Thursday, September 22, 2016

What many Christians don't know about church

Do you know what’s one of the hardest concepts for many congregants to grasp? From the leadership to your marginalized, from the new families to those who have been with your congregation from day one -- it’s the fact that “your” church isn’t yours & it’s not about you. This is an incredibly difficult truth for most church folks to internalize.

In fact, for those who tightly control others, it’s downright frightening to think church isn’t about them. If you doubt this, just sit in someone else’s pew. Better yet, voice an unpopular perspective, or encourage people to step out in faith.

We easily get settled into the “way” we do church, we can get too comfortable with “how” we make adjustments, and eventually we forget that church is about submitting to Jesus & reaching those who have yet to meet Him. Church participation is a sacrificial act, meaning, you set aside yourself to pursue serving Jesus and you give up your preferences to better reach others. Simply put, this notion that church isn’t about you is discipleship 101.

As a christian, you don’t ever give up your personality or turn into a cookie-cutter robotic zombie. But, as believers we are called to die to self, to spread the good news, and together we pursue spiritual maturity. Sadly, many people who start out on the road to salvation take a personal detour away from the path of maturity because they are blinded by their concerns.

Maybe this is why churches plateau and decline? It could be that when we become inward focused (concentrating on our agendas and wanting our needs met) that we forget about serving our Lord and Master and we lose sight of our God-given goal of reaching people who are lost without Jesus. Where does this lead us?

When children get nervous they often chew their nails, adolescents get fidgety, and when adults get nervous, they often make bad choices. When we lose sight of the fact that church isn’t about us (sadly to the exclusion of others) we tend to lose our focus in other areas as well. Some of the fallout from this misdirection results in a heightened sense of anxiety within a congregation. At that point, many people no longer let faith guide them.

What happens when churches make choices based on our fears instead of faith? We go from making sacrificial choices (i.e., dying to self & actually reaching others) to hunkering down in survival mode. And what happens when the outlook grows bleaker and bleaker as our anxiety chokes out our ability to be optimistic? People sink deeper into their fears, and at that point stocking church restrooms with single-ply TP becomes the least of your problems.

When churches give into their anxiety, they forfeit the assurance which faith and only faith can deliver. Often times just like chewing your nails is a manifestation of being nervous, this congregational anxiety shows up in cocooning, conflict, and finger pointing. Until...

Until a church dies. Or better yet before that happens, at least one person, or hopefully a few individuals, feel called to take a stand for an authentic expression of faith, for trusting God at His word, to believe that God is in control -- not the obstacles we face.

Is it easy to shine a light on darkness? No. Satan will fight you tooth & nail, along with lazy people, mean-hearted people, and selfish people -- all who will try to stand in your way too.

Following faith as your North star instead of giving into your fears (fears are the biggest roadblock to true progress) is the big difference between people who choose to take God at His word and those who want the “rose garden” version of the “name it & claim it” false gospel of comfort & convenience. You can’t claim to be faithful if you are led by fear. When fear steers your decisions, faith takes a backseat. So, what can be done about this?

Churches need to be revitalized, frequently. But this requires trust. If you cut off the supply of freshwater to a pond, creek, or river, it stagnates it. Just like a gene pool becomes unhealthy from inbreeding, we in our churches need a greater diversity to have a healthier community. We need people to gather in the name of Christ who can disagree on non-essential ideas, but who enjoy unity on the major important Biblical truths. And just like a tree or a rosebush grows better by being pruned, sometimes churches grow better when old ideas/programs/perspectives are shed, stripped away, and removed for new growth.

A healthy congregation only thrives when it serves Jesus, reaches lost people, follows faith while suppressing fears, and encourages an exchange of ideas from a wider spectrum of views. Just like a tumor can metastasize, unchecked anxieties will grow and spread, and fear can stop the beating heart of any congregation.

“[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” [6] And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:5-8 ESV)


Bob Schlessman said...

Well put Craig. But on the other hand, we as ministers need to be cautious about challenging our congregations too forcefully when it comes to their traditions and perceptions about "church". There is a delicate balance between doing so in love and opening their eyes to the "sacred cows" and pushing to the point of causing them to shut us out. One of the toughest issues I dealt with in my few years as minister was pushing too much change too quickly. I found it difficult to temper my enthusiasm for progress with being sensitive to others reasons for resisting change. It was frustration over some of these very issues that brought me to the decision to retire from ministry early.

Craig Cottongim said...

Well said Bob. It is a tough balance and requires a lot of love. Thanks for your great feedback bro!