Pam Glass sat down with Mark at ICRS 2006 to discuss his latest book, The 10 Dumbest Things Christians Do.
CBP: In the book you talk about church hopping. Talk about the point at which a person should leave a church? How should it be done?
Mark: Well, I do think there are times when you should leave a church. One of those times, obviously, is when false doctrine is being preached. When youíre in a church, and you can just see from comparing whatís being said with the Scriptures, that theyíre not teaching the truth, I think thatís time to pull up stakes and move on down the road.
I also believe that the church needs to have a passion for its calling. You know, weíve been called by God to do certain things: evangelize, minister to the needy, care for one another, love one another. And all churches are going to struggle with that to a certain extent. Thereís no such thing as a perfect church. But when you find yourself in a church situation where, obviously, those things are not priorities, then I donít think thatís an environment thatís going to enable you to grow as a Christian and you probably need to look elsewhere. I donít think there are a lot of situations where a person ought to jump from one church to another, but those two in particular. You need to be in an environment where you can grow.
If you were going to raise roses, for example, you wouldnít go to the North Pole to do it. Youíd have to create an environment where roses can grow. And if you find yourself in the North Pole, so to speak, spiritually, in a situation where thereís just no commitment to the priorities that the Lord set out for us, you need to find a place where you can grow. And some of it is your investment, too. You know, you need to make an investment in it to make it happen. Oftentimes, you get out of something what you put into it. But mostly, I think people just ought to knuckle down, hunker down, and serve and be faithful over the long haul. And if the church has weaknesses, help it grow in those areas, lend your talents and abilities and not constantly be looking down the road at the next church thinking, ďThey have it all together. Weíll just go there.Ē And then you get there and find out they werenít as great as you thought they were.
So, mostly, I just think doctrine is huge. You donít want to be in a church thatís not teaching the truth. And then you have to have an environment where growth can happen. And some churches, letís face it, they havenít grown in years. Nobody cares about growing, nobody wants to grow. You always hear that old statement, ďWell, we donít want the church to get too big because we wonít know everybody.Ē Well, there were 3,000 people baptized on the Day of Pentecost. I donít imagine all 3,000 knew each other. People have strange priorities sometimes.
CBP: How much should a parishioner confront? Because false doctrine frequently doesnít present itself initially with red lights flashing.
Mark: First of all, I think most people could have false doctrine hit them in the face and they wouldnít know it because they donít know the Bible, they donít study, and they donít read. They go to church, but they donít carry a Bible with them. They listen to the preacher preach and just take what he says at face value. Thatís why there are so many false prophets in the world who have such huge followings.
But for that rare individual who is a student of the Word and who is a careful listener, and when he detects things being taught that just really donít square with Scripture, I think the first mandate that person has is to be gracious and kind and loving in their approach. But if you have a relationship with the pastor where heís accessible to you (now in some large churches thatís not the case), Iíd sit down and talk to him about it and ask him some questions in a kind way and see what he says. It could be that he hasnít thought the thing all the way through and that he would be open to a different point of view.
In the Scripture we have the story of Apollos who was teaching and preaching, but Priscilla and Aquilla had to pull him aside and say, ďYou know, youíre leaving out something here.Ē And he was responsive to that and said, ďYou know, youíre right.Ē And went on to be a great evangelist. And that can happen. Iíve had people in my 32 years of preaching who have pulled me off to the side and said, ďHave you ever thought about such-and-such?Ē And I really never had, but it was a legitimate point of view and it changed maybe the way I thought or preached. And if the preacher gets really defensive and doesnít want to hear it, and if he gets angry or whatever, thatís not a good sign. What he should do is be able to defend his beliefs in a kind and thoughtful and gentle way and help the person see why he teaches it that way. And if he canít defend his beliefs, and he just wants to get angry and defensive, thatís not a good sign.
If you go to the pastor and do what I just said and you donít get any positive result, you donít get any explanation, maybe all you get is anger or whatever, then I would want to go to the leadership of the church: the elders, or whatever type of upper level leadership your church has and ask them because theyíre the shepherds of the flock. They should have an interest in whatís being taught to the sheep. There again, depending on what of response you get would help you decide what you needed to do. And youíve got to remember, too, sometimes there just is a differing point of view.
CBP: You have to decide whatís a hill to die on?
Mark: Exactly. Eschatology, for example. Are you pre-Millennial, post-Millennial, a-Millennial? OK, we can be different and still worship together. But if it has to do with core salvation issues: who is Jesus, that kind of stuff, then I would not want to attend a church where I felt false doctrine was being preached.
CBP: Suppose I come to you and say, ďPastor, Iím moving cross-country next month. How do I go about finding a good church?Ē
Mark: If you are leaving a good, healthy church situation, then you should know what you have and what you like and whatís good for you. Thatís where I would start. Look for maybe the same kind of church in that area. A lot of people in our congregation who are moving will come to me and say, ďHey, do you know anybody in that area where I can start my search?Ē And sometimes I do. I might know a pastor or a church that has a great history. I also think itís important to be open to the possibility of stepping outside your traditional upbringing. And sometimes I think you just have to go with the best option you have. It may not be the one you want, it may not be perfect, but itís important to be in a fellowship of believers. I do not believe your faith can thrive the way it needs to if youíre isolated. Thereís plenty of Scripture to support that.
CBP: Iíve noticed a trend, in our area at least, that a lot of kids will attend Sunday school through the high school years, but not necessarily attend services regularly. They may attend Bible study and activities, perhaps even through college if the church has a ďcollege group,Ē but they rarely attend service and then after high school or college they quit attending all together. They donít even transition into an adult fellowship group, much less attend service.
Mark: My take on that (and Iím tempted to say, ďDonít quote me.Ē) is that youth ministers have to bear a lot of the blame for that. Iíve seen that in churches where Iíve ministered and others where the emphasis in youth ministry is fun and games and that becomes the youth ministry. And, oh yeah, weíll have a five minute devotion at the end of our playtime. And when young people get ingrained that thatís what church is, it is hard for them to make that leap over into adult worship and to sit down and actually worship God. And I have had many discussions along these lines with youth ministers that weíve employed at our church: ďListen, I want you to teach these kids how to worship. Other than leading them to the Lord, that should be your number one priority because thatís what God asks us to do: to worship Him.Ē Thatís why we were created. Thereís a youth ministry style that is edgy, and letís throw water balloons. . .
CBP: Skate church?
Mark: Exactly! And when kids grow up in that, to me, thatís why this happens is that anything but that is boring. And Iím constantly telling youth ministers, ďYou can have your fun and games, but at some point youíre going to have to sit down and worship God.Ē
CBP: What have you learned from writing this book?
Mark: Iím pretty dumb! I wonít say Iíve made all ten of these blunders, but Iíve made most of them. And the ones Iíve made will just be my secret. I always say this: I would never criticize anyone for doing something dumb because weíre all human. Thatís not the point. The point is, the things we do over and over again, habitually, that just continually hinder the progress of the Kingdom, turn people away from the Lord; things we do that we donít even realize because they become so ingrained in the culture of the church, thatís the problem. I just think that the average church, if they really corrected some of these things, would see amazing improvements in their ministry, their outreach, the willingness of people to come to their church, their evangelistic thrust.
The first chapter is, for example, ďSlinging Mud on the Bride of Christ.Ē It just amazes me how people who say they love the Lord will go out and trash the Church, criticize the leaders, gripe about the sermon or the music. Just on and on and on, gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe, gripe. And then they say, ďWell, why donít you come to church?Ē Itís like, why would anybody want to? You just shoot yourself in the foot. Thatís what the book is about.