I’ve read books, blogs, articles, tweets and Facebook posts. I’ve kept up with the bestsellers book list, listened to dozens of hours of podcasts, visited countless churches and have been educated by Christian institutions. I’ve shared meals with fundamentalists, conservatives and liberals. For years I’ve listened to, gleaned from and observed evangelical Christians from various cultures, ethnicities and denominational backgrounds. What I’ve discovered is that they all have one thing in common: they are all, in some way, spiritually wounded by the church. Some have been spiritually abused, others profoundly disillusioned by church and cultural Christianity. They all love the Church yet are tired of existing in a world of exhaustion, pretending, hiding and performing. How’d we get here? Perhaps we’ve valued the frontstage of a church and leaders life more than the backstage – and that’s lead to a lot of deconstruction, disillusionment, woundedness and hope for a better future.
The state of the church
The research on the state of the Church in South Florida and that of our nation would point us to the reality that much of the voice and prophetic witness of the Church has been lost – not only in culture but also in the lives of many of God’s people. Performance, charisma and showmanship have taken precedence over substance, discipleship, character and grace. While the state of the Church is complex, I do believe that much of the problem can be traced all the way back to the very beginnings of the church itself. Paul, in his letter to the young Galatians writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7a NIV).
Therein lies much of the answer to why the message of Christ and his Church has seemingly lost its power and influence in our culture – an abandoning of the gospel and turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all. A subtle exchange from the power of the gospel to the giftedness of the pastor. This is not to say that the evangelical church has turned away from proclaiming the message of salvation, we’ve just lost sight of its centrality, power and sufficiency. We’ve traded godliness for giftedness, prayer for performance, and have valued power, influence and political alignment more than the fruits of the spirit. And here’s the thing: the world is watching, noticing the disconnect and saying, “no thank you.”
Celebrate the gospel
In the words of Tim Keller, somewhere along the way the church has lost sight that, “the gospel is not just the way to enter the kingdom of God; it is the way to address every obstacle and grow in every aspect of Christian maturity. The gospel is not just the ‘ABCs’ but the ‘A-Z’ of the Christian life. The gospel is the way that anything is renewed and transformed by Christ.” Transformation starts with us. It starts with aligning the frontstage of our lives with the backstage. Transformation doesn’t come through giftedness, power, influence and finance. It comes through Christ and his Word. For his glory – not ours.
If this season of Christianity in our nation has taught us anything, it’s that the alignment between a church’s front stage experience and backstage realties profoundly matter. To my fellow pastors, character and soul care matter. The way we view, relate with and treat those on our teams matter and will be shaped by the connection between your front stage and backstage. Just because people are coming doesn’t mean they are being transformed. Just because “it’s working” doesn’t mean it’s working. To those in our pews: the things you celebrate about your church will be the things you replicate. It’s OK to appreciate the giftedness of your pastor but value more how those gifts are pointing you to Christ and towards the alignment of your own frontstage and backstage.
Character vs. charisma
Please hear me here; I have experienced and been a part of this disconnect. I too have said, “that leader is so gifted; look at the fruit of their ministry. We can overlook or work on some of their character flaws.” I was wrong. Character will always tell a better story than charisma and giftedness. Godliness and the fruits of the spirit it produces may not attract the masses all the time, but they are certainly how our faith becomes sticky and rooted, “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3).
I couldn’t be more hopeful and optimistic about the future of the Church; however, I do believe God is shaking me – God is shaking us to our core until only the unshakeable remains (Hebrews 12). May God shake us until our frontstage and backstage are aligned and point us to the lasting change and transformation that only grace and the gospel brings. May God shake his people until we celebrate the backstage of the Church and her leaders and replicate the fruit that the Spirit of God produces.
Edwin Copeland serves as the Director of Church United with the National Christian Foundation of South Florida where he works to unify the Church through collaboration and celebration to see faith, hope, and love spread throughout South Florida. To learn more about Church United, visit churchunited.city
Read more articles by Edwin Copeland at: goodnewsfl.org/author/edwincopeland/