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Remedy for a Sleepy Church

My wife Karen and I witnessed Mike & Kristen Shaul get married this morning. It was a beautiful wedding set on a romantic desert island off the coast of Mexico. The whole thing was quite striking: well dressed people in bare feet on the white sand, azure ocean in the background. Afterward w…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
My wife Karen and I witnessed Mike & Kristen Shaul get married this morning. It was a beautiful wedding set on a romantic desert island off the coast of Mexico. The whole thing was quite striking: well dressed people in bare feet on the white sand, azure ocean in the background. Afterward we were worn out & ready for a nap. That soporific feeling reminded me of church.

85% of US churches are declining in attendance, while 15% are increasing through transfer growth. Yes, the Church in America is sick – its foundations are gradually corroding. It looks healthy if we view it with our natural eyes. Physical blessings abound. We smile at one another on Sundays. For a two-hour period at the end of the week, we listen to a sermon, then we climb into our air conditioned mini vans and return to lives that we’ve crammed so full of activity, noise and stuff that we can barely hear ourselves think much less God speak.
As a church we’ve been seduced into worshiping a God whose primary values are comfort and blessing. Yet the God of Scripture promises us only discipline and sacrifice. While we seek blessing and protection from pain, pain and persecution are exactly what he promises us.
In short, our paradigm of church is broken.

Sadly, it seems the church is asleep and most of us, once we’re asleep, prefer to stay that way. We prefer the comfort of bed. Think of the townspeople listening to Paul Revere’s warnings. While the enemy is still at a distance on the outskirts of town, the call to a state of alertness is unpleasant in the ears of the hearer. But that does not make the threat any less pressing.

If we’re to awaken a sleeping church, a heavy dose of reality is in order. I recommend a short-term mission trip. A good one can be like a slap in the face to a comfortable person. It can shock a person into awareness of the reality of the battle being waged all around them.

Addressing the problem of a sleepy church is radical. The word “radical” literally means “root” and by throwing Christians into battle, we are returning them to their roots, the roots that Jesus established when he sent out his disciple on a short-term mission trip in Matthew 10.

The contemporary paradigm of church arranges ministry around a central weekly message. But 1 Cor. 2:4-5 says, “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Teaching is a spiritual gift, but more teaching is not the remedy for what ails us. 2 Timothy 3 warns against “Always learning, but never being able to acknowledge the truth.” That kind of ministry, it says, “Has a form of godliness but denies its power.” What we need is a heavy dose of action to back up all the talk.

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Comments (4)

  • When Seth says “church” I think his definition is the incorporated non-profit organization that exists on the corner in an owned or rented building that meets at a minimum on Sunday.

    And I agree whole heartedly with his feelings here. Sometimes I wonder if the bias of the church towards relationship and fellowship has killed it, basically a twisted sense of community, ie a country club style of community.

    If I want to have relationship/fellowship in my community then of course I want my community to be like me. And “me” is a redeemed, non-offensive, seemingly righteous kind of person. This is the American demographic imperative, and so with the pastoral gift as the gift in charge of the church 99.99% of the time, an ivory tower is built with an attractive non-offensive yet nearly impregnable wall.

    But what if community was built by process instead of relationship, or at least what if process was the structure of community, and relationship was the drywall, paint, and comfy furniture of community.

    But what kind of process or processes? For one, we need a process that makes sure that the messy people not of our demographic are part of our community whether they are inside our outside of those attractive walls that the “pastoral gift in charge model” has built over the past decades.
    And this process should include not being motivated by bring them into that church. Maybe it is enough for them that they enter into God’s Kingdom and meet with you every week over coffee. Did the angel’s in heaven rejoice more or less with this outcome?

    And maybe just maybe Seth’s implicit definition of church isn’t enough. Maybe we should talk about other models that can be church.

  • I just happen to come across this post looking for a picture of a couch potato and had to stop and read it. I don’t know who you are but I know this… I have been struggling lately with the decision to either continue my service to God as part of the congregation where I currently attend or moving to another a mile away. The key struggle: I feel like I have been subdued into a role of teacher of doctrine instead of teacher of God. Not that the leaders will say this but there is little support for work outside of the congregation. I have been offered a lay leadership position at another church where the vision is much larger and the work is being done with much more passion. But, I am very rooted in my current role (family, friends, etc) and am wondering if my new ministry is “hanging in there” at my current church until I can affect true change. You post (even though it’s from 2005) applies accurately and directly to my current feelings. I’d appreciate your prayers and thoughts. Thanks

  • we need the Spirit of revelation to hit the church.
    our local body is learning but the majority has not “acknowledged the truth”. regardless of how we appear, i do not feel the power coming through a godly, lovesick church. i just want them to get it, to be transformed, even though the Father had His (somewhat recent) specific timing for me to “get it”. surely it can’t be forced or manufactured, but there must be ways of getting people going the right direction, no?
    what else can i do besides pray and live this out personally?

  • Yes,I agree. A short-term mission trip to a third world country would bring to most Christians a good dose of reality. I myself can speak from experience as I took a trip to Russia to minister to needy orphans. My first response to going there was one of utter fear, having been in the military defending our allied countries against the former communist country of the Soviet Union now called Russia. Once I got past my fears with God’s help, I could brave the obstacles that so hindered me before. The people there were so open and friendly to us Americans, and were so glad we came so far to their needy country. This place will always leave a lasting impression on my heart. We have so much in America, but the most we have is a faith in a God who cares so much for the lost in the vast darkness. Willing hearts is what God asks for.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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