The church is wrestling for its very life. Its position of influence in the world is slipping dramatically. Church Resource Ministries reports no county in the United States experienced overall church attendance increase during the 1990’s. The Barna Research Group reports church attendance in Protestant churches decreased 12 percent from 1992 to 1999. Large churches may have gotten larger but small churches got smaller and we clearly lost ground over all. We did not penetrate our culture significantly as we closed the millennium.
That is not all, our culture clearly influenced us more than we influence it. It does not appear reading about the end times has purified us much. In a sample of 350 Christian men, 63.5 percent said they had been involved in compulsive masturbation, pornography or other sexually addictive behavior in the 12 months preceding the survey. This survey was in 1997 when fewer of us were on-line (Pat Means-Prodigal International). Now, more than one in seven pastors calling the emergency hot line at Focus on the Family calls because he is in crisis as a result of his viewing of Internet pornography. More than 50 percent of the men attending one Promise Keeper meeting said they had viewed pornography in the seven days preceding the meeting. Christians are more likely to experience divorce than are Non-Christians (Barna Research). The more “conservative” the church the more likely couples will divorce. It seems clear. The church is shrinking and what is left is riddled with some tough, even frightening realities. Is there really much hope?
Yes and no. There is little hope if we hide from the truth and try to go on denying clear but difficult reality. Denial is always destructive. It is not hopeful for us to arrogantly admonish the world to behave when we trail them on important issues like marriage and divorce. It is hopeless when we cover the dark pages of cybersex on our computers with Sunday smiles and moralizing. We must not tell the world they should be ashamed when we as Christian leaders are all but folding under the shameful weight of our secret sins. It does us no good to preach against divorce when married people in our congregations cannot look to the church for gracious quality help. Doing church the same way, with the same attitudes, the same arrogance and the same denial does not produce hope. Hope only comes as we change.
It is hopeful when Christians and Christian leaders courageously tell the truth about their struggles. When we suspend the facades and create safe environments for struggling people to find grace instead of judgment, we generate hope. As the church finds ways to birth genuine community instead of preaching opportunities and program maintenance there is hope. As we shed or arrogance for humility and grace there is hope. When it is no longer embarrassing for our churches, our leaders and our people to get the professional help we need for the struggles we share then there is amazing hope! When we tell the truth about us we can grow up to be like Him. (Ephesians 4:15). When we do this one person at a time, one leader at a time, one church at a time we have great hope.
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