As a pastor for 10 years, I was a one-sermon preacher. “Life with God, life with God, life with God,” I repeated.
“If you do not have a life with God where you spend daily time in God’s presence, in God’s Word and listening to the Spirit, there is only so much I can do for you in a crisis,” I preached.
“If we each have a life with God, where each of us is spending time getting to know God, sitting before God with our questions, meditating on Scripture and being transparent before God, then we can work through any issue together,” I preached.
Often, I got blank stares. It’s easier to talk about one’s beliefs about sexuality, whether women should lead or what you believe about the Bible. As a survey scientist, I am aware of this. It’s easy to create a questionnaire for folks to check the right boxes. It’s also easy to lie when answering the questions.
There are so many things wrong with focusing on belief statements and membership guidelines as measures of faithfulness.
First, they become substitutes for true discipleship. If you check the right boxes, then you are a disciple of Jesus. But Scripture says even demons can check the right boxes.
Second, belief statements and membership guidelines are human constructions. Why would a people who have Scripture as our guide, the Spirit as our counselor and a life with God need to create belief statements or membership guidelines unless we fail to trust God’s Word and God’s Spirit?
The secular world uses laws and coercion to control its citizens. But a church that has Scripture and the Spirit to guide us should not need to rely on legal forms of authority.
It’s tough to focus on the world God loves while trying to confine the saints between the guardrails we build. It’s tough to make new disciples when we’re busy keeping the old ones within the lines we draw.
It’s easier just to ask the saints to check the right boxes and then look the other way when we know they are lying. Which is why many of those who are leaving the church today just might be more honest than some who stay. Jesus preferred honest hearts that don’t fit between perfect lines.
Conrad Kanagy is professor of sociology at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and a former pastor of Elizabethtown Mennonite Church. He blogs at achurchdismantled.com.