The Church, Her Spiritual Leaders and Their Failures

On a personal note: By God’s grace I recently celebrated four decades of ministry and have been blessed to serve on the pastoral staff of Hillsdale Baptist Church for thirty-four years.  The following article is written from my perspective as a pastor and graduate of a Christian University that historically made no apology for its Bible fundamental, separatist stance.

For two decades I have pondered the waning of conservative, independent, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges in our nation.  While I pray for a spiritual awakening in America, I see little hope when our own families and ministries are following the spiritual erosion of our culture. Indeed, should we who identify as Bible-believers continue our flirtation with sin, I fear Bible-preaching is at risk of being silenced within a generation.

Having experienced social media vilification in the past, I fear my perspective will offend some and is not shared lightly or with a desire to offend. Nevertheless, I am compelled to share my concerns, not as a provocation, but as an exposé of what I believe is the primary factor contributing to the failure of historic, conservative Bible-Christianity in America.

Across our nation, a millennial consortium of progressive preachers is assuming the pulpits of conservative, Bible-preaching churches, schools, and colleges.  Preaching a message of grace without a call to personal sanctification and holiness, they have spawned a pseudo-piety and tolerance of sin and carnality the generation before them decried.  

A brief history lesson on conservative, fundamental Bible Christianity

From the 1950’s to the closing years of the 20thcentury, Bible-fundamentalism inspired a Gospel awakening (not so much a spiritual revival) in America.  Veterans of World War II returned to America with an evangelistic zeal giving rise to conservative, fundamental Christian Colleges whose student bodies experienced phenomenal growth until the late 1990’s.

Tens of thousands of young men enrolled in Bible colleges and became pastors across America and missionaries around the world.  That generation inspired the School Bus Ministry movement in the 1960’s and began the Christian School movement in the 1970’s continuing through the 1990’s.  The birth of the Home School movement in the 1990’s revived the prospect of a generation of youth who might surrender their lives to the LORD and dedicate themselves to serve as pastors, teachers, and missionaries.

The 21st century; however, has proved disastrous for conservative, Bible-believing, Gospel-preaching churches and institutions.

Failing churches, Christian schools, Bible colleges and seminaries dot the American landscape.  Spiritual apathy has taken hold on our homes, churches, and schools.  Aging congregations, falling church attendance, and a precipitous decline in young men going into ministry now threaten the future of conservative Biblical Christianity.

While there are many explanations for the spiritual erosion we are witnessing in our Bible-believing churches and institutions, I will limit myself to a few.  The first, cultural wars within and without our homes. Some will argue the church has failed to adapt to cultural changes.  Others will argue, in an attempt to be relevant, the church lost its identity and has become irrelevant.  The disparity between what the Bible teaches and what our homes, churches, and institutions practice is another reason for the diminishing of our churches. We are hearers of the Word, but are we doers?  Christian educators fault the churches for pervasive spiritual apathy in the students, while pastors accuse those same institutions of accommodating carnality at the sacrifice of spiritual zeal.

Believing everything rises and falls on leadership, I conclude the responsibility for the spiritual failings of our churches, schools, Bible colleges and universities, and seminaries rests with the spiritual leaders of this, my generation. 

My peers have served as the spiritual leaders of our institutions for more than two decades.  Unlike any generation before, my generation has faced and grappled with an unprecedented intrusion of technology.  While the pastors of my youth sounded the alarm regarding the secular influences of radio, television, movies, and rock music; the ministers of my generation pastor congregations that, with a few clicks of a mouse, surf the internet and introduce to their families every imaginable influence… doctrinally, culturally, and socially.

Cable television, internet, social media, and cell phones are seducing the hearts of our children and empowering the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology.  While Christian parents prove either ambivalent or ill-prepared for the seduction of “worldliness”, their spiritual leaders are encountering a radical cultural shift and failing to address the intrusion of sin in their own homes and ministries.

Facing a spirit of rebellion in their homes, churches, and Christian schools, the spiritual leaders of my generation, in an attempt to parley peace with their own youth, have accommodated their sins. The consequence is an extra-biblical liberty that embraces the sins of the world, its pleasures, and inevitable consequences (1 John 2:15-17).

Warning: Spiritual leaders who accommodate the sins of their children will invariably compromise the core values of the ministries entrusted to their care.

To understand why Bible-believing churches, Christian schools, colleges, and seminaries are forsaking spiritual disciplines, one need only to look to the pulpits and the leaders who occupy them. My generation has failed to call the church to sanctification and holiness because we have succumbed to a paralysis induced by our own spiritual failings.

Almost without exception, the failure of churches and the compromise and eventual closure of Christian institutions in my sphere have one thing in common… leaders who sacrificed their spiritual integrity to accommodate the sins of their children.

Consider Paul’s admonition to Titus.  Having declared the virtues and spiritual qualifications of the leaders of the church (Titus 1:6-9), including “blameless”, the principal, indispensable qualification of the pastor that includes his role as the “husband of one wife” and “having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1:6), Paul warns:

“For there are many unruly [disobedient; rebellious] and vain talkers [empty, useless talk] and deceivers [impostors; seducers]…whose mouths must be stopped [silenced; bridled], who subvert [overturn; destroy] whole houses [families], teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake [dishonest gain]…Wherefore rebuke [reprove; convict] them sharply [cut off; severely].” (Titus 1:10, 11, 13)

Principle – Leaders deficient in the spiritual qualifications of their office will invariably lack the spiritual power and authority “to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” [opposed to Truth and sound doctrine](Titus 1:9)

I close this introductory article on spiritual leaders and their failings, urging you to take away three lessons from the failed example of my generation:  

1) Technology will seduce the hearts of your children and empower the parasitic nature of secularism and progressive theology; 2) Accommodate the sins of your children and you will invariably sacrifice your core values;   3) Compromise your convictions and you will lack the spiritual power and authority to exhort and rebuke those who oppose sound Biblical truths.

1 John 2:15-17– 15  Love not the world, neither the things that arein the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him
16  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. 
17  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.

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Copyright 2019 – Travis D. Smith