Strict//EN" ""> EAGLES' REST: Maybe It's OUR Fault.....

Friday, November 30, 2007

Maybe It's OUR Fault.....

I got to reflecting on things the other day. Actually, about 5 minutes ago (as I start this), and I happened to have my laptop at hand, so here goes.

This was in connection with the upcoming Conference on Bridgebuilding that CB Scott and I are going to attend (along with a crowd of others, so I hear). I was pondering God's sovereignty, and why we have something like 60% leakage of people, names, etc in the SBC. Since I figure God's pretty good at what HE does, and we are less so, and since I also figure He didn't save folks so they could stay home on Sundays, then I also figure somebody else must be doing something wrong down here.

Does anyone beside me think there's something wrong when we look at the church in Acts Two, and then look at our churches here and see people joining by (presumably) getting saved and baptized, or maybe in a different way, and then turning their back on church, and any involvement therein? That doesn't seem to have happened in Acts Two, and I know God hasn't changed. People, and their Spiritual needs, haven't either, so I have to believe the difference is in what WE are DOING now, that's different from a couple millenniums ago.

Thinking of all this, I came to a conclusion: Church is not the business of the church.

Let me repeat that.Church is not the business of the church.

I don't see anywhere in the Bible that leads me to believe that lost folks are supposed to come to church. I heard "forsake not the assembling of yourselves together...." preached for 35 years as one reason folks ought to feel obligated to go. That instruction was written to the church, not to unbelievers, and that's not how I read that passage anyway.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near." (Hebrews 10:23-25, NAS)

As I read that, we're supposed to be about the business of encouraging one another to love and good works, and in the process of THAT, we're supposed to get together. I don't see that as an admonition for the preacher to goad or shame us into doing things, but I see that as instructions for each of us to use what we've been given, to accomplish that. We don't go to church to get, we go to GIVE. To stimulate. To sharpen. To contribute. Paul said it thusly:

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." (Ephesians 4:14-16, NAS)

This follows a dissertation on how God gives each of us differing gifts, so the body can all fit together and act like a body. This passage tells me that I'm there for what I supply as a "joint"; namely, mobility. I'm not the head (direction & leadership), or the muscle (the power). God provides those things, and I'm there to give them movement. And it's what we all bring to the table, that holds the body together (don't get proud there .. it's talking about gifts, remember, and we didn't give them to ourselves).

Can you imagine a body with a giant brain, huge muscles, and no joints? It'd be impressive, at least until you wanted it to actually DO something.

I suspect there are a some churches that are like that......

The church in Acts Chapter Two must have been a hoot to belong to. I used to look at that passage and think "I sure hope I don't have to sell everything and give it to those in need." That feeling has been transformed (by a renewing of my mind?) into a hunger for whatever they had that caused them to WANT to do that. That reminds me of the great line from the restaurant scene in "When Harry Met Sally" in which the lady at a restaurant, after seeing Meg Ryan do her incredible impression in front of Billy Crystal (if you don't know what that was, ask somebody), and the lady said to the waiter "Uhh ... I'll have what SHE'S having."

Well, when I see that passage in Acts Two, I want to say to God "I'll have what they were having."

It's interesting to me that the church then was probably comprised mostly of folks who surrendered to the Savior as a result of the first sermon ever preached under the current plan; a crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended Savior, a sent, received, and indwelling Holy Ghost, and salvation by faith alone. And what were the instructions to those who wanted to be saved?

Repent and be baptized for the remission of sins.

How does that contrast with current practices of evangelism? Mostly, we seem to knock on doors, do a spiritual survey of some sort (which is deceptive and I never do that), and then explain to them about our faith. We tell people we've just met that we can't get to heaven in our sinful state, and the only remedy is repentance (meaning turning away) and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior. That's true enough, probably, but I wonder how it compares to "repent and be baptized". Last time I checked, that word "repent" meant "metanoeo",to think differently or afterwards, i.e. reconsider (morally, feel compunction). That seems like a whole lot more than something we need to give a nod to so we can have the promised wonderful, and abundant, life.

Even inside the church, it's rare that I see any "heart evidence" of repentance when people walk the aisle. I don't see all cases, though, but is it possible we've nonetheless relegated repentance to a "step in the process" rather than the genesis of it?

Then there's this:

"When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. "But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your life. (Ezek 33:8-9 NAS)

Seems to me that the only way we can know God has spoken to the wicked man, is when they evidence conviction around us. That happens lots of ways, and when someone shows us their spiritual need, we're required to share Jesus with them, IMHO. Could it be that we lead too many people in the sinner's prayer without ever seeing evidence of conviction or repentance?

If that were the case, what would the effects be? High dropout rate? Lack of congregational participation in the work of service? Shortage of tithers in the local body? Lowest attendance of any services, in the prayer meeting? Attendance suffering when the pastor is out of town? Members uninterested in anything beyond the local services? Members thinking worship styles must suit their individual tastes?

Lay up treasures for yourself in heaven, where all that bad earthly stuff doesn't happen. We're supposed to do that, but you know, nobody ever told me how to DO that. The only times I ever heard that preached was in connection with giving money. Normally to the church. It took one of our youth saying we do that by investing something .. time, money, spiritual gifts, attention .. something, in something that would actually GO to heaven. And that is ONLY souls. People. I have to wonder, and ask pastors, what percentage of the local body is actually DOING that?

He that winneth souls is wise. Again, I've always heard that in the context that, if you're a "soul winner", you're wise. No argument there, but in my mind, no one can "win" a soul but Jesus. He told us that, if He was lifted up, HE would draw people TO HIMSELF. So I cannot BE a soul-winner, but we sure seem to have a lot of "soul winning programs" around.


Well, I got to poking around Strongs the other day. Here's what I found. Looking at the NAS, I found that Proverbs 11:30 says "The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins souls."

Wise .. chakam: wise, (i.e. intelligent, skillful or artful): Guess we're supposed to use our brains, our abilities, our intelligence to do this stuff.

Wins .. laqach: to take (in the widest variety of applications): KJV-- accept, bring, buy, carry away, drawn, fetch, get ...

Souls .. nephesh: a breathing creature, i.e. animal of (abstractly) vitality; used very widely in a literal, accommodated or figurative sense (bodily or mental):

COULD IT BE ... that we can evidence wisdom if we use our intelligence and our ability to befriend .. to win .. accept, draw, fetch, people .. living creatures with vitality, to ourselves; to become friends and neighbors and helpers and the like .. that THEN they would be receptive to us when we see evidences of conviction in them .. and that they would want some of what it is that WE have?

Would that make sense of the biblical statements that the church as a body is to build us up for the work of service? Would that put some weight behind the thought that our work is not in the building, but rather in the world?

During some training in the late 60's, I heard today's church (well, the one 35+ years ago) likened to an army in which the troops assemble for training once a week and then go back to the barracks and leave the waging of war to the Generals. That wouldn't be much of an army; I wonder how today's spiritual equivalent looks to God. And, when I look at the New Testament, and at the church today, I wonder how that happened.

Could it be that the church has made church its business? Have we let the army go home for the week?

Could this be one reason for the illogical need to assure ourselves of a regenerate church membership?

Could this explain 8.5 million members MII (Missing In Inaction)?

Could it be OUR fault?


At 6:53 PM, November 30, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read you all the time, but I don't comment for "you are just to darn smart!"

I will say "yes, I'm in MII and yes churches have become businesses."

I don't enjoy congregating with people I don't know their name and they don't even speak to me. It's really rather sad. Anyway keep on writing for I enjoy reading. Thank you!

At 8:59 PM, November 30, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Thanks so much for the kind words. Please please PLEASE to not hesitate to comment. I enjoy the writing of this stuff but I enjoy engaging with others even more.

Please don't ever be afraid to say something. You're doing just fine so far, and I'd be interested in knowing your reasons for disengaging.

At 4:20 PM, December 01, 2007, Blogger KellyJean said...

We go to a Calvary Chapel and were actually part of the first Calvary Chapel in the state of MS. If there was not a Calvary Chapel available to us, we would go to a Southern Baptist Church. My husband and I were raised in non-Christian homes. The thing we liked about Calvary Chapels was that there was no presumption of us knowing anything. Their verse by verse expository teaching is what we needed and still need.

We have been very involved in ministry on a volunteer basis over the years but are less so now. Something about the trauma of having teenagers has made us less likely to step into those leadership roles as all illusions of having anything together at all have been dashed. For now, we are just hanging on.

Having been in ministry and seeing the underbelly of the church has also had its effect. The truth is church is business. Big business. The growth of the mega church has made being a pastor a lucrative career choice in many places. This crosses denominational lines. My husband and I wonder if it is even a good idea to have paid staff members at churches. The problem is churches are so big today that they couldn't function with only a volunteer base. But what happens to these people? Why is there such turn over in many churches today? If you are paid by the church to be a leader... what happens when you are having a tough time yourself? What happens when you are in those times where you are questioning your faith or feeling abandoned by God? I think these people are put in a tough position and being totally honest can endanger their job.

I don't know. This is getting long for a "comment." Maybe people are MII because of the hypocrisy they see in many church leaders. Maybe it is our 24/7 culture. The whole idea of a Sabbath rest has just about died. Sunday is just another day to try to get things done. Maybe we've all settled into a lukewarm state without even realizing it. When I read about people in Africa walking miles in order to stand in the dirt and heat to worship I wonder if anyone in America comes close to that kind of desire to hear the word of God and gather with other believers.

At 4:31 PM, December 01, 2007, Blogger KellyJean said...

Oh, and I forgot to say...

When I was 8 years old, living in El Paso, TX, Skyline Baptist Church had a bus that went through our neighborhood to take all the heathen kids to church. My parents were like, "Oh yeah! Free babysitting!" and let me go. I loved it. I loved my Sunday School teacher, even though I don't remember her name. I even sat with her in big church rather than stay with the other kids after Sunday School. The pastor held an invitation every Sunday as Just as I am played and I told my Sunday School teacher that I wanted to go forward. She asked me if I knew what that meant and I explained so she let me go. I walked up there all by myself and accepted Christ before the congregation. The pastor showed up at our house with a packet of information for my parents and told them I was being baptized the next Sunday.

We moved to Seattle shortly after that and neighbors took me to a Presbyterian church with them for three years. We then moved to San Diego and there was no one to take me to church from 12 on. I struggled and went through my teens thinking I was no longer a Christian.

I've been baptized twice and I am most definitely a Christian. Good thing I am saved by grace too because sometimes I am not the best Christian! I blame it on my teensagers.

At 4:55 PM, December 01, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


I posted your comments as they're probably more common that most realize. I'll drop you an emai.

At 4:59 PM, December 01, 2007, Blogger dlyn said...

Came over to check you out because everyone on PW was so distressed when you weren't around for a couple days. Your blog is an even more pleasant surpise than I had anticipated. I'll be back to check it out more!

At 10:50 PM, December 01, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was raised Catholic, it is the most beautiful prestigious religion one could ever be blessed. Yet sitting in the pew, kneeling, not
acknowledging your neighbor, keeping eyes down until the Father invites us to grant peace upon another, just isn't right.

I attended ,my first Baptist church 7 years ago. Hold on to your britches for a Catholic girl and her first time attendance. I was appalled. They visit before church in the pews, everyone know everyone, they carry their bible to read/ study along with the pastor. My word I've been to night clubs that had less singing than our one hour of prayer. Afterwards, I don't believe there was one church member that did not come up and introduce themselves to me. I attended the church for 5 years until my father's death brought me home.

Although I am now home to care for my mother, I know that my home was in this little town called Spurger with population of 415. I have a difficult time praying with individuals I only see on Sunday and they don't even care to know your name. It just ain't right. Apologies for being long winded, yet lately I feel a little short winded on my faith and you help me - God bless you for it!

At 5:20 AM, December 02, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


I appreciate your heart. The church exists to edify (build up) the members for the work of service. After all, you were saved for good works that God prepared before the foundation of the world. We do that building up by consistently applying God's word to our lives, and a big part of that is what the Bible calls "iron sharpening iron".

All that went on in the pew of that little baptist church and it wasn't wasted motion on God's part. He has some tasks waiting for you.

If you'd drop me an email, I'd love to share some things with you.

God bless you.

At 6:48 PM, December 04, 2007, Blogger CB Scott said...


The trip there and back was the High-Water Mark of the whole thing for me. Thanks for the invite and the good fellowship.


At 7:56 PM, December 04, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Likewise, you're welcome, and thanks for the ride.

At 1:05 PM, December 06, 2007, Blogger Melanie W said...

Bob - I am a frequent reader but infrequent commentor on Wade Burleson's blog. I think your comments there make good sense so I jumped over to see what your blog was all about!

I'm so glad that God brought this particular post to my lunchtime entertainment. It's a topic that has been very real to me here lately. I am 24, a layperson, who attends a small SBC in Oklahoma. We are, like many churches I have attended in my life, a senior citizen church. Since I moved to the city and joined the church 12 months ago, I have become the "unofficial family/children/singles/young person - let's get something going here person".

You asked "Could it be OUR fault?" My answer right now would be - undoubtedly yes - at least partly. Because, as you mentioned God does not change. So, that begs the question - how do we change?

I have a theory too (completely amateur) that the last couple of generations are MII because they don't really see a need for God - they've never been totally dependent on him so he see Him as a Sunday-only duty at best. Contrast this to my grandparents and great-grandparents who saw God's providence through a barrel of turnips given to them during the Depression - there only food for weeks. Or in God "pushing" that junker car all the way from Oklahoma to California when the turnips finally gave out. Could it be that our generation has never really seeked God?

Sorry for the long comment Bob! I got to thinking with my fingers - I really just meant to say - good post, I enjoyed it!

Melanie Warren
Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

At 1:33 PM, December 06, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Thanks for the comment. First, the church today will take essentially as long to straighten out as it did to mess up. IF we start doing things right, right now.

By that I mean seeing people added only as God adds them, and us losing the emphasis on numbers. We're at the head of the pack in causing it as Baptists, in my mind, as we make it exceptionally easy to become one. That needs, IMO, to stop.

We can accelerate the process by getting our numbers right. Take the half we cannot find, off the rolls, and tell them we did it. Tell them that the Christian life is supremely worth it and thrilling beyond compare, and then teach them what that means and NOT to settle for less than that.

It starts with folks like you who A) Won't settle for imitation Christianity, and B) See their role in the church for what THEY (you) bring to the church, not what you come there to get.

Thanks so much for commenting, and sharing.

At 8:55 AM, December 08, 2007, Blogger CB Scott said...


The young man we met at Ridgecrest commented on my recent post. I told him that if he was down this way ever you and I would take him to lunch. I hope you don't mind me making a commitment for you like that. I believe it was of God for us to meet Matt and I want to follow through with it.

Come on over to THE REPORT and say hell-o to him if you get a chance.


At 9:11 AM, December 08, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


Absolutely fine with me. Count me in.

At 3:40 PM, December 10, 2007, Blogger John Moeller said...


excellent post. I totally agree! Go Ye..... means to get up off our butts and get out of the buildings and get to the streets.

I am sure I will be blasted by this, but Rodney Howard-Browne ( has added 272,744 souls to the kingdom in the last few years by street witnessing.

you can't help but get behind someone like that.....

At 5:05 PM, December 10, 2007, Blogger Bob Cleveland said...


I don't agree with a lot of what I've seen of Rodney H-B, but I DO agree with Romans 14:4. Which freed me from all duties on the Official SBC Pastoral Doctrine Purity Approval Committee. I've enjoyed the break from that, frankly.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home