I was asked to write an article recently entitled "What are the factors which turn people off church leadership and serious involvement in the life of the local church?" Here is part 1.
What factors turn off notionally believing people from serious and significant involvement in the life of the local church? I think the answers are varied and complex. Would that there was a single cure-all! The busyness of living in a fast moving world, the pressure put on weekends of families living at a distance, multiple leisure options competing for attention, a sense that family activity comes before church, the seductions of money. We don't have to think hard to identify any number of things. Jesus said in Mark 4 that there are plenty of kinds of soil in which seed takes root for a little while but which are ultimately barren.
I want to start with four foundational questions:
- Do people know God?
- Do they grasp that the gospel is all of grace?
- Do they know what the Church is?
Are they growing as disciples or have they somehow stalled?
Do People Know God?
My wife and I were leading a Christian holiday on which I preached through Philippians. During the week I had an alarming number of questions that went like this: "there is lots of joy in God in Philippians and none in my life. Does that mean something is wrong?" Yes it does! In each case I tried to find out what it was. I asked everyone who commented the following questions and received the corresponding answers:
- What kind of church do you attend? Answer – a good Bible teaching one
- Why do you read the Bible? Answer – for knowledge about God
- Do you ever take time in your schedule to simply adore God and his Christ? Answer – no, in all cases
How would you describe your worship life? Answer – all my dutiful acts of obedience offered to God
My conclusion was that I had met people who had received lots of information about God, conceded that the evidence was sound and intellectually credible, but who had identified that mental assent to the facts of the gospel with being a Christian and knowing God. (And, worryingly, equated this with good Bible teaching).
If I had asked a fifth question it would have been: have you been converted? My justification for doing so would be that I don't think you can say "I have no joy in God in my life, I have never known anything like that" and be certain that you are a Christian. If people genuinely know God, are thrilled by what he has done for them and want to discover what he wants for their life then they can't say that. And those who know him are likely to be straining at the bit to get stuck in with God's people. By contrast if they aren't getting stuck in we need to question if something is foundationally wrong, or ask what message they think they have responded to.