Most professing evangelicals in North America are biblically and doctrinally illiterate. It's therefore not surprising that there is virtually no difference between the "churched" and the "unchurched" in terms of values and lifestyle. We're learning the hard way that "deeds" cannot live long without "creeds"—that you can't have the fruit without the tree. And you can't have a healthy and fruitful tree unless it's "planted by streams of water." As long as we are living in this present age, the church will always be "called out" to belong to Christ in the power of the Spirit who works through his Word. The "way of the righteous" will always be a stream in the desert—not out of this world, but a different environment where strange trees grow. Disciples experience many things and do many things, but first and foremost they are recipients of many things—especially, of the gospel story from Genesis to Revelation that creates and sustains our faith, fuels our hope, and produces the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, and peace. "He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither."
The importance of Bible teaching, preaching, reading, meditation cannot be underestimated.
At first glance, many churches seem fine. They advertise themselves as "Christ centered" and "Bible believing." There is a lot of activity for all ages, always something new for the weekly announcements. Yet upon closer inspection, they are frequently taken up with other concerns, more urgent operations to make themselves relevant, meaningful, and important in the community. The ministry of Word and Sacrament instituted by Christ in Scripture is subordinate to myriad ministries and programs created by our own ingenuity. There's always something to do for Jesus, but what's often lost is the work that Jesus did—and still does—for us.
Pastors, you can have thousands of people pass through your doors. You can sell millions of books promising how to have meaning, happiness, better relationships, and control over your finances, your family, and your personal well-being. You can have the town's most coveted campus, organ, choir, praise band, or youth ministry. You can have lots of people engaged in spiritual disciplines or participating in evangelistic and social outreach in the community. Yet if the proclamation of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments, teaching, and corporate discipline are not the "core values" of a church's mission statement, then it isn't a church. The Great Commission, not our own strategic plans, determines what constitutes a true church. Otherwise, it's just another self-help group, spiritual mall, entertainment center, or community service agency.