My church has just gone through an involuntary downsizing. No heresy or gross immorality was committed (though petty immoralities abounded). Half the members of my small group now attend other churches. I have heard the cause of the spiritual blood-spilling described as "disagreements over management style"—a partly true but pathetic excuse considering all the severed relationships.
I am not the only one on CT's hallway whose Christian life is preoccupied with church issues. One editor is in the middle of a congregational conflict over one of its outreach ministries. Another has recently survived one of those exhausting reinventing-the-wheel debates about whether they really need a pastor.
If CT were to ask evangelical leaders to name the key problems confronting the church (which we regularly do), we would hear of secularism, paganism, intellectual pluralism, consumerism, the "culture of death," and so on. And it is no accident that we address these topics often in CT. But one area that would not be on the list would be that very thing that has preoccupied me and many others: the imperfect way the local church embodies Christian ideals—how we spend hours debating nonessentials and call it "ministry," how we let personality conflicts smother the church's other work, or how we too easily justify doing and saying nasty things to our fellow believers. The local church can get ugly. I know.
This gap between an abstracted list of problems that plague the whole church and what many experience in their local churches bothers me. To bridge this gulf, we occasionally undertake what I call "churchly reporting." This issue's cover story, "Why Pastor Steve Loves His Job" (which begins on p. 13), is a good example. David Goetz, ...1