I had planned an introductory thought for a sermon about the decline of the American church. I would point out how church attendance is dropping and how our cultural influence is waning.
I was doing fine, but then it happened: I suddenly began feeling an overwhelming sense of sadness and grief over the American church today. I became overwhelmed by not only our decline nationwide, but about the effect it is having on our country. And while people are screaming now about the economy and the importance of the upcoming election, I believe our current challenges are really just symptoms of a bigger problem.
The ineffectiveness of the American church is the disease.
How did we ever become such an anemic version of what God intended?
As I look at what most churches (including mine) spend our time doing (buffets, socials, events that ignore the community), I frankly wonder what we've been smoking!
When did we start ignoring what we've claimed is the life-changing power of the Gospel, and put our faith in political activism? Do we really believe Jesus died so that we can have spaghetti dinners and church softball, while people around us are hurting? Really?
Dinners and softball are fine, but as long as we continue to spend our time on things we were never called to do, we will not have time, energy or money left to do our true mission.
Christians are meeting together now to pray for the outcome of the election, which is a perfectly fine thing to do. But the problem is many Christians have put more faith in the power of one political candidate to change our country than on the spirit of God working through his churches.
Honestly, if most churches had been doing our job, our society would be vastly different and better.
But instead, we have made the church into a "country club," much like the ones sitting in our gated communities. We have pretended that God's goal was to make us happy, not realizing that fulfillment only comes through doing the "good works" for which he originally commissioned us.
Many Christians see the church much like the old backyard fallout shelters of the 1950s, to which we can retreat and hide with our families. And like a high school kid who blew off studying until the night before the final exam, we are scrambling now to hustle up some quick prayers asking God to have mercy on our nation.
The other day I remembered my neighbor had just undergone open-heart surgery. I felt bad because I didn't realize it until we noticed his grass getting higher.
As I thought about the condition of the American church and then the condition of my neighbor, I wondered what I was supposed to do about them. Then, another epiphany: I gassed up my lawn mower, and started mowing my neighbor's grass.
I do realize that "Sunday grass mowing" is something good churchfolks don't usually do. But that's exactly one of the problems Jesus exposed: self-righteous people more focused on keeping rules than helping others. With that thought, I revved the motor and kept mowing. Because that's how God wants his church to work — one good deed done, one life at a time, multiplied a million times over.
Preach your own sermon!
It's an admittedly small gesture, but I believe that's the way we save our country. We've tried to do it with political movements before, with mixed results. Hopefully one day we will get back to doing it the old-fashioned way — kindness, service, compassion.
So whatever tools you have, pick them up, find the needs around you and start preaching your own sermon.