Friday, August 5, 2011

Pride and Complacency at Church

I rarely post on others' blogs and articles, though not because I think their ideas unworthy or my ideas superior. When I do, it's because the something that author said that kicked me in the teeth or at least resonated with me. This is one such article:

I'm one person with limited experience, and not an ecclesiologist. But I've seen symptoms and consequences of what Thom S. Rainer speaks of all too frequently over 3 or 4 decades (i.e. not just one particular church).

So-called success in local church ministry often creates a sense of self-sufficiency. “Look what we’ve done,” some members may say or think. “We have truly become a great church,” others may opine. But self-sufficiency is the opposite of God-dependency. And when church members and leaders lean on their own strength and understanding, they are headed down a dangerous path.

Hubris often manifests itself in the idolatry of ministries, programs, or preferred styles of worship. Those ministries that were once a means to the end of glorifying God become ends in themselves. Inevitably the church will experience conflict when any leader attempts to change or discard those ministries, programs, or worship styles. They have been become idols. They represent in the minds of some the accomplishments of the church rather than just an instrument to glorify God.

Likewise, hubris comes to church because we enjoy the accolades of others. We believe that we are as great as others say we are. We like the recognition. We enjoy the attention. We forget the Author of all good things in our church.

Ouch! On multiple levels!

Been in a “growing” church, a “successful” church? Have you (I!) checked to see if the supposed “growth” or “success” is consistent with how Scripture defines growth and success?

Got an edifice complex? Is your ministry really your kingdom? Do you equate your taste in worship with what is pleasing to God? Have you put your pastor on a pedestal?

Rainer puts his finger squarely on the root of this multi-symptom problem. Self-sufficiency. At best, we are so busy doing good things that we have neglected the One Who is supposed to be the reason for doing good things and the power to do good things! Sound like an ultra-modern problem? Hardly! Go check out Revelation 2:1-7. Sound familiar? The church of Ephesus was doing lots of good stuff, but the One they were supposed to be serving got lost in their busyness.

Rainer's article doesn't offer a hopeless fatalistic vision:

The presence of hubris in a church often leads to the stages of irrelevance and death. But such a downward spiral is not inevitable. When a church seems to be experiencing its best days of growth and community impact, its members and leaders should constantly be asking themselves questions. “Are we proud of our accomplishments?” “Have we implicitly given glory to ourselves rather than to God?” “Would we be willing to let go of anything in our church, even if it has become a sacred cow for many members?” “Do we compare our church to others with some level of pride?” “Have activities replaced prayer and time in the Word?”

Those are some very good diagnostic questions. Here's a few I would add:

  • Who am I serving in what I do in my church congregation?

  • With whose power am I serving?

  • Am I serving “the people” or individual persons?

  • Am I motivated by love for God or something worthy, but still less?

  • Am I growing in my love and knowledge of God? Or are those getting crowded out by doing things?

Self-diagnostic questions are valuable, but not an end in themselves. If your honest answers are “right”, that's no ground for … pride. If one has been honest, the answers showed areas that could be improved. In this life, there is always room for spiritual growth. But what if the honest answers revealed problems? The “easy” answer is, “Seek God!” And it's a correct answer. As Jesus counseled the church at Ephesus, “return to our first love”. Spend time in the word; spend time in prayer. Invest ourselves in our relationship with God. God won't turn us away!

At the same time, be practical! Don't let destructive attitudes and practices demolish your church. Trying to fix things has its own risk, but not playing Lone Ranger can mitigate some of the risks. Working together is a good idea … you know … like members of the Body of Christ. Seek God for a vision of what things to focus on, toward what purposes. And work toward those goals, with love of God and of His people moving and tempering what you do and how you do it. There is no guarantee everyone will like the changes, but even a smaller church that is growing spiritually is … growing ... and truly succeeding. Let doing flow from relationship, not supplant relationship.

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