I have been struck—again—by the truth of the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” We have cars instead of horses, instant messaging instead of message curriers, we meet in blogs and chat rooms instead of gathering at the city gates, but the problems, temptations, and challenges remain the same. Let me just mention two.
We are tempted to put our faith and trust in the things of God instead of in God. In 1 Samuel 4:1-3, we read about Israel reacting to losing a battle to the Philistines.
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
Instead of asking the Lord why He did not give them victory over an enemy He had promised victory over, they go get the ark. They assumed that they left God behind because they left His ark behind. While Israel was galvanized and encouraged by the presence of the ark, God was not more with them then without it, and they were defeated again. Instead of looking to God, they looked to his ark, “Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
How often we see the same thinking today! We do not have an ark, but we do the same thing with what we do have. Instead of asking God why the church’s numbers are dropping, finances are dwindling, and our influence is waning, we go looking for the latest program, book, strategy, conference, or retreat to fix the problem….as if we are just not working hard enough to figure it out. God does not need our best. When we give God our best, He isn’t getting much is He? We need to put our faith in Him, not in the things He has given us.
We are pre-occupied with how we look to others instead of being concerned with how we look to God. Israel asked for a king, not because they needed a leader when Samuel was gone (which they did), not because God had promised them a king (which He did in Deuteronomy 17:14-15), but because they wanted to look like everyone else. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5, NIV ). Instead of waiting for God to give them a king in His time, they forced the issue. The result was 42 years of Saul, which was a disaster because He was not a man after God’s own heart. Instead of acting out of faith in God and waiting for His timing, they acted out of anxiety and attempted to solve the problem themselves.
We are just as fixated on the need for a “leader” today. Like the Israelites we want a leader who will do the thinking and fighting for us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles (1 Samuel 8:19-20, NIV ). Today the “king” has been replaced with the “professional.” The prevailing attitude in the land seems to be, “If you can do it better, I would rather you do it.”
This thinking is very common in the church today. Families look to the church for teaching, discipleship, and passing the faith to their kids. Many people believe this is what the church is for. “After all they are the experts, they have the degrees. That’s what we’re paying them for,” they say.
This is also the thinking of many pastors and leaders in the church today. They expect families to support them in their programs, and see themselves and their ministry as the place to go for help, discipleship, and teaching. Families are generally very willing to give them what they want, and in many cases, expect that this is the case. Churches are often picked based on the perceived repute of the pastor and how well the programs being offered meet the needs and desires of the family that is doing the looking.
But this thinking is not biblical. Not only that, it doesn’t work does it? All you need to do is look around at the church today. The average layperson feels ill-equipped to do Bible study on their own let alone teach the bible to their kids, their spouse, or their friends. The latest study from Barna found that more than 60% of youth who grow up in the church leave the Christian faith by the time they get out of college.
Those who stay in the church have no great witness to the world either. God seems remarkably impotent to bring about the change the gospel claims to promise. We divorce as much, have affairs as much, become addicted to drugs and alcohol as much, even abuse our wives and kids as much as non-Christians. There is no statistical difference between evangelical Christians in these areas and everyone else.
Albert Einstein said, “The height of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.” I think we need to admit that the way the church has been doing things does not work. The way we have been thinking about Church does not work. Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples if we love one another as He loves us. The facts tell us that we are not succeeding at this.