In USA Today columnist Anthony D'Ambrosio reflects on the reasons marriage tends to fail today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/07/sex-columnist-5-reasons-marriage-doesnt-work-anymore/25398635/). They are:
1) Sex becomes almost non-existent.
2) Finances cripple us.
3) We're more connected than ever before, but completely disconnected at the same time.
4) Our desire for attention outweighs our desire to be loved.
5) Social media just invited a few thousand people into bed with you.
This rings true for me. But I'm not interested in marriage here. Rather, I want to reflect on these dynamics in regard to the church. The church has failed as radically as marriage has, perhaps more so. To what degree are these dynamics D'Ambrosio identifies operative in it as well?
Sex becomes almost non-existent. Physical expression of love (“love one another”) falls prey to the urgency of other “necessities” and allures of daily living. The “tyranny of the urgent” and the distractions of divided hearts, that is, hearts that do not “will one thing” (Kierkegaard), keep us from doing that “one thing.” We do many other things, some of them well, but we have not kept first things first. And the risen Jesus tells us what happens to churches that lose their “first love” (Rev.2:4).
Finances cripple us. Jesus tells us we cannot worship him and money/wealth/stuff. But we have never really believed him. Just ask yourself how we would do that “one thing” we are called to do if we had no money? Bet you can't do it! But if we can't, that's a measure of the hold money/wealth/stuff has on us and the way we let finances cripple us. It also is a measure of the hold a consumerist mindset has on us.
We're more connected than ever before, but completely disconnected at the same time. The “digitalization” of life, for all its virtues, also promotes a faux presence that we easily substitute for the real thing. Our online life may become more real and important to us than flesh and blood relationships and realities that surround us. The incarnation, God taking on flesh and “moving into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message), pushes in the other direction. He pushes us to join him by immersing an investing ourselves in our flesh and blood neighbors and neighborhood issues. To become or remain disconnected from them for whatever reason has been and remains a central reason why the church lacks credibility.
Our desire for attention outweighs our desire to be loved. A church that is solely “attractional” is inwardly focused on itself. God often gets trapped within its confines. A truly “attractional” church, an incarnational one, is one that focuses on taking its “attractions” - the love and mercy of God - to the world he dearly loves. When our focus is ourselves and how much we get noticed, well, then we're in a heap of trouble!
Social media just invited a few thousand people into bed with you. The old computer principle of GIGO – Garbage In, Garbage Out – applies here. Whoever or whatever tells us the story by which we live our lives is the primary influence on us. We must discern between the input we internalize and that which we must let pass on through or else when we easily lose sight of who we are and what we are to be about (that pesky “one thing” again).
It seems evident to me that similar dynamics work to undo churches as well as marriages. No surprise there, really. The church is the bride of Christ and our life is supposed to reflect his love and character in the world. That marriage is in pretty bad shape at present in the west. Identifying what has gone wrong an, more importantly, recommitting ourselves to our spouse is the only thing that will help. It is that simple; and it is that difficult!