"Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood."
This verse is part of a passage delivered by the Apostle Paul to the Elders of the Church at Ephesus. When he was speaking with them, he knew it would be for the last time, and he was passionate about warning them to guard the Church. They were to be the overseers of what Jesus wanted His Church to be. And I'm afraid that throughout the centuries, and especially today, so many of the overseers have neglected their duty.
I say this because I have encountered far too many people who were raised in the Church, and have left it because they no longer sense that God's Truth is the priority of their church community. Let me give you just a few examples of what these people say .... "Are we going [to church] so we can get built up as disciples and learn solid teachings on the Bible, or are we going to a semi-Hollywood entertainment clip?" "I am tired of preachers who are afraid to tell the truth. I am tired of pastors who won't call sin, sin, and only care about "felt needs" and making people feel better." "People are lost and injured by what should be a family and body of love, but instead has become an institution, a business and a sideshow."
These are just a few examples; others included the loneliness they felt in the Body of Christ, the lack of caring when they were sick and desperate, and the political correctness that goes along with the culture instead of what Jesus taught. And the thing that makes me the saddest are those people who truly want a relationship with Jesus Christ, but have not been discipled and don't know how to approach Him on their own. They are disillusioned by those who call themselves Christians, and cynical that Jesus's message is for them.
Can you blame them? They have been abused and mistreated by the arrogance and self-serving attitude of those who claim to be Christ's representatives on earth. And Paul knew this would happen! That's why he admonished these Elders of the Early Church to protect what they had built up in the name of the Lord. In the verses immediately following this one, the Apostle warns the Church that there will be false teachers who will try to lead the flock astray; and even members of their own body who will quickly and easily distort the Truth in order to be popular and in demand. Nothing's changed!
Should our Churches be a place where all people can come to be accepted and mentored in the love and grace of God? Absolutely! But that is only part of the Truth. They need to hear it all ... that God is Big and Holy and demands our righteousness. He is a God who hates Sin, and because of His perfect Character, He must judge Sin. But He also knows all men are sinful, and no man can meet his pure and holy standard, so through His Grace, He provided a way for us to be acceptable in His sight. And that way is through belief in His Son, Jesus Christ; belief that His death on the Cross paid the price that was due for our sinfulness; belief that, through genuine repentance, we can be washed clean in His purifying blood and be granted the favor of eternal life in His presence.
The whole message needs to be preached ... the Holiness, the Love, the Grace, the demand for Righteousness, the Judgment, the Salvation, the Truth about His Son ... and it needs to be done with an eye and a heart for discipling and growing the Body. Just "going to Church" is not what Christ asked of us. He is the Head of the Church, and it is not a building ... it is not "my church" or "your church". It is His Church, and we are to model ourselves after Him. That doesn't mean sitting in a building, listening to a lecture on a Sunday morning. It means going and doing as He did; telling and teaching His word, and demonstrating how He lived.
I do not want to condemn all churches. I know that there is an awakening to the failures of the modern church, and an earnest attempt to do the work Jesus commanded, and Paul exhorted. But I have a heart for those who are on the outside of the church buildings across America; those who yearn for an authentic relationship with Jesus. They feel the Holy Spirit encouraging them, but they will never darken the door of a church building because they don't think they will find Jesus there.
We need to remember that we are the Body of Christ. We can help introduce them to Him, and wherever two or more are gathered, He will be there. Churches come in all shapes and sizes, and they start with us.