My dad was a graduate of the University of Mississippi, known around our house as “Ole Miss.” I grew up a big fan of Ole Miss football. I knew the players’ names. I remember the Ole Miss greats of the late 1940s and ‘50s who made their way to the NFL. “Chunkin” Charlie Connerly was a standout QB for Ole Miss and for the New York Giants. Jake Gibbs was an all-star athlete in multiple sports. As the QB of Ole Miss in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, he was the leader of a team that played for and won national championships.
I remember watching Johnny Vaught and Bear Bryant on the sidelines during great games between two legendary coaches. I remember Archie Manning running around to avoid tackles, building a legend that lives in the hearts and minds of every Ole Miss fan. Archie’s Army was faithful. He made other players better by his tenacity.
When I went off to seminary, I would call my folks and listen to the games on the radio, and then my dad and I would talk about the game. It was a fall Saturday tradition.
In the 1950s and ‘60s Ole Miss was one of the dominant programs, not only in the Southeastern Conference, but also in the nation. At one point, we held the record for consecutive trips to bowl games. Ole Miss football was pageantry, the stuff of lore and legend.
As an adult, I’ve enjoyed watching great players like Patrick Willis, Mike Wallace, Romero Miller, Deuce and Dexter, Michael Oher, Kent Austin, Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis, and dozens of others. Of course, Eli Manning stands as one of the all-time greats at Ole Miss.
A few years ago I had a chance to eat breakfast and spend several hours with former Coach Billy Brewer. We talked life and Ole Miss football. I liked Brewer. He loves Ole Miss to this day. There were some great years under Brewer. We had a few great years under David Cutcliffe and Houston Nutt.
I’d like to forget the Steve Sloan and Ogeron years—those were like a nightmare. We lost our status as a powerhouse. We lost our edge in recruiting. We lost our swagger, and somewhere along the line we settled for mediocrity. In a sense, the school has never recovered. We have had a couple of great seasons, and then we drop down to average, mediocre, or, as we have in the past two years, the bottom of the Southeastern Conference.
I’m not a fanatic. I love to watch the games. It ties me to my past, my dad, and great memories. But, unfortunately, most of what I have now with Ole Miss is a fading memory. I’m hoping the new coach can “return us to the glory days,” but that may not be possible.
But this article is not about Ole Miss football. It’s about the church in America. Once churches stood strong, now they are boarded up. There was a day when the church was a light in the darkness, now the lights are off on Sunday nights. Once you could find a vibrant church on street corners in our metropolitan areas. Now, those churches have been torn down, closed up, or relegated to insignificance.
The average church in America is satisfied with mediocrity, and they are so apathetic that they don’t care they are dying. Changes need to be made, but they are unwilling to change. Leadership needs to accept the seriousness of the problem and face it head on, but power brokers would rather preside over the death of “their” church than find a way to breathe new life into it.
It’s not that there aren’t any recruits—it’s simply that we aren’t willing to go after them. We are too satisfied and self-centered. We love our preferences and refuse to change. We’d rather fight than find favor with God. We lack power, but we keep telling people we’re alive. The church that Christ died for is dying. We are building fortresses and protecting programs. God wants people and faith.
We need new leadership. We need a fresh breeze of the Spirit to blow the cobwebs out. We can’t keep going down this path and expect this country to return to God.
People who aren’t willing to change need to resign or be removed. Pastors who aren’t willing to preach the Word should resign from the church and work in retail. We don’t have time for the silliness and senseless, aimless wanderings. I’m weary of preachers who can’t call people to repentance for fear of losing their jobs. John the Baptist or one of the Old Testament prophets wouldn’t make it in my denomination. We’re too starched and self-assured to allow a prophet to come in and kick us around in hopes of waking us up.
The cage needs to be rattled. The offices need to be cleaned out. We should make everyone resign from committees until we can find godly people with biblical objectives. It may take a while, but, frankly, no leadership is better than some of the leadership I see in churches today. The “holding the fort” mentality needs to be replaced by a group willing to storm the gates of hell.
The cost of buying out Houston Nutt at Ole Miss is six million dollars. They will willingly pay it. Why? Because winning is the bottom line. Someone at Ole Miss isn’t satisfied with just competing; they want to win, no matter what the cost. They believe it’s a change worth six million dollars and another rebuilding season. Will it work? Who knows?
The difference between Ole Miss and the church is there is at least an admission of a problem. There is dissatisfaction with the direction. People are tired of losing. No one hates Nutt; he’s a great coach. But he wasn’t getting it done. Someone has to go. The Athletic Director will be next. At least they will admit there are problems.
What will it cost the church to get right and get on track? I don’t know, but it’s costing us now more than we can calculate to do nothing.
The church sings Sweet By and By and Sweet, Sweet Spirit, and On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, clinging to hymnals while the world goes to hell. How sad that a secular university has more insight into the need to do SOMETHING than the church does. We do NOTHING and wonder why we are losing our children and youth to the world, the flesh, and the devil. The American church is aging, gray, and dying. The saddest fact to me is that most don’t care as long as they can take a bus trip to Branson and eat at a buffet.
Ole Miss is willing to pay a high price for a change. Try to suggest a change in the average church, and you’ll get an ugly business meeting where people refuse to repent before a holy God for making a mess of HIS church. We don’t need change for change’s sake. We need change that requires us to take a hard look at the Scriptures. God has not stuttered. We just aren’t listening.
In the average church, the stands are empty; the season ticket holders aren’t buying anymore. There are no tailgate parties because it’s not worth showing up for the service, which is cold, predictable, and boring.
The church I grew up in ran almost 600 in the 1960s. Today there might be 40 people in a facility that will hold 900. The church I served in college relocated to get away from people of color. They are growing, but I doubt if they’ve ever admitted they moved because of racism and their ungodly prejudice. The church I served in seminary is closed down, out of existence. The church I served in Texas had 1,578 my first Sunday on staff. Today they’d be lucky to have 200. A church in the city I live in now was running 1,000 in the 1970s. Today they have a facility that seats 1200, and they are running a few hundred.
Have I made my point? The church is one generation from the coffin, and we are whistling our way to the graveyard.
We don’t need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Jesus loves the church and died for the church. Honestly, the church in America doesn’t look like what I read in the book of Acts. Acts is supposed to be the norm, not the exception. If our churches are praying, repenting, changing, and adjusting to get back to Acts 2, someone needs to be fired. Someone needs to resign, or we need to start praying for funerals.
Here’s a thought. If the horse is dead, DISMOUNT! HIT YOUR KNEES! REPENT AND CRY OUT TO GOD BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.