Why I’m Not Giving Up on the Church

Leaving-the-church.jpeg

In 2013, nearly ten years ago, I wrote this article for Relevant about the church. In light of our “Reset” series and Ruth Carver’s recent message, I think this article is still as pertinent as ever. It begins this way, but you can read the entire article here.

In 2011 the largest denomination in the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention, announced the results of a survey showing a significant decline in baptisms and church membership. Ed Stetzer, a missioligist and researcher with Lifeway Research, commented at the time: “This is not a blip. This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline.”

In the very same year, across the Atlantic, a report on the Church of England highlighted the challenges it was facing: aging congregations, faltering clergy recruitment and waning attendance. While church leaders used words like “crisis” and “time bomb,” the report predicted the church would likely be extinct within 20 years.

More recently, the Pew Research Center released a study on the state of religion in the United States entitled “‘Nones’ on the Rise.” The study brings into focus the increasing growth rate of those who do not identify with any religion at all. Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. adult population—and one-third of those under the age of 30—identify in this way; an increase from 15 percent just 5 years earlier.

For many people, these are signs that the church is, if not already dead, steadily moving toward the grave. And many have been calling for followers of Jesus to return to the original vision for our faith.

I have lived within the inner workings of the church for the past 15 years, and I will be one the first to agree with many who point out that the Church is full of brokenness.

When you stand on the inside of the church, you see the good, the bad and the ugly. I have been disheartened by the hypocrisy within the leadership of churches. I have experienced disillusionment when it seems like the church is more about ‘nickels and noses’ then it is about real life transformation. To be even more honest, I have seen my own failings and weaknesses as a supposed leader and wondered if this thing called church is truly real or worth it. There are times when I have wanted to give up on the church and ministry altogether.

But I’m not ready to sound the death toll for the Church. Here’s a story to tell you why.

[Read the entire article here.]

Love by God, We Love One Another

On Wednesday, I wrote here at the blog about how important it is to know we are deeply loved by God as His children. What flows directly from that love of God for us as his people is that we are called to love one another as brothers and sisters. Throughout Scripture, the church is consistently referred to as being a family. One portion of Scripture that makes this connection between God’s love for us as His children and our call to love one another very clear is Ephesians 5, where Paul writes:

“Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1-2)

The church is a community loved by God, and because of that the church is also a community called to love one another. We are children of God and called to love one another as brothers and sisters. Another way to say all this is: Loved by God, we love one another.

This connects powerfully with us in our present moment. If there’s anything the past few years have shown us is that when hard times come, it is much easier to pull apart than to hold together. When the pressure is on, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to step forward in relationship and love with others. Yet, when hard times come, even when persecution may come, the church is still called to live in God’s love for us and our love for one another. We cannot disengage because we are a family established by God through Christ. 

Not only in this present moment, but in our ongoing cultural pressure, we also need to remember something very important about ourselves as the people of God. The church is not an event or a consumer activity. In our culture, we have been groomed to think of everything we do as something to consume. We consume by binging online shows. We consume by quickly scanning snippets of online articles without really reading them fully. We consume by scrolling through Instagram or TikTok, often mindlessly. We consume by throwing away or replacing items that could be used until they’re truly worn out or could be reused by others. We are a consumer culture. 

But the church is not one more consumer option among many. The church is not some place I go to figure out what I can get, but a family with whom I live to consider what I can bring…and what others can bring to me. It is a community of love. And you cannot buy love, even the Beatles knew that, and we cannot consume love, although people do try to do so in many ways. Love is forged within the time-bound, embodied connections, rooted in relationships of honesty, vulnerability, and experience. 

The church is called to live in God’s love for us personally and cultivate true love one with another. Small groups help with this because they are like support groups for living in love. They are like workout groups for muscles for loving that we don’t have yet. Small groups are like mini-schools of learning to live in God’s way of love. 

If the church is going to be a community of love, then we need to shed our consumerist mindsets and mannerisms when we think about existing as the family of love one with another.  Loved by God, we love one another.

5 Must-Read Statements on the Church

It’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians of all time is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book Life Together is, in my opinion, the best book written on the nature of true community in the church. It is a must-read for many reasons, but one of the most important is the way that Bonhoeffer directly deals with something all of us face with the church: disillusionment. If you have not experienced disillusionment at some point in your involvement with the church, then you probably have not been that involved. At a time when people struggled with living their faith individually and together, when the church was rent apart by conflicting allegiances and hypocrisy, Bonhoeffer stepped forward to train young pastors to serve Christ’s church.

Here are 5 must-read statements on the Church by Bonhoeffer from Life Together. The second of these I mentioned in my sermon this past weekend, “I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints,” from our series on the Apostles’ Creed. I hope you find them as challenging and encouraging as I have over the years:

  • “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” [26-27]
  • “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” [27]
  • “Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” [28]
  • “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, not discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.” [29]
  • “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men….Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.” [29-30]

[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together. A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]

What Happens When the Church is Activated?

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

In the book of Acts we read about how the Holy Spirit set the early believers ablaze for the work of God. We encounter Peter, who courageously steps into the public square to preach the good news of life in Jesus Christ, and thousands come to believe Jesus is the Messiah. We see powerful people like Stephen, who speaks of Christ in the face of persecution, even though it ends up costing him his life. We hear about Philip, who shares across cultural and religious barriers to bring the Samaritans to Jesus. We even see an enemy of Christ and persecutor of the early Christians, Saul of Tarsus, become a passionate evangelist and bold church planter that we know as the Apostle Paul.

The book of Acts is an active book. The church is not stagnant, but moving. The church is engaged and alive, moving forward on mission by the power of the Holy Spirit. What does it look like when individual believers and church communities are activated by God for His work? Well, at the very least we can say that it is not easy to ignore a church that is activated.

But it’s important to give a little more attention to something we could miss here. While Acts is an active book, we also see two things in this story of the early Christians that clarify for us what does not fit with an activated church.

First, an activated church that truly follows Jesus cannot be apathetic. There are times when see find ourselves confronted with the many needs, challenges, and serious situations within the world, that we can become overwhelmed by it all. In the mass of it all, we sometimes shut down and turn away from the needs of the world. We may, instead, focus on our own lives and challenges without giving any thought to the world God loves. Essentially, we become apathetic. But activated churches and Christians are not apathetic. They are engaged with the needs of the world because God cares about people and the needs of the world. While no one church or Christian can address all the needs and challenges of the world, our faith will not give us permission to turn away. An activated church remains open-hearted to the world because God is an open-hearted and generous being.

Second, even though Acts shows us that an activated church is not apathetic but engaged, it also shows us that an activated church is not necessarily a busy church. There is a significant difference between being busy and being active. The early church was activated by the Holy Spirit to join in with God’s mission in a focused way. However, the early church was not meaninglessly busy, doing whatever came their way at any time. In fact, there were key moments where the early believers chose not to do some things or pursue some aspects of potential mission because of the Holy Spirit’s leading. Some of us misunderstand the missionary aspect of Christianity as a command to become busy for the kingdom. But an activated church replaces busyness with focused obedience. Some of us need to remember that God is not very interested in un-commanded work. Yes, God wants us to join in with His kingdom mission, but He does not want us to aimlessly rush around with whatever need or challenge captures our attention in the moment. In fact, what captures our attention may lead us away from the mission God has for us. As a mentor once shared with me: we may need to consider whether we are more in love with the work of the Lord than we are in love with the Lord of the work.

An activated church is not boringly apathetic to the world’s need nor frenziedly busy. An activated church is alive in the Holy Spirit, open-hearted to the world, and walking in obedience to the Living God.

I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our preaching series entitled “Living the Creed: Connecting Life and Faith in the Apostles’ Creed.” This series walks through the Apostles Creed as a basic summary of our faith but also as a way to live our faith out with God in the world. Each weekend of this series will explore the biblical and theological roots of the Apostles Creed, while also providing specific spiritual practices and approaches to living out what we know as we ‘proclaim and embody’ the Creed in our daily lives.

This weekend I continued preaching on the third article of the creed: “I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” This automatically raises the important question for today: can I really still believe in the church?

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Do We Really Believe in the Church?

The challenge of the church

The challenge within us

Considering what it means to believe in the church

A Church Worth Believing In

The church is holy

  • Made holy in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 2:9)
  • Becoming holy through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)

The church is universal/catholic/Christian

  • What “catholic” means and doesn’t mean
  • The universal mission of the church (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)
  • The multi-everything nature of the church (Revelation 7:9-10; Galatians 3:26-29)

The church is a communion of saints

  • “Communion” as community unified by Christ for Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
  • What are “saints”? (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Living Out Our Belief in the Church

Seeing the church through the eyes of Jesus

Expanding our vision through the global church

Being the church through the power of the Holy Spirit


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways: