The Cancer Growing in Church

What’s at Stake

Churches are losing their spiritual vitality. Older generations are increasingly disenfranchised with church and younger generations are increasingly non-committal. Middle generations are getting fed-up. Churches are declining at an alarmingly rapid rate and have little to no respect in their communities. Suddenly, Christians are becoming a parody of themselves. Why? What’s happening?

There’s a cancer growing in our churches. It’s eating away the core of what it means to be a body of believers and replacing it with an idea that the individual is more important than the whole. It threatens to turn our worship experiences into nothing more than emotional candy. And if we don’t recognize the problem and make a concerted effort to counteract it through prayer, evaluation, and humility, then the future of our church is very bleak indeed.

Worship Wars

One may recall the “worship wars” of the nineties, where churches fought over “traditional” versus “contemporary” worship styles. Many churches came out of this with a balanced approach, which seems to be most healthy. What is key here is that the heart of the worship wars was the freedom to worship God in a more individualistic way. If you enjoy worshiping to modern music, then do so. If you prefer traditional piano, organ, or orchestra, then do so.

It would be tempting to label the current cancer in our churches as an extension of the worship wars. But that would be an incorrect assessment. Yes, it may outwardly manifest itself in the style and approach to how the church does their worship, but the cancer is much deeper.

Emotional Addiction

It’s been proven scientifically that the release of endorphins by our body can generate addictive behavior. It is also no secret that heightened states of emotion can release generous quantities of endorphins. The result is an addiction to euphoria. People who suffer from this, bounce for object to object, seeking the next emotional high. People seek out sex, drugs, alcohol, parties, thrills, danger…anything that can invoke that heightened state of emotion to release endorphins and adrenaline into their system. They are addicted to it. And if their current situation renders them numb to the addiction, they move on to someplace new in search of the next high.

This is happening in churches. People are developing addictions to a “worship high.” They get into their trance-like state of “worship,” work themselves up emotionally, and receive those wonderful endorphins. And if they can no longer get their high from that church, then they seek out another church that can provide it.

Suddenly, worship is no longer about God and is about the person. It’s not about what God likes, but what we like. When a person seeks out emotion in worship, what they’re really worshiping is themselves. Unlike the worship wars, it’s not about the best individualistic way to worship God, it’s about the selfish need to worship to satisfy an emotional addiction.

And heightened emotional states of worship can be found in almost every religion…so don’t claim that warm-fuzzy endorphin rush is from God, because it’s not. Your argument is invalid. You don’t need a rush to worship God. Yes, an experience with God can produce an endorphin release…but people are perfectly capable of inducing that sort of thing without God.

The Millennial Generation

Some people put the Millennial Generation as being born as early as 1976, but most put it as late as 1982. I happen to fall square in the middle, and I take that as my prerogative to choose whether I want to be identified as Gen X or Gen Y (Mill. Gen). Here are some characteristics of the Millennial Generation…and it is for these reasons that I mostly prefer to be called Gen X.

Millennials are a generation of self. There is more focus on what society and people can do for the welfare of the self than there is for the welfare of the community. It’s about what “I” want or what “I” think is best or what “I” view as right and proper…and other opinions can be hanged. Millennials assume technology is the norm and that everyone is on the cusp of what is modern. Millennials collect people and friends like other generations might collect stamps. And if one friend displeases them, they move on to the next in the collection. Millennials are not afraid of change or to shake up the status quo, but as noted above it’s not usually motivated by the community needs, rather it’s motivated by self.

Get the picture? I’m not trying to say Millennials are all evil or selfish, just trying to point out what the general world view is. It’s not that they are incapable of thinking about community, but by default their instinct is to put self first. There are many books and articles written about the ideals of this new generation, so don’t take my word for it. Here’s one for quick reference – http://chronicle.com/article/Millennials-Are-More/131175/

The Cancer

Now put all these things together. Millennials fall easily into the emotional addiction form of worship. After all, emotional addiction is about worshiping self and Millennials default to serving self. When it comes to the worship wars, Millennials will always go for the type of worship guaranteed to give them their emotional fix.

Millennials are beginning to run our churches.

Let that sink in. Scares the crap out of you, doesn’t it? With Millennials in charge of the church, churches will become about self. They will develop worship for the sake of emotional addiction. When the question becomes “Am I pleased with this worship?” and not “Is God pleased with this worship?” then you know there’s a problem. And let’s be honest, God couldn’t care less about the style, age, or instrumentation of a worship song. What he wants is “worship in spirit and truth.” Regardless of how emotionally charged a Millennial led church might be…chances are it’s worship of self, not of God.

Leadership is no longer about the good of the church. If the leader thinks it should be done a different way, then everyone else can be hanged. Self is always right and self always takes precedent over the community. Millennial church leaders are making decisions in the name of “outreach” and have no clue how to minister to the flock right in front of their eyes. That’s because outreach equals growth. And growth equals prestige. And prestige equals pride. And pride equals self. You don’t get to self by ministering to the existing congregation. You get humility.

And I think Millennials are mostly allergic to humility.

Look around you. How many churches can you name that have been taken over by Millennials? How many of those churches look and act exactly as I’ve described? The cancer of it all is that it’s not going away. Eventually, Millennials and later generations will control all of our churches. I hope that a few of them will stand up for what is right and what is true, and will cry out against this shallow self-absorbed emotional approach to building a church.

And just so I’m clear, I’m not calling Millennials the cancer, rather it is the combination the worship war, emotional addiction, and a Millennial mentality that is colliding together unrecognized and unchecked. Millennials are not all to blame. Emotional addiction has been a problem for many generations, and Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers can be thanked for the worship war.

I would challenge Millennials reading this to evaluate their goals and ambitions. Find ways to remove self and to replace it with community. Be the voice that stands out in your generation, and proclaim that church is not about “me” or a warm fuzzy feeling or the style of music or dictatorship in the pulpit. If you already recognize this and are already trying to take a stand in your generation, know this…I’m proud of you. Keep up the good work. The future of the church depends on you.

All we have to do to stop this cancer is recognize it for what it is, accept that it exists, and inoculate it with prayer, evaluation, and humility, and with an emphasis of working together as a community of servant believers.

Church is about God. Period. It’s time we started acting like we really believe that.

-k

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8 thoughts on “The Cancer Growing in Church”

  1. The traditional church system is built around the elevation of individual men to position of leadership – even if a megachurch has a pastoral team, there is usually a senior pastor, some kind of human figurehead controlling church direction.

    Maybe its time we stopped expecting “churches” to be run by individuals (A seminary “qualified” pastor) and recognise church needs to be a community of believers overseen (not driven or controlled) by a group of spirit-led elders. The focus then would be less on the individual and more on the community.

    1. The only problem is, there can be this sort of focus problem with a group as well as with an individual. It’s not an issue of leadership models, it’s an issue of leadership heart. Until our church leaders get on their knees and have their hearts broken by a just and holy God, I don’t think the problem will go away no matter how we structure the environment.

  2. Keven, I think you’re confusing the institutional church with the organic church…I believe the OC has never been stronger, because folks like me who have left the IC refuse to be sold a false bill of goods like that sponsored by the IC.

  3. I’ve been to a couple of churches like that. It’s not always apparent at first, but then you start to hear/see things that make you go, “huh?” One church I went to actually canceled their Sunday service because Christmas fell on that day. They wanted everyone to be able to spend the morning with their families. Uh–hello! The Sabbath and even Christmas are not about families, they are about God. End of story. Oy! Ok, I could go off into a length rant similar to yours (but not nearly as organized or thought out), but I won’t hijack your blog. lol… All I’m gonna say is–I hear ya!

    1. I’ve seem some very sad things happening in a few churches and heard some very “telling” statements from younger pastors. The heart of the matter is just not what it’s supposed to be.

  4. Well said. I’ve been in church my entire life. (Actually went to church with your parents in my younger days.) I’ve been married to a minister for 28 years, and I’ve seen what you are saying. The organized church is in serious trouble. Youth are leaving the smaller churches in droves to attend big churches that offer a lot for them. (Me-isms??) My husband recently said at the conclusion of a service, “Don’t ask what your church can do for you; ask what you can do for your church.” Too many want to be served instead of serve others.

    Thanks for sharing your insight.

  5. Keven,

    We’re living in the age of one-size-fits-all public education and public health care. I find it sad, but not at all strange that we also seem to be living in the age of one-size-fits-all churchianity, too.

    I’d love to attend a church that really has a servant’s heart. I believe that the senior pastor of the church that I attend most–when I can attend at all–is aware that there is a problem, but he doesn’t seem to be finding ways to solve it. Sometimes he sounds very defeated at the pulpit.

    I would love to contribute more to this church, but my chemical sensitivities make it difficult to even enter the building, and if I get too many people around me wearing toxic products (which they all do), I become ill and have to leave. I can hardly attend the early Sunday service; I don’t enter the church any other time I can help it.

    I am not alone in my struggles with this, and I have made the church leadership aware, but there is no effort, nor will there be any effort made to minister to my needs or the needs of others like me.

    The unspoken attitude seems to be that since there are so many churches, if you don’t like this one, you can always find another. But if they’re all–in attitude–like this one (and they mostly are), finding another seems a hopeless task.

    And I think this attitude (take your struggles someplace else) is a terrible mistake, and an outgrowth of what you’ve shared in this post. I’d like to see churches reaching out and recognizing that each person who walks through their doors is an individual who is precious to God and who has needs that only their church can minister to–if they’re willing to be the servants God calls them to be.

    Humility–as you said–is what is called for, not a wild emotional ride. And yet, true worship also has its place in this, because the truest worship springs from hearts that are humble enough to know how much gratitude they owe to God for transforming their lives, and to love Him because He first loved them.

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