This is a recent article I was invited to contribute to the FIEC leaders' journal. Part 2 to follow.
Several months ago I was on a train which came to an abrupt and terminal stop. We waited for half an hour before the announcement: “ladies and gentlemen please disembark as there is a large hole in the fuel tank.” This became obvious from the overpowering smell of diesel that hit us as soon as we were outside. I liked being on the train. It was comfortable and they served refreshments. But it wasn’t going anywhere and from inside it was impossible to see why.
Sometimes churches stall and it isn’t always easy to tell from the inside what is wrong. But you don’t necessarily have to know what is wrong to know that something is wrong. When a stall occurs one common option is to look at superficial things like style of services or meeting times. It is rare to find a church daring enough to ask if there might be a more foundational hole in the fuel tank.
Here are five common spiritual reasons churches stall. Five more to come next time.
1. The church forgets who we are and what we are for. 1 Peter says that we are a royal priesthood (who we are) for declaring God’s greatnesses to the world (what we are for). Put simply, the purpose of the church is to go into all the world, making disciples of Jesus, baptising them and teaching them to obey everything He commanded. When we forget that we are the community of disciples for declaring God’s greatness and making disciples mission quickly becomes just one among many activities rather than the defining vision of who we are as a community
2. The majority of believers are no longer thrilled with the Lord and what He is doing in their lives. When questions like “what is God doing with you at the moment” cease to be common currency it is sure sign of creeping spiritual mediocrity. When a large percentage of believers are spiritually stalled, the church stalls too. This commonly happens when people attach themselves to a fellowship because they like the activities and the warm company, but never commit themselves to gospel vision, either because it isn’t explained to them or they have no commitment to it. Woe betide the church that lets people join and take significant responsibility for decisions without being sure that they are wholeheartedly committed to the church’s vision
3. The people get happy with not going anywhere because of the comfort and refreshments on offer. Worse still when people get happy with activities, events, service and even good teaching and preaching but are resistant to challenges to radical living and sacrifice for the gospel. In my view the single biggest cause of stalled churches in the UK is the belief that material comfort can be normative for Christians. It is the opposite of radical commitment to Christ
4. When filler-Christians who have no real commitment to gospel vision out number the core of committed believers who do. A filler-Christian adds up everything else they need and want to do for the rest of the week, sees how many hours are left and allocate a certain number of them to church things. They see church as one among many leisure activities, usually low down the priority list. They are unlikely to see the Christian community as God’s great hope for the world and unlikely to put commitment above self-interest
5. When a large percentage of the church are used to being passive receivers of ministry from other people rather than being active self-feeders on the Word of God. It is remarkably easy to persuade ourselves that we have done the spiritual bit for the week because we have listened to a sermon but with no thought about acting on it. Where people take no personal responsibility for their own spiritual growth a stalled church becomes more likely