I just finished listening to the Reveal report on line of an evangelical church that I know very well. It was a fairly devastating report. I give the leaders and pastor high credit for their candid report to the congregation and some of the things that they really need to address.
Across the board, the Reveal results have been problematic in terms of the American church's effectiveness in bringing spiritual transformation to the lives of those in their congregations. I don't lay all the fault at the feet of the church as we live in a society of huge distractions and a secularism that threatens to rob us of our historic biblical and evangelical commitments.
However, there is one area where I do lay much responsibility on pastors and that is in the area of preaching and teaching. My observation is that we have dumbed down the gospel in our effort to be "relevant" and to bring new people into our churches to the the extent that we are not proclaiming the whole truth about God, ourselves, His call on our lives and what a non-negotiated followership of Christ is all about.
When we cannot connect the message to the biblical text, when there is not a call to radical followership, when hard issues are avoided and real life application not made, why are we surprised that the spiritual temperature of our people is so low. We have made numbers and programming and flashy services our criteria of success and in direct response, the spiritual temperature of our congregations has declined.
We have neglected the words of Paul to Timothy that "All Scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We have come dangerously close or frankly guilty of of Paul's prediction that "the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Timothy 4:3).
Saddest of all, it is the very ones who preach the word who all too often are blind to the dumbing down they are perpetuating while those looking for substance quietly move out of their congregations looking for greater depth from God's word. The irony is that even basic but biblical preaching will do more for people than the "relevance" many try to produce which leaves out the truth of the word.
And we wonder why followership is so shallow and biblical knowledge so non-existent today. Most people in our churches could not even articulate the great doctrines of the faith that make our faith what it is. We have sacrificed truth for our definition of relevance.
Not all have sacrificed truth at the altar of popularity and the Reveal study is a wake up call to the church that people long for substance and truth and the life changing Word of the Living God.
I was interested to hear that the church referenced above has plateaued and seen a decline in attendance over the past several years. Is it possible that those who have left are looking to drink from deeper wells of God's truth? I applaud those pastors who diligently preach the Word and not a version that has been diluted for the sake of some definition of relevance. The only real relevance we have is God's truth. That is relevance that can change hearts and lives and satisfy the deepest desires of our hearts
The writer of Hebrews said it well, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:12-13).