Reversing the Church’s Decline

Any society which has explicitly or implicitly rejected the Ten Commandments is already in sharp decline. Reversing that decline will require radical action on the part of society’s most important institution, the Church. The Church must be stopped in its tracks, and go and find its Biblical foundations, all over again. That may take a generation or longer to accomplish, but otherwise we’ll just continue on the same old slippery slope to irrelevance, oblivion and judgment.

Church-Decline[1]The Old Testament prophets didn’t have an easy task going to Israel with their message from God. From Moses onwards, there wasn’t a lot of love lost towards them, because they were perennially confronting a nation determined to head into sin, idolatry and depravity. And when Jesus came with His message from God concerning the kingdom of heaven and His command to repent, despite the thousands of miraculous public healings, the resurrections from the dead and events such as the feeding of the five thousand, Israel found a way to have Him tried, condemned and executed.

What does this tell us? It’s a fact of human nature that people (including religious people), really don’t like being confronted and challenged to change. They very commonly find some way to either ignore the messenger, rationalise his message, or just get rid of him.

We cannot ignore human nature, for only God through Jesus Christ can change that. What we have to do is what prophets have always done: confront people with the perennial messages of repentance and the ethics of the kingdom of God. God requires the ethical faithfulness of His people to His covenant, but the wages of sin is death. There will be a lot more pain, if we don’t change, now.

Change has to begin somewhere, and it certainly can’t be nebulous, or merely a matter of good intentions. Noah and his sons needed a lot more than good intentions over 120 years, to build the ark. I believe change in the Church will have to begin with four things:

1)      A recognition that the 6-day Creation is foundational to the Church’s belief.

2)      A re-discovery of the importance of God’s covenant with His people.

3)      A re-appraisal of God’s law, and the absolute necessity of its application today.

4)      A tremendous growth in believers in personal, family and church responsibility.

All of this will require communication, discussion/debate and time. But the longer we leave it, the worse the Church and the world around us will get. The fate of the world for better or worse, is inextricably tied up with the state of the Church, because Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth…” and “You are the light of the world…” (Mat.5:13-14).

The decline of the Church for hundreds of years now has been very serious. God helping us, it won’t be terminal. We’re like men on the deck of a burning ship in a vast ocean, with no ship in sight, no means of communications with the world, and no life-rafts. If we can’t put these doctrinal and theological fires out, we’ll go under. Thus we have a great imperative to get moving and working for dramatic but constructive change for the better.

Of course, there would be a huge proportion of people today in the Church who would respond saying, “What’s the problem?” That approximates the attitude of Lot’s sons-in-law, when he told them of the impending destruction of Sodom (Gen.19:14).

We have to confront the sin, the compromise and the failures of the Church over many generations, for it’s been God Who has been smiting His Church and bringing us to so many humiliations of late. We cannot expect Him to relent in this process, until we get busy effecting serious change and reform.

And if there are some who would say. “Look Andrew, the Lord Jesus would never do that, because He loves us so much, and He only does good to His people,” I need to remind them of what the Bible says:

Who gave Jacob up for spoil, and Israel up to plunderers? Was it not the Lord, against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they were not willing to walk, and whose law they did not obey? So He poured out on him the heat of His anger and the fierceness of battle… (Isa.42:24-25).

And from the New Testament,

Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off (Ro.11:22).

Conclusion:

I’m fond of the saying attributed to the Chinese: Every great journey starts with a few small steps. If the Church will respond to God in repentance and obedience, and start the challenging but rewarding process of getting its house in order after so many years of decline, there is a hope and a future for us.

We would be foolish to leave this to those who are today’s leaders. The Reformation wasn’t begun by men who were part of the era’s status quo. Those who have led us into crisis, will be the last ones who know how to get us out of it. Thus there is a great individual responsibility on believers (as at all times), to take up the challenge of personal obedience and faithfulness to God.

Will each of us be a part of the problem or part of the solution?

A version of this column originally appeared in:

CPS will restore child services cut due to ‘misunderstanding’

Arizona child-welfare administrators plan to restore most services to children and parents in the coming weeks, saying an internal "misunderstanding" led them to inadvertently cut visitation and other standard programs.

New budget-tightening policies implemented over the past couple of months threatened to keep children in foster care longer and make it harder to reunite families, and they led agencies to lay off dozens of workers. The abrupt policy changes also delayed or reduced supervised visitation, parenting training, transportation and other services, in violation of court orders.

The state Department of Economic Security last week denied reports from service providers and its own internal memos obtained by The Arizona Republic that blamed program reductions on a multimillion-dollar budget shortfall within Child Protective Services.

On Friday, following a Republic story about the service cuts, DES Director Clarence Carter told a group of contractors and child-welfare advocates that he has reversed the policies and that most services will resume as soon as the changes are explained to CPS managers and new referrals are sent to providers, perhaps by next week.

Carter acknowledged that a "malfunction" led middle managers to go too far in reducing services, those attending the meeting said. Some agencies hadn't received referrals for family mentors, known as parent aides, in months.

"Unfortunately, a misunderstanding within the DES resulted in staff and providers believing that adjustments below historic norms were required," DES administrators said in a letter to service providers and a statement sent to The Republic. "That was not DES' intent and is not accurate.".

Non-profit agency administrators came to the Friday meeting armed with budget numbers and details about laid-off workers and waiting lists of families they were unable to serve whose children were in foster care. They said they were encouraged that Carter immediately acknowledged the problem and vowed to fix it.

"We were very glad for them to just come out and say that they made a mistake ... and they're going to correct it," said Emily Jenkins, president and CEO of the Arizona Council of Human Service Providers, which represents behavioral-health and child-welfare agencies.

CPS had drastically reduced the use of parent aides, who had been supervising most weekly visits between children and parents removed from their homes because of suspected abuse or neglect. Other reductions included services that help ease reunification when children move back home and those intended to keep children in their homes.

Regular visits are fundamental to reuniting families, and child-welfare experts said the service reductions and delays threatened to lengthen the time children stay in foster care and jeopardize their ability to return home or become legally available for adoption. The reductions also led some providers to lay off an estimated 40 to 50 workers.

"It's unfortunate that some people have already been laid off. And it's going to take some time to turn it around," Jenkins said.

The DES is projecting a $ 35million budget shortfall at CPS, about $ 27million of it because a growing number of foster children are being cared for in groups homes and crisis shelters, which costs the state up to four times as much as placing them with foster families.

Officials said last week that they will use $ 20million in federal block-grant funding to fill part of the gap.

The state has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of children in foster care this past year-- hitting a record 14,200 last month-- as worker caseloads continue to be two and three times state standards.

Service providers said they had notified the DES months ago that referrals for parent aides were outpacing the budget, as state officials tried to serve hundreds of parents who had been waiting for services ordered by judges in dependency court as conditions to reunite with their children. In Maricopa County, those referrals stopped abruptly in October, and in Pima County, they were cut by about two-thirds.

A new CPS policy required most new cases to go through the state-funded Families FIRST substance-abuse program so parents could begin treatment before other services were put in place. Now, parents will again be allowed to simultaneously start treatment and receive parent-aide services, including supervised visitation.

"What I'm hoping is that it meets the needs ... so we hear less from parents saying,' I haven't seen my kids in several months,'" said Ron Carpio, a vice president for TERROS, which runs Families FIRST in Maricopa County. "They have a right to see their kids.".

Anna Keating, a court-appointed special advocate who advises Juvenile Court judges about what foster children need and how they're doing, said her daughter was a parent aide until she was laid off last week.

"Looking at this from a purely financial perspective, I just can't imagine how something like this could happen, that you 'd have such gross miscommunication within an organization," said Keating, a former Honeywell financial officer. "That's the part that I find astonishing.".

Beyond the internal-communication problems, child-welfare advocates say more focus should be placed on child-abuse prevention and early intervention. Arizona is bucking a national trend of placing fewer children in foster care, and a shortage of foster homes here means more children will live in group homes and shelters.

Carter has requested an additional $ 50 million for the coming fiscal year, primarily for 200 new caseworkers and foster care and adoption funding to keep pace with projected growth.

"A 4-year-old should not be spending his second Christmas in a shelter because there's nowhere else for him to go," Jenkins said.