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Series Theme:  Learning to Pray for the Church

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                        PART TWO: Understanding Church Life


In this Part we will consider

2.1 Five common undermining aspects of observable church life,

2.2 The Leaving Phenomenon,

2.3 The State of Church and its people,

2.4 Vibrant Christianity Churches

2.5 Church and Change


I 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.



2.1 Five Common Undermining Aspects of Church Life (common features to be watched for)


Whereas 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.


1. 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 be so.


2. 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.


3. 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.


4. 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.


5. 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 different criteria:

  i) the ability of the church to listen to God for His plans for it
  ii) 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).



2.2 The Leaving Phenomenon


2.2.1 Why Leavers Leave


Above 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.


i) Legitimate Reasons:

Adequate 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.


A 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).


ii) Concerning Reasons:

The 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:


i) Intellectual – church not giving satisfactory answers to questions in the mind of the believer,
ii) Spiritual – church not satisfying their yearning for more of God and a more spiritual expression of the body together,
iii) 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,
iv) 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 individual),
v) Moral – questions are raised over ethical decisions made by church leadership as well as failure of leadership to communicate.


An Aside:

Because 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 dealt with.


For a group to have a genuine caring role, the following three things need to be put in place:

i) the message to the group has to be, “YOU are the most important feature of this group,” and
ii) clear safeguarding guidelines are laid down (e.g. “what is personally shared in this group stays within the group”)
iii) a balanced theology brought of who we are (redeemed children of God who nevertheless still get it wrong sometimes – see 1 Jn 2:1),


When 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. 


2.2.2 A Danger for Leavers:


I never thought I would ever say this, but having watched a number of individuals dropping out of church life, I have concluded the following:

•  ‘some church' is better than ‘no church',

•  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 generally.

•  ‘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.


2.2.3 Remainers:


Once 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:


i) Intellectual – teaching needs to include apologetic material – see ‘Intellectual Conflicts' in Part 1.
ii) 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.
iii) 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 church.
iv) Relational – relationships need opportunities to grow through teaching (bringing awareness) and opportunity (within the gatherings of the church).
v) Ethical – will only be countered by openness and accountability.


Comments: Within this framework note:

i) Without prayer (which turns us toward God) any attempt to deal with these areas of concern will be purely humanistic and doomed to fail.

ii) 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.



2.3 States of the Church & its People


A 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.”


Whether 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.



2.4 Key Facets of Vibrant Christianity Churches


The 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):


2.4.1 Strong biblical emphasis

- biblical doctrine has a high profile and is taught and followed,

- godly boundaries & practices can be maintained, built on the Bible.


2.4.2 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.

2.4.3 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.


2.4.4 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.



2.5 Church & Change


2.5.1 The Experience


Where 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 out.


2.5.2 The Means

These changes take place by a combination of the impartation of:

a) the word of God (preached and prophesied) and 
b) the Spirit of God (taught and applied) 


a) The Word of God


There 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.


Preaching 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 to grow.


Prophecy 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'.


b) The Spirit of God


The 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]




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