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Traditional Church is Failing and What to do About it

May 31, 2023

Lloyd Gardner
6 min readJun 1


There are serious issues facing the traditional church today. People, especially the young, are leaving the traditional church in droves. Every poll taken shows a massive exodus from the organized church. It’s time we Christians take a hard look at how we express church life and ask ourselves two questions: Is it scriptural? and Is it being inspired and led by the Holy Spirit?

We are dealing with many issues: Our young people don’t see the relevance of going to church. There is little opportunity for believers to truly be involved in the ministry of the church even though scripture speaks of the priesthood of all believers. The clergy class dominates almost all decisions and activities of most traditional churches. Most church leaders have used the organized church as a means to monetary gain. Many controversies and scandals among church leaders have the ring of hypocrisy. Some churches have compromised with the world regarding obvious unscriptural practices such as the male/female issue, Critical Race Theory, and the inerrancy of scripture. Science is given more credibility than the Bible even though science is being proven false on many fronts.

Each of these issues has its solution in the body of Christ properly functioning as God designed it. We have allowed our expression of church life to be shaped by the world’s ideas. We have allowed churches to become local religious businesses patterned after the companies of our marketplace. We have developed fund raising programs because we assume that our church needs a large “sanctuary” staffed by several pastors who oversee many programs that keep the business afloat. We want all the comforts of any business with comfy seats, air conditioning, a children’s ministry, great musical entertainment and a young, eloquent speaker to expound from the scriptures weekly giving the impression that all is well.

It may come as a surprise to many of you to discover that this arrangement does not come close to describing the church the Holy Spirit inspired after the outpouring on Pentecost. They had no sanctuaries though they met often in or around the temple. They had no entertainment, or children’s ministry, fund raising program, ministry staff, comfy seats or eloquent regular speakers. Instead they met in one another’s homes in small groups throughout Jerusalem, had meals together and experienced other joys of family life together.

Time out! I sense someone is thinking this thought: “Church has evolved over the years and developed into the form we see today. These things are the result of centuries of experimentation and the traditional form we see is the outcome of the Lord’s leading.” To that thought I would respond with these words by Jesus, the founder and rock of the church:

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come (John 16:13, 14).

Notice the words “all the truth” in this promise of Jesus. Are we to believe that the truth given by the Holy Spirit does not include the way we worship and fellowship together? Are we to conclude that the Holy Spirit doesn’t care about how truth is shared, the participation of His followers, the priesthood of all believers, setting aside tradition and letting Him lead, the informality of family life, eating together (one of His favorite activities with His followers), how finances are dealt with and how the needs of the people are met? Did He mean for us to simply set all of this aside and do it all by human cleverness and ability? Why then would we need the Holy Spirit who was sent to guide us?

Let’s just take a couple of the issues we spoke of earlier and see how the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing when He birthed the early church. Let’s take the issue of ministry and see if we can discern what He had in mind. In the first place, the clergy system did not develop until centuries later. Because the Holy Spirit revealed the priesthood of all believers, the ministry was to be the responsibility of all the members (Eph 4:12; 1 Cor 14:26; 12:7). The apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given to equip the saints “for the work of ministry.” Ministry was never meant to be an exclusive position filled by specially trained people who do the ministry while the others sit passively.

Experiencing church God’s way, allows an informal setting in which the saints can be equipped and allowed to share what God has put in their hearts. Paul told us “the one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation.” (1 Cor 14:3). Prophecy here is not a mystical foretelling of the future but simply sharing what God brings to your heart. When we share in the gatherings of the saints, people are built up, encouraged and comforted. This can happen somewhat when a preacher preaches but will become commonplace in an environment where people are sharing in conversational style with the goal of helping one another.

God specifically appointed the five ministries of Ephesians 4:11 to function within each local church for the training of the saints for ministry. This training was through instruction and practice in the context of church life. Paul told Timothy, an apostle’s helper and evangelist, that

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16, 17).

Timothy’s job was to share God’s word to help the saints grow to maturity as believers but it is those saints who do “every good work.” Healthy church life will encourage this process.

Another issue the church is struggling with is how to handle the false teachings that are permeating the lives of the believers through traditional churches. In a large setting where one prominent minister shares, it is easy for the enemy to influence him so that he will influence the whole congregation with heresy.

When the body of Christ functions the way God intended, the person with the heresy comes into the meeting of a small group of Christians and his heresy is revealed when he opens his mouth and shares. But he is not instantly condemned as the church follows Paul’s advice in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “examine everything carefully.” For example, if the person brought up an LGBTQ issue he would immediately be taken to the word as the group put his words to the test of God’s word. The church cannot hold fast to what is good unless they test things in the light of scripture. If the person rejects the word of God, then he will quickly know that he is welcome in the gathering but his heresy is not welcome because God’s word is clear on the subject.

Imagine that person being taken to Romans chapter one where Paul addressed these violations of God’s word directly (see Rom 1:24–28 for example). If this person rejects God’s word he might be quietly reproved and led toward repentance. If he refused, it would be clear that his heresy would not be welcome in God’s house nor would he be welcome if he insisted on it.

All such issues are dealt with scripturally as the Spirit leads when believers are free to participate. Scandals would be rare because no one is ever put on a pedestal that the enemy can kick out from under him. People using the Gospel as a means of gain are rare (1 Tim 6:5) because no such opportunity would be available as there would be no massive programs demanding huge amounts of money to be abused. The saints would give as they purposed in their hearts when led by the Spirit as scripture advises (2 Cor 9:7).

We desperately need to return to the simplicity and purity in our devotion to Christ that Paul advises in 2 Corinthians 11:3. We have allowed things to become so complicated and worldly that the enemy has many inroads into our lives. Jesus promised a church against which the gates of hell are defeated (Matt 16:18). The church is God’s people. The structure we call “the church” can be defeated but the true church, God’s people, is victorious over Satan.



Lloyd Gardner

I write to answer the worldwide move to diminish the influence of God. I write from outside the camp of organized religion to call people to come follow Christ.