Archive - February, 2011

maturity? God permitting.

65% of  church attending Christians are not growing in their faith,  either having plateaued or regressed- according to a ’94 Gilliam study (Strategic Disciple Making, 77).

This statistic is staggering, but not necessarily surprising. I think that it’s sad, but true. One of the biggest problems facing the church today is a sense of complacency and a stagnated growth process. Here’s a humble confession, for about three months (Nov-Jan), I would have had to admittedly include myself in this statistic. Somehow I don’t think that I am alone. Unfortunately, many people hit a certain level of growth and then for whatever reason, seem to pause maturation- for either a season of life or indefinitely. The sadder thing is that we generally don’t realize that we are doing so, and when the question is posed, we are reluctant to answer it with honesty.

Why is this the case? Why do people who stop growing? How is complacency such a problem in churches? Why isn’t it more easily detected and resolved?   Gilliam offers six points of explanation.

  • 1) We don’t know what a disciple is. 
  • 2) We don’t know how to make them.
  • 3) We don’t know how the church’s programs play a role in making disciples.
  • 4) We don’t know how to assess our progress and assure continued progress.
  • 5) We don’t know how to be model disciples as leaders, and we reproduce the same caliber disciples and future leaders.
  • 6) We don’t know how to intentionally change this problem without offending people or creating division. So we don’t attempt to do so. 

While I agree that all of these components contribute to stunted maturity, points five and six strike particularly close to home. Both are reasons why I plateau and am reluctant to push others to maturity. One of my biggest weaknesses is I assimilate to the standards of the people around me. Likewise, I am not always the model disciple that I pray that others will be. Unfortunately, others assimilate to my less than ideal standard of leadership as well.  Another weakness of mine is a tendency to avoid controversy, offense, and divisiveness- especially when I know I’m supposed to be helping encourage maturity. Sadly, I tend to spend time around people who do the same.

Oh, what do we do when the things we read hit too close to home? Pray, repent and resolve to seek God’s guidance for change. That is my intended course of action as I long to grow in maturity and to help others do the same.

“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity… and God permitting we will do so” – Hebrews 6:1,3.

What then is our goal in maturity? What is the standard we strive to achieve as Christians?

“God’s call is to all who believe is to be Christian in all we do.” (Odgen, Unfinished Business, 247). 

Our responsibility is to hold one another accountable to that call…. here’s to continued maturity until we are perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48).

Is social justice subject to the prophets?

My class blogs on Blackboard are actively updated, while my personal blog has been neglected. While I search for time to update the virtual world on a myriad of thoughts, I figured I could share a glimpse of my coursework. Here is a slightly edited excerpt from my Church and Ministry class blog on a module focuses on the prophetic ministry and social justice. The scripture referenced below is 1 Cor. 14:32. 
“The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets.”

Prophecy is God’s truth for the edification of the body and is used by God “to help direct a church into a proper balanced social and political action and concern for the community within and around the church” (lecture).  Prophetic ministry still exists today, but it is up to those with prophetic insight to share and act upon their prophetic insight. I think that one of the biggest injustices in the church today is a suppression of the prophetic.  With that said, the lecture for this week’s module was like a breath of fresh air.

Prophetic ministry exists for the purpose of building God’s Kingdom and spreading redemption, but I think all too often the church prefers “strategic” ministry for the purpose of building their congregation and enhancing comfort. The church as become more than complacent. The Megachurch Myths book explains that 54% of large congregations would strongly agree that their church as a strong concern for the greater community. It seems to me that the authors present this information to ease concern that churches are concerned for themselves. I find this to be quite disheartening.  It means that 46% of the church members feel that the church isn’t concerned about the greater community. No one should be content that we barely surpassed the half way point. The church is called to be an incarnational example of the Gospel and a glimpse of the Kingdom of God in a fallen world, and the church that I see is far from it. 

Churches that I have attended like their hospitality, their media, their mission trips, and their programing… but all of these positive outreaches are a band-aided facade that glosses over the bigger picture that the church isn’t the incarnational ministry that we should be. When a group of people get together and make a strive for social justice, we rejoice at their effort and check it off the spiritual success inventory. Yet, we shouldn’t be satisfied with glimpses of social justice; we shouldn’t be even remotely satisfied until the world is restored to perfect justice.

[Truncated by removing examples]
I think that the church needs to accept responsibility to pray for and serve the surrounding community in a greater capacity. The church needs to lay down it’s pride and begin being the organism of servant leadership that has Christ as the head, yields to the direction of the Holy Spirit, builds missional fellowship, and makes valuable contributions to the health of the whole (Odgen 227).  In order to regain it’s place in restoring God’s justice to a broken world, the church needs to allow people to exercise a prophetic voice. The church needs to be build up, called out, and stirred up so that there is an urgency concerning the lost, a devotion to seeing God’s Kingdom come to fruition, and a righteous anger at the injustices of the people…. [examples removed again]… I must confess that I have been the reluctant disciple at times, the person that chooses not to prophetically speak to the congregation and in those moments, I am inadvertently advocating for a continuation of injustice and disobedience as well.

With that said, I am reminded that: The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet, and the lack of prophetic ministry is due to those with prophetic insight not exercising their gifts. Granted, I know that the church isn’t always receptive, but if prophetic voices don’t speak to these blind spots, who will? Injustice will continue, and to a certain extent the injustice is subject to the prophet and his/her refusal to speak. If not one speaks truth and call the body to be responsible for its community, how will the body ever grow and mature?

Recently, I had a conversation with someone  about the difference between idealism and faith. The distinction is that faith becomes viewed as idealistic once prophetic ministry ceases and no one reminds the faithful what it means to actually be faithful. The role of the church is to be a living example of faith to the community, the role of the prophetic is to remind the church what it means to be faithful to Christ. We cannot sustain a ministry to the community without the voice of the prophetic, but we have tried to do so for quite some time. My prayer is that God will compel people to be prophetic voices for the modern church and that faith would infiltrate the darkness and bring the light and hope of the Gospel to our communities.

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