Is Church Broken?

The question of the day this, is the way we do church broken? Is your church broken? And by broken, I mean, is it accomplishing the purpose for which it is intended or is it doing something else?

I had a call the other day with a coach/consultant and I was talking about the challenges of pursuing alternative models of church life in such a way that wasn’t unnecessarily subversive, damaging to existing churches, Christians, pastors and didn’t discourage and undermine them.

I will share more in the future, but I’m currently pursuing alternative models of church life and have been working on an alternative model of church that you might categorize as house church, though it’s not. You might categorize it as missional community, though it’s not exactly that, though it probably leans more towards missional community than house church.

Actually, there’s a church that has agreed to partner with us in that in a kind of oversight way, which we’re so grateful, and our denomination, as well, is looking at a partnership that way. As I’ve been looking at what it means to pursue, to aggressively seek, to build a different kind of church, I’ve been wrestling with that question: how do I do this without being a jerk? I refer to this as “jerk free subversion”, because in a way, any alternative model undermines or challenges existing models, and how do you do that without being a jerk?

Anyway, I was chatting with this consultant who I highly respect. and I asked the question, how do you do this? How do we go about this properly without unnecessarily damaging and discouraging existing churches and pastors. His response, and I’m paraphrasing, was this. “We know that the traditional way of doing church is broken. It’s a broken model. We know it’s a broken model. We have lots of data to show it’s a broken model and any objective person would conclude that it’s a broken model. Billions and billions of dollars are being spent on this model with very little return from a kingdom standpoint and very few disciples being made.”

That really was the metric we were talking about, making disciples. We’re called to be disciples who make disciples. His point was that the way we do church is not generally effective in making disciples who make disciples, I have to agree with him.

I have to look at myself and say, how much of a disciple am I? How much of a disciple maker have I been in my pastoral ministry over the years? When you dig down and do the heart introspection, at least for myself, the answer is not terribly flattering.

Looking back at the churches I pastored, even the most effective moments in the lives of the churches I pastored as a regular pastor saw some people being saved, sometimes a lot of people being saved. But honestly, very few became people who actually were passionately following Jesus as a way of life and brought others with them.

A lot of times in my most effective churches, a lot of people were coming to faith, and that was kind of the end game. Praying a prayer, and maybe even truly repenting, believing, and being baptized. A few of them got involved in reaching other people, but the true disciple-making reproduction really wasn’t happening.

The multiplication and reproduction was happening where some people were getting saved and becoming followers, but the multiplication where someone who becomes a disciple creates another disciple who creates another disciple wasn’t happening that well.

So my question is, if you look at your ministry or the church you’re involved at, or yourself personally, is something systemically broken? Is there something going on that’s interfering with making disciples or is it just not even on the radar?

A lot of churches we know are optimized or were optimized around the weekend event, and doing a good, what we believe a good service with good music and good teaching. Maybe some true interaction after or before the gathering and some vision casting. They were great events for what they were trying to accomplish. But in a lot of cases, maybe if we’re honest it’s most cases, disciple-making wasn’t happening.

So that’s really just a question the mull on right now. Again, I’m wrestling with the issue of how do we honestly discuss these things without becoming unnecessarily discouraging and unnecessarily subversive?

Another part of the answer this fellow made in the call was because we know it’s broken, he no longer walks on eggshells around the topic. He said we just need to address it head on. So I’m wrestling that through even as I look at doing alternative kind of church working in areas and regions where there are existing churches with good hearted people serving God often at great physical, financial, relational and health costs.

I’m wrestling through how do we do this without being jerks and if you have any easy answers to that, let me know. I think we, at least on the personal level, need to be honest and evaluate our disciple-making or not, and begin to shift our lives and our ministries toward that, because that is the call. It’s a high call.

I look forward to sharing with you more in the future about some of the steps we’re taking to build that kind of a ministry. Wisdom and grace to you as you keep on figuring out what it means to be a disciple who makes disciples.

God bless, press on.

5 thoughts on “Is Church Broken?”

  1. I understand your desire to not be a mean and nasty guy or to appear overly critical of present church models. I would suggest not to worry about that so much. It could divide your focus. Keeping it personal, about your personal heart to make disciples, to multiply, may help with the subversive thing. But people will think what they will think, so I wouldn’t lose a ton of sleep over that part.

    I agree that the church model appears broken. As a long time church member and Gen X rebel (questioner?) I can see that about 90% of churches’ energy goes into satisfying the saved, into meetings, board and deacon functioning, building needs, etc. However when I think back on the progress I’ve been able to make as a believer, much of it has been because of a program, or a sunday school class, or a worship mentor, Bible study, and so on. None of these have been perfect and many of them were functioning at a low capacity or even went off the rails entirely, but they did help. What I am looking for is that disciple-making aspect. We’ve become so accustomed to not multiplying that we barely notice anymore. A healthy worship team will birth and mentor more worship leaders. A vibrant men’s ministry should raise up men to practice leading and give them opportunity to use their gifts. Same with other ministries. So as this dilemma resonates across the church landscape, and as I look back over years of church attending from Edmonton to Cloverdale, Edson to Three Hills, AB, I see big issues yes, but also huge potential, and always God’s faithfulness to lead us on. The most important thing seems to be to look straight at Him and beckon others to see Him also. The frustration is in the many hurdles and strands of red tape that constantly trip us up.

    Thanks for the post – lots to chew on here.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful post. Yes, I agree that despite the less than perfect focus of our current model, people do come to faith and grow. I’d put myself in that category. And you’ve also rightly, in my mind, identified “not multiplying” as a key issue. I’m actually recording a podcast this week with a friend about that very issue. It’s for a new podcast called…get this…Disciple Making.
      I will share excerpts and/or links on this site when it is live.
      As far as subversion, and not being a jerk, I’m trying to maintain a gracious posture while not compromising my efforts to craft a new model and be as effective as I can following Jesus in every area of life and inviting others to join me. Stay tuned…

      • That sounds like an excellent podcast! I will do my best to tune in. It would be interesting to hear more of your ideas for out-of-the-box church as well. What we are doing now – I’m not sure is sustainable over the long haul.

  2. I am in Zihuatenejo Mexico and seen your post Daren. We have a small church here pastored by a young pastor who actually started the church about 6 years ago. It’s a Mexican speaking church and his example of discipleship ministry always stands out. He has brought his young congregation to a whole new level of church. Running a discipleship class and growing his own church to mentor others and growing the kingdom. Just thought I would tell you that it is happening here but not so much in our western culture.


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