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What Has Happened to the Church Today?
by Archie Luper, Jr.

    A question that I get asked often, and one I ask others to respond to quite often is this: What has happened to the Church today?

    We see so many churches that are experiencing great conflict, numbers that are declining, leaders that exercise a level of authority over the church that Jesus himself urged not to be so, and members that have become frustrated and apathetic about their role in the body of Christ. The list goes on and on.

    John Maxwell has said, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” I believe that. Involvement does not take place, evangelism will not happen, and the church usually will not grow unless it begins with leadership. I have seen too many instances where leaders have become more concerned with authority, power and control than how they can be a servant and true shepherd to the people who are a part of their flock. Members become frustrated. They don’t really feel a part. They don’t think their opinions really matter because they have no say in what happens.

    I’ve come to realize that the most dangerous leader in the Lord’s church is the person, who by reason of insecurity or lack of leadership knowledge or skills, demands a particular level of authority and control over the church that was never intended -- in fact, Jesus prohibited the use of this kind of exercise of authority in his Kingdom. Anytime you hear a leader talk about “not respecting my authority,” watch out! If you have used those words, please reconsider what they might mean to others.


    If leaders invest themselves in the lives of their members, touching, loving, and taking care of their flock, they ultimately yield incredible influence in a person’s life. True leadership is about influence, not authority. As Jesus said, “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:3-5) When the sheep hear the shepherd’s voice it reminds them of cool waters, green pastures and his gentle, caring touch at night. They know their shepherd “goes on ahead of them.” He doesn’t drive them like cattle.

    Unfortunately, many leaders continue to model only what they have seen and heard—mostly “rule the church with an iron hand.” It’s interesting that right after Jesus said those words in John 10 about shepherding, John commented on the fact that “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.” Sadly enough, too many leaders today don’t understand it either.

    Brothers, listen, if you are wondering why your members don’t seem to be following you, and you seem to be embroiled in constant conflict, Jesus gives the answer: “They don’t know your voice!”


    The writer of Hebrews spoke of a new day and a new time that was coming. Listen to his words, and keep in mind who is speaking. This is God speaking.

“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time declares the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother saying, ‘Know the Lord’, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Hebrews 8:8-12)

    There are four important things in those verses.

    First, the laws were to be on our minds and on our hearts. Not just empty actions, but true change of lifestyle.

    Second, when the Lord says, “I will be their God,” the image here is God as Abba Father—this is who Jesus revealed God to be for us. This means a close, personal relationship, not the impersonal relationship exhibited under a system of law.

We need to recover our focus.
    Third, we would not just “know” (ginosko) the Lord but we would “know” (horad) him. The word “ginosko” speaks of a surface knowledge, a simple understanding. But the second word “horad” speaks of a deep, intimate knowledge.

    Fourth, our sins would be forgiven and remembered no more. This was to be a truly special time for a unique group of people liberated from their past sin!

    Apparently the first century Christians got the picture because Acts records how the church grew at breakneck speed, yet at the same time, the level of personal care and love for their fellow Christians grew also. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them.” (Acts 4:32-34a)

    Wow! I’d say that was the time God was speaking of through the writer of Hebrews. But can the same be said of the church today? Are we growing, both spiritually and numerically, as the early church did? Sadly, in most cases, no. So back to my original question, “What has happened to the Church?”


    I discussed this question last week at lunch with my good friend and brother, Earl Lavender. Many of you have purchased a copy of Earl’s book, The Church of God’s Intent: Strategies for Renewal and have been blessed by it. We discussed this question together. With the picture Earl painted for me, I came away with a better understanding of what the answer is to that question.

    On a piece of paper draw a circle in the middle with three additional, larger circles around it. You should have what looks like a bulls-eye. In the center circle write the word “IDEOLOGY.” Webster’s defines ideology as “a systematic body of concepts about human life or culture; a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual.” In otherwords, it’s the way you view life. 

    In the second ring, write the words “CORE VALUES.” Aubrey Malphurs in his book Values-Driven Leadership states that “People in general and leaders in particular have a set of core ministry values that influences much if not all that they do.” Core values fix a stake in the ground that says to everyone, “This is who I am; this is what I stand for; this is what I believe.” 

    In the third larger circle write the words BELIEFS, ACTIONS, EXPERIENCES, PASSION. The result of our ideology and supporting core values are reflected in our beliefs, actions, experiences and resulting passion. And in the outer circle write the word INDIVIDUAL. You see, each individual has a primary focus (your ideology) that is supported by a particular set of core values. Those core values then support the way you view life, beliefs that lead to particular actions, that then lead to experiences of life and resulting passion. That is who you are as an individual.


    The problem is that too many people have but two ideologies from which they choose. If your ideology is the WORLD, you’ll have a set of core values that are probably pretty warped, and focused on the pleasures you can receive in life, reflected in your beliefs, actions, experiences and resulting passion.

    The other option is having an ideology of the CHURCH. For too many people their ideology of the Church has changed from the Church as the body of Christ, to the Church as an institution. If your ideology is the Church as an institution, the core values that you develop will eventually support that view. This leads to what we see happening in too many churches today: negative atmospheres, declining numbers, maintaining the status quo, uninvolved members, overpowering control-minded leaders, stiff and lifeless worship. You’ve seen it. You might even be experiencing it right now.

    What’s the answer? We need to get our focus, our ideology back to JESUS CHRIST. When we do, our core values change. We begin to value serving others, living to please God, and understanding that we have been uniquely gifted for ministry. We begin to see the church as one body, the universal church, and not as belonging to our own particular franchise. Our worship takes on a whole new meaning, our involvement becomes a natural expression of our desire to please God, and our leadership becomes focused on shepherding a body of believers and not managing an organization. Our resulting beliefs, actions, experiences and passion turns towards enriching the lives of others and producing the fruit of the Spirit in our own lives. As Aubrey Malphurs states, “There is a sense that you must do something. If I feel strongly that people really matter to God, then I must share Christ with my neighbor this week.”


    The key to our churches becoming the church of God’s intent, is for each individual to get his or her focus, his or her ideologies, back on Jesus Christ. We need to preach it. We need to teach it. We need to speak about it often in our church bulletins. Once our focus as individuals comes back in line where it needs to be, on Jesus Christ, our churches, as a body of believers, will never again be the same. We will truly be on our way to renewal, and becoming the church of God’s intent!


HEARTLIGHT® Magazine is a ministry of loving Christians and the Westover Hills church of Christ.
Edited by Phil Ware and Paul Lee.
Copyright © 1996-98, Heartlight, Inc., 8332 Mesa Drive, Austin, TX 78759.
Copyright (c) 1998, Archie Luper, Jr. Used by permission.
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