Another sad story of church stagnation. Faces lined with weary stubbornness dot the congregation. Numbers are depleted since our last visit a few years ago, but besides the smaller numbers, nothing has changed except the decorations in the church lobby. Knowing a little of the background of this once thriving church, I wonder what led to this sorry gathering called a “church service”.
I think it’s unwillingness to change.
From my perch at the beginning of the 21st century, it seems obvious to say that the last 100 years have brought more change to the world that any previous century in time. Speed and frequency of communication transmit ideas and trends lightning fast and then discard many of them just as rapidly. Our culture is constantly morphing to adjust to new information, new public personalities, new interest groups.
Many churches, however, remain untouched by changes in the world around them. Although a church’s position on various issues may have been relevant when it began fifty years ago, that position now looks like a museum relic in the culture of today. Few outside of the “faithful remnant” can connect with this church’s emphasis on issues of a bygone era. It has lost its relevance and therefore its true mission. Proudly people sing of the “Ol’ Time Religion” and think it equals suits, slow hymns and seventeeth century English.
Let’s take time for a reality check. The timeless truths of historic Christianity have nothing to do with what we wear, what style of music we prefer, or the archaic suffixes we add to our verbs. Biblical doctrine is far more robust than many give it credit for. Substitutionary atonement and the sovereignty of God apply equally to Wall Street, to outback Australia, and to urban squalor in south-east Asia. The transforming power of the Bible and the Holy Spirit is not tethered to anyone’s culture. Truth is for all people.
So what does this have to do with church stagnation? My observation is that leaders in many of the tired churches I have visited are unwilling to listen to others. They made their stand decades ago and consider change to be sinful compromise. They don’t realise that being teachable connects intrinsically with growth.
How can we cultivate a culture of growth in the church? The foremost requirement is a spirit of humility and inquiry that says, “I’m willing to change for the sake of the gospel in my community.” Paul explained this thinking in 1 Corinthians 9:18-23: “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.”
Given that foundational attitude of meekness and flexibility, here are a few questions to help us evaluate how well we are encouraging a teachable spirit within the church.
1. Are we encouraging each other to read widely and to discuss what we read?
2. Are church leaders seeking input from the congregation about what the church needs? Not just an obligatory vote in a business meeting of the congregation—we need to have real and prayerful discussions about genuine needs. Do church leaders feel threatened when approached by a church member about a need in the church? Do church members feel that their suggestions are being prayerfully considered?
3. Are we praying openly and regularly for God to lead the church in the direction that He is working? Is it possible that some churches are so tenacious about their “stand” on culture issues that God has moved on and they don’t even know it? May it never be said of us that “ICHABOD” is written over our church door!
4. Do we get involved in inter-church fellowships? Do such fellowship meetings involve sharing of ideas and testimonies of how God is working?
5. Do we fellowship outside of our “safe” circle. Do we really think God is only working in churches that are just like ours? What would happen if we encouraged attendance at conferences outside our circle?
Join the discussion and add your ideas about how we can foster a teachable spirit in our churches.