PART TWO: Understanding Church Life
this Part we will consider
Five common undermining aspects of observable church life,
The Leaving Phenomenon,
The State of Church and its people,
Vibrant Christianity Churches
Church and Change
have a request before you move into this Part. Please do not read
it unless you will first commit yourself to pray for the Church.
In assessing the Church it is too easy to take on a critical spirit
but, as we've already said, if God is stirring a holy discontent
within you it is for you to pray. The content of this Part is
not to provide ammunition to criticize any local church; it is
to provide fuel to enable you to pray with knowledge and understanding.
Five Common Undermining Aspects of Church Life (common
features to be watched for)
these things may be present in part or total in any one local
church, we should emphasize that these aspects and fruitfulness
are not mutually exclusive. The God who can use an ass to speak
to a wayward prophet and use apparent pagan astrologers to herald
the arrival of His Son, will nevertheless still move in an imperfect
church (as Paul's letters to Corinth show). These five aspects
have the potential to thwart or hinder the work and will of God
through His Spirit, and as such we should be aware of them and
pray against them.
The Transient Church
In the 21st century a common feature of church life (different
from say 100 years ago) is that people often move between churches,
never staying long, rarely committing.
some surveys have suggested that in some churches annual turnover
can be as high as 60-80%. We'll consider reasons in a moment.
It may not be that for you in the short-term but consider locally
in the long-term and more often than not, it does often tend to
The Over-busy Church
reflecting the Affluence/Materialistic pressures we considered
previously, members attendance becomes sporadic, and such members
affected by this are rarely committed to the goals of the church
and therefore activity is by a small core only.
The Hard-Core Resistance Church
there is often a hard core who have been there for generations
who dislike change and want the church to be comfortable and static,
their ultimate unbelief acts as a stronghold of resistance to
faith and to the movement of the Holy Spirit,
they probably serve and are seen as power-brokers and therefore
it is difficult for leaders seeking to move a church on to break
through and bring change.
The Ritualistic Church
a ritual is “a
series of actions performed according to a prescribed order.”
ritual, liturgy, call it what you will, is intended to act as
a support system to ensure ongoing recognition of important truths
which otherwise may get lost in the ordinariness of life.
the danger of ritual (and ‘free churches' that follow the same
format week by week are ritualistic) is threefold. First, familiarity
dulls the meaning and after a while it is performance without
meaning. Second, ritual can hinder the freedom of the Holy Spirit
to guide and direct a church. Third, ritual can replace God at
the heart of our meetings if we are not careful.
The Activities Church
this is even more subtle than 4 above in that activity can be
a sign of life, especially when it is reaching out to the community,
but that is its danger,
a church full of activity can apparently be a success, and yet
‘success' in New Testament terms is measured, I believe, by two
the ability of the church to listen to God for His plans
the ability of the church to obey what God says.
the activities church can, therefore, actually be godless.
if prayer – and revelation flowing out of prayer – have not been
a crucial foundation for everything that goes on in the church,
it is quite probable that it is a human-centred business,
even though those activities may appear to bear some measure of
fruit, it will lack the blessing of heaven and fall short of glorifying
God (by glorifying men).
The Leaving Phenomenon
Why Leavers Leave
we have noted the fact that today's church is often transient
and so now we want to consider why people leave a local church.
Reasons for leaving can be either legitimate or concerning.
or genuinely good reasons for leaving the local church may be
either that the individuals are moving on to serve God in some
other place or capacity, or very simply their jobs require them
to relocate elsewhere in the country.
less legitimate reason is that the leavers go because they do
not want to be committed in their faith (if they have it) and
they find pressures in the present ethos that makes them feel
uncomfortable. They simply move to somewhere more comfortable.
Perhaps in such a case there may be a failure to teach that progress
for the individual is gradual and that we are all at different
stages in our walk with God, and it is all right to be at the
place where you are (recognizing that God yet has more for each
of us if we're open to it).
following are other reasons for leaving that should give us cause
for concern, reasons that negatively cause people to move on,
and a little further on we will consider actions that need to
be taken to remedy these things:
Intellectual – church not giving satisfactory answers to questions
in the mind of the believer,
Spiritual – church not satisfying their yearning for more of God
and a more spiritual expression of the body together,
Emotional – they may have been going through a personal crisis
that no one seems to understand or care about, and there is no
caring structure within the church,
Relational – relationships may be shallow, friendships few, and
there is an absence of support and caring network (e.g. House
Groups focus on the ‘spiritual' and seem to care little for the
Moral – questions are raised over ethical decisions made by church
leadership as well as failure of leadership to communicate.
this does so often appear to arise, before we move on I would
wish us to slip in here something further to my comments above
about House Groups or Home Groups. Having observed such groups
in a number of situations, it often appears that such a group
(with the best of intentions) simply focuses on prayer and Bible
reading, both legitimate and essential exercises within ‘church'.
However when this happens there tends to be a sense of being in
a rut, often an unreal ‘super-spiritual' rut where real personal
issues are not able to be faced, brought out into the open and
a group to have a genuine caring role, the following three things
need to be put in place:
the message to the group has to be, “YOU are the most important
feature of this group,” and
clear safeguarding guidelines are laid down (e.g. “what is personally
shared in this group stays within the group”)
a balanced theology brought of who we are (redeemed children of
God who nevertheless still get it wrong sometimes – see 1 Jn 2:1),
this happens, a sense of security is generated where people can
feel safe enough to share what they are genuinely going through
without any sense of condemnation, and which enables care and
prayer to be shared. It is when this does not happen that, when
people experience a crisis, they have a sense of unreality and
can withdraw from both the group and maybe even the church.
A Danger for Leavers:
never thought I would ever say this, but having watched a number
of individuals dropping out of church life, I have concluded the
‘some church' is better than ‘no
those who step out often get
side-tracked by life and don't return despite their original
intentions, and that has negative outworkings in their lives
‘out of church' means out of the
‘resource area' of spiritual life,
we take for granted the spiritual
strength gained from worship, prayer, fellowship, preaching
etc. and when we drop them, very often a weakness or spiritual
lethargy takes over, again despite their original intentions.
out of church means more vulnerable
to further enemy attacks.
the above effects mean such
people become vulnerable to the storms of life. Jesus' parable
of the two house builders (Mt 7:24-27) applies to believer,
unbeliever and the person who has stepped away. It is a general
truth applicable to all.
we become aware of these things, prayer is obviously the first
thing but action is also required (and needs praying into being)
to counter or prevent or help prevent ‘leavers' dropping away:
Intellectual – teaching needs to include apologetic material –
see ‘Intellectual Conflicts' in Part 1.
Spiritual – a new teaching on the life and experience of the Holy
Spirit should pave the way for an openness and yearning for Him
to come and to be experienced by all, so that all can feel fulfilled
in their role within the body of Christ.
Emotional – pastoral strategies (best seen, I believe, within
a house group context, as above) need implementing alongside general
caring teaching & a counselling provision established in the
Relational – relationships need opportunities to grow through
teaching (bringing awareness) and opportunity (within the gatherings
of the church).
Ethical – will only be countered by openness and accountability.
Within this framework
Without prayer (which turns us toward God) any attempt to deal
with these areas of concern will be purely humanistic and doomed
The danger to avoid is focusing on these changes as the
primary need, but the primary need is to turn the heart
and experience of the Church back to God. HE is the primary need
and should be the primary focus. When that occurs, wisdom, grace
etc. flows in fresh measure. This takes us back to our Introductory
comments about Jesus being our focus, our Lord.
States of the Church & its People
2017 survey suggested that 83% of Christians don't have ‘a biblical
worldview', i.e. only 17% believe that “absolute
moral truth exists, the Bible is totally accurate in all of the
principles it teaches, Satan is considered to be a real being
or force, not merely symbolic, a person cannot earn their way
into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works, Jesus Christ
lived a sinless life on earth, and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful
creator of the world who still rules the universe today.”
that is true or not, the challenge remains, how many of our people,
genuinely hold a biblical perspective or world-view and, as we
started out by asking in the Introduction with the Leonard Sweet
quote, how many translate that perspective into a full-blown Christian
life? How you feel about the following section probably gives
an answer to that, as well as your responses to the questions
in the Introduction.
Key Facets of Vibrant Christianity Churches
following are four suggested characteristics of churches aligned
with the Bible and genuinely open to the Spirit that reflect vibrant
life. For there to be vibrant life, it is suggested that all four
of these following characteristics will be clearly visible and
could be easily picked up by anyone visiting (that is
a good measure of their reality):
Strong biblical emphasis
biblical doctrine has a high profile and is taught and followed,
godly boundaries & practices can be maintained, built on the
Strong friendship & caring
teaching & structures work toward bringing about strong friendships
across the church, avoidance of cliques, with an obvious caring
and counselling ministry built into the life of the church.
Strong charismatic emphasis
teaching is underpinned at every level by the recognition that
the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is available for every
believer. Prayer and ministry encourage people to be filled and
to flow in the Spirit.
Strong outward looking emphasis
teaching and empowering takes place to enable members of the body
to express their unique gifting to bless the church and the world
outside, which in turn opens up evangelistic opportunities.
Church & Change
there is spiritual life flowing (see above), and IF it flows,
then there will be constant changes taking place:
individuals responding to the preached word of God or the released
prophetic word, and lives being released, transformed & being
filled with the Spirit,
healings and deliverance possibly experienced,
fresh guidance and direction given by God for individuals and
the ongoing movement of the church, including ways of reaching
changes take place by a combination of the impartation of:
the word of God (preached and prophesied) and
the Spirit of God (taught and applied)
The Word of God
are moves around the Church to undermine ‘preaching' yet preaching
has historically been the primary way (outside ‘revival') that
conviction comes, hearts are changed, and lives are transformed.
touches the heart
and the will and brings about internal heart change that is seen
in external behaviour change. I
repeat, authoritative preaching
brings conviction, hearts are changed, lives are transformed.
Authoritative preaching touches
the heart and the will and brings about internal heart change
that is seen in external behaviour change. (When you see it you
know it) Preaching stirs life into being, and challenges life
brings a sense of
God's presence, His knowledge, His love, His care, His purposes
for us and it strengthens, builds up, comforts and encourages.
Prophecy brings a ‘now' sense of God's purposes
that releases and envisions people for ‘a new day'.
The Spirit of God
greatest danger is using words about the Spirit, and
indeed apparently inviting the Spirit, but where He is grieved
by disobedient lives or lives that have lost their first love
(Rev 2:4), He will not manifest His presence, either in the general
gathering or in individuals. He comes where there is complete
obedience (see Acts 5:32) and hunger. [the exception to this is
in times of clear revival]