Guest Editorial by Dr. Bill Bravard
The church, the bride of Christ, should be most desirable—the pride of God and man. God ordained it so, and it should receive our greatest respect and highest devotion. Today Christianity is flourishing on other continents even amid poverty and severe persecution, growing at a rate of two to three percent, mirroring the growth of the first-century church.
Of course, toxic conditions existed even among the churches established by the apostle Paul and he wrote many letters to encourage them to become what Christ intended them to be. The seven churches addressed in John’s Revelation drew harsh criticism from Jesus because of their impurities. History reveals that members of the organized church through the ages were unfaithful to God and prompted movements such as the Reformation and Restoration movements.
In nations of the western world where Christianity has the longest history, most churches are weak and nearing death. Some years ago I attended a Sunday morning worship service in one of London’s most famous cathedrals and found about 20 others in attendance. Upon returning there that afternoon, it was crowded with tourists. Many observers of American churches claim that nearly 75 percent of our churches are plateaued or declining, warning that we are moving in the same direction as the church in England and Europe.
In my 40 years of teaching church health and growth, I have attended many conferences and read stacks of books, most of which emphasize bodies, budgets, and buildings. However, in recent years people like Francis Chan are taking another look at the church and its purpose. In his popular book Crazy Love (David C. Cook, 2008), Chan concludes, “I am going back to the Scripture and seeing what the church was in its simplest form and trying to recreate my own church. I am not coming up with anything new. I’m calling people back to the way it was.”
Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer surveyed 7,000 churches for their recent book, Transformational Church (B & H Publishing Group, 2010), and concluded there is a need to “change the scorecard.” This involves intentional and persistent effort and significant reeducation and modeling in our own life and ministry behaviors. Their 10 chapters outline their proposals for the transformational church.
In Thirty Years That Changed the World (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2004), Michael Green brings together worthwhile scholarship and practical Christian insights. Green shows how the book of Acts portrays the early Christians as humble, compassionate men and women who were given to much prayer. In the midst of opposition and hostility, they were cohesive and encouraging to one another. They were open and obedient to the Holy Spirit. Green states that their authentic Christian lifestyles reflected dedication, enthusiasm, joy, faith, endurance, holiness, power, generosity, and prayer—characteristics that can impact any culture. This book can readily be used for a 12-week series of messages or lessons on how to be an authentic, Spirit-led Christian.
Perhaps the church in America needs a spiritual diagnosis. Are there toxic elements in the church? Is it growing like the early church—or like many churches today on other continents? God’s Spirit is at work in churches around the world. And he is not finished with his church in America.
Dr. Bill Bravard is a professor, mentor, and church consultant in Cincinnati, Ohio.