad?” Those meals are usually the result of a bad recipe. Some very important but hard to see ingredient was left out and it made all the difference!

Sadly this is a good illustration for a growing issue in many churches today. Many churches have bought into the idea that they have to look or sound a certain way in order to reach people today. They believe they cannot grow unless they make some kind of surface change in how they look or sound or even in what they avoid preaching about. Those churches were once known as seeker-friendly churches. Now, every church should be friendly, particularly to those who are seeking Christ, but what the term really means is that the church is willing to edit what is convicting out of their sermons and church environment for the sake of providing a less convicting environment for people to feel good in just as they are. What is being "produced" in these kinds of ministries may look and sound great, but something is missing and it makes all the difference! Many church staff members today are slaving over producing a certain kind of product so they can attract more people, but in the end they have put in a great deal of time and energy to look more attractive, but the visitor sits down for the meal only to find out it is completely void of taste and nutrition. People are going back to the same busted lives they came in with, few are getting healed, and even less are getting saved. To be straight to the point, Christ is missing from the production, and he is the real ingredient that we all need. The effort put into the production is full of self sufficiency and void of reliance on Christ to be the productive power within the ministry. If you are winning them with lights and cameras and smoke and mirrors, you certainly aren’t winning them by Christ. It sounds more like the work of a dirty car salesman than the humble work of a believer.

What is that important ingredient that is often left out of the equation? Many have lost sight of their first love and of their purpose in ministry; some never had a very good relationship with Christ or vision of ministry to begin with, and by “good” I mean purely given from Christ. They may say that the purpose of what they are doing is to win the lost, but that really is a goal, not a purpose. Our purpose is to glorify God, not ourselves. Sometimes we work so hard at trying to be excellent at what we do and make a name for ourselves, we forget our excellence is nothing compared to being anointed to do the work Christ has called us to do. Can we be excellent and anointed? Of course we can, but humans are so easily led away by shiny things. The approval of a comfortably entertained crowd is a soothingly preferable response by comparison to the repentance of a contrite heart. It is a wonder it has ever been done well, ministry that is, considering the way human’s have such a tendency to wander off from God, but where there has always been humility and meekness before God, there also come anointing. The old saying is, "The hardest part of being a living sacrifice, is its tendency to crawl off the altar." It is the anointing that ministers productively, and by productively I mean changed lives, not always more people in the pews. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying churches can't make changes, but they should never make them in the hopes they will reach more people or become more attractive and somehow therefore that will translate into lives changed. Often churches who put so much weight in their public image also tend to leave people lonely during their toughest times. They don't serve well when it is inconveniently outside of the 9 to 12 Sunday morning plan.

More people in the pews does not mean more souls being saved. Sadly that is often the excuse given for the marketing schemes designed to physically grow the church, but it is actually nothing more than the excuse given, and in the usual christian talk no less because who can disagree with more souls? Higher attendance just doesn’t mean we are winning the lost. And higher numbers with ill-mannered pastors who do not really serve the church members in their times of need, but rather demand more and more from them, is a fast way to a revolving door in your church. The church that grows and declines and grows and declines is a church with a hostile pastoral and elder environment. No one wants to work with that kind of person, the one who is more concerned with their numbers than the spiritual walk those "numbers" all keep. They may say all the right words to explain the motive behind what they are doing, but the truth reveals a different motive, and it can be easily seen in the choices these church bodies make. If you truly had a burden on your heart to reach the lost for Christ, wouldn't you be engaging the lost more? Wouldn't you be less concerned with how you look and more interested in connecting the most important message to the lost? There are basic means for serving the lost that the church will never outgrow. Needing to keep in their focus foremost is feeding, clothing, and teaching people. These are still the activities to which every church body should find themselves routinely given. Be given to charity and discipleship. Until you get these things right, there are no needs for any of the other many activities many undertake. If all our churches our doing is putting on a really good looking show every weekend, they are not answering the call Christ has laid upon them. Activities in a church are great icing, but only for a great cake. A cake isn't a cake without the cake. It's just too much sugar, and nobody can stomach that for long.

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