The Church Distracted
When the main thing is not the main thing
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” Romans 1:6a
“A church without a gospel-centered purpose is no longer a church at all.” Thom S. Rainer, Autopsy of a Deceased church.
Operating a car while texting is distracted driving. It has the potential to result in serious consequences – a fine, loss of license, an accident and even the loss of life. A distracted driver, simply put, is a dangerous driver. A church distracted also reaps serious consequences – lost gospel opportunities, missional drift, inward focus, and even the loss of God’s blessing. A church distracted is soon a church without fruit.
Is your church distracted? What I mean is, is your church distracted from accomplishing the main thing? What is the main thing? My conviction is that is is the proclamation of the gospel, and springing from that, the making of disciples.
I asked the pastors of my province if their church was often distracted from doing the main thing. The answer was a unanimous “yes.” A follow up question I tossed out was “What examples of distraction are you experiencing?” The following are a sampling of their replies:
- Politics (left, right, progressive, conservative, green, American, Trumpian, Freedom rallies);
- Social issues (gender identity, LGBTQ2 efforts, abortion, assisted dying, climate change, racism, the woke agenda, various renditions of “lives matter”, Indigenous truth and reconciliation efforts, treaty and land rights);
- Government laws (Bill C4, gathering and vaccine mandates);
- Internal squabbles (styles of worship or leadership, organization, governance);
- Social media & technology
- Religious influences (well-known, influential Christian leaders calling for believers to ‘radicalize’ under some spiritualized banner).
Following my conversations with these pastors, I reflected on how I could help the MB churches in Saskatchewan navigate their present distraction-saturated landscape? I contemplated writing a pastoral letter. When I started drafting it, I believed that penning a message about the distractions churches encounter and how to overcome them would be straightforward. I was myopic. My initial presumptions about church distractions were set aside when these same insightful pastors started asking me about my own understanding of a distraction.
- Is a distraction always a distraction or is what appears to be one really an opportunity?
- Can a distraction actually be a result of fulfilling the main thing (the proclamation of the gospel and making disciples)?
- Is what may be diagnosed as a distraction in one setting be a part of the doing the main thing in another?
- Isn’t it true that some distractions can be about doing good things?
I do not have the space in this forum to engage every example of distraction these pastors listed. In my mind some realities like internal conflict and political posturing clearly undermine the church from being about the main thing. Others require rigorous discernment. And so, what follows is somewhat of a circumscribed approach to the subject, but so be it. If it proves helpful, amen! If it starts a healthy conversation, perfect!
A story of a ministry faithful to its original mission helped me orient myself to the subject at hand. For years I have appreciated the ministry of Tribal Trials, a weekly TV ministry of the Northern Canada Evangelical Mission (NCEM). Started in 1982, Tribal Trails exists solely to proclaim the gospel and raise up disciples among North America’s First peoples. The ministry is a basic and simple Christian production with a powerful impact through testimonies of transformed lives and clear presentation of Jesus. What has genuinely impressed me about this work is that for over forty years it has stayed true to its reason for existence; to share the gospel and help First Peoples live that gospel practically every day. In the forty years of the Tribal Trials ministry, our Canadian culture has seen the call for treaty land rights, the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, the social causes of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and Every Child Matters. over the years, the episodes I watched never departed from a messaging that in every circumstance the person and work of Jesus was the best response – he was hope, freedom, reconciliation, and peace. Never were these social issues downplayed or ignored; Tribal Trials simply proclaimed Jesus as THE way, truth, and life in all things. My point is not that these efforts are unworthy or unimportant, but rather that this ministry wasn’t distracted by them, it kept the main thing the main thing.